06 December 2006

Somewhat Happy Camper

For the past two days I was at snow survival school, better known as "Happy Camper School." It involves camping out for the night on the ice, as well as other instruction and scenarios. Many of you know that I am not much of an outdoors person. My outdoors activities usually involve golfing, biking, watching sporting events, and walking through the parking lot to the mall. I cannot recall a true camping experience in my life, and despite the gracious hosts and company on trips to northern Wisconsin, I never really enjoyed them. So this was something I was a bit apprehensive about.

The program started with a briefing about cold-weather injuries and vehicle survival packs. From there they drove us to an intersection between Scott Base and Willie Field. We hiked the mile or so from there to the program site, which is a cluster of small buildings and open camp space. There we were instructed on the use of portable stoves, and then we went to the actual camp site. We were instructed on how to build snow walls, how to put up various types of tents, and other survival skillz. Early evening the instructor left, and spent the night at the small instructor hut down the road. We finished up the snow wall and made dinner, which consisted of hot beverages and dehydrated food. Here is a picture of the finished camp:

We were free to chose our shelter for the night. The options were in one of two Scott tents, smaller mountain tents, in ditches, or in a quinzee (a snow hut). I found an old quinzee that I shared with another guy. All of these were built by the classes earlier in the season that had more people. Here is a picture of the quinzee I stayed in for the night:

The entrance is to the right. The quinzee was actually very nice. It was quiet, and for the most part warm, although it got a little chilly at night. There was plenty of space for two people and our gear. I put hot water in my water bottle and put that in my sleeping bag, which helped. I didn't sleep that well, not from the cold but just being uncomfortable (I'm a light sleeper). It's light out 24 hours a day, which doesn't help either. The next morning I managed to get dressed in there, and we packed up camp and went back to the camp buildings.

The rest of the day we had a couple briefings, some practice using HF and VHF radio, and some survival scenarios. The first one was a "burning vehicle" situation, where we had to quickly make camp and establish communication with Mac Center. I ended up digging yet another trench to make snow blocks from. Then in the bucket game, we have to find someone (in this case a duffle bag) in white-out conditions, which is simulated with having buckets on our heads. A rope is attached to a fixed point and we have to find the victim. We didn't do it the most efficient way, but I actually found the bag and we eventually got back to the building.

After that we cleaned up, hiked back to the intersection, and went back to McMurdo, where we watched some videos on helicopters and the environmental impact on the Dry Valleys. Then we were done, and it felt great to get out of the ECW gear, take a shower, get some hot food, and sleep in a warm bed.

So overall it wasn't too bad. We had great weather (mid 30's both days, low teens at night, sunny skies, for the most part light winds). The views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror, and Castle Rock were impressive. There were plenty of snacks and water, although dinner wasn't that great (I got stuck with a black beans and rice dehy meal). I didn't get sunburned, since I vigilantly applied sunscreen, I just have more freckles on my face. The group was good, we had twelve people from diverse careers (several base support staff, two Raytheon techs, an oceanographer, a teacher, and a grad student (me)). One of the Raytheon techs is from Cudahy, so we had a good time talking about Milwaukee. Several of the people are ex-military, so I enjoyed talking with them. One of them has been to Iraq at least once, I believe in more of a logistical support capacity. But it's interesting talking to those people about their experiences there, and the positive changes that have occurred in that country that are not reported in the media.

Here's a picture of me (the first one of the trip)

Hopefully I'll get another post out tomorrow about my overall experiences here at the base so far.


Cooler Brian said...

Sweeeet. Did you feel like John Quinzee Adams in there?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you slept outside in a snow hut! See all you missed on our trips up north?

Glad all is going well. See you soon.


Anonymous said...

Ok Dan, your camp was amazing, but we were happy just to get one wall up in the blizzard when I did snow school. And the weather looks gorgeous, but indeed, boring. Out at snow mound city with just your windbreaker? CRAZY!

GoBrewersGo said...

1. No. I did not.

2. Indeed, I did miss a lot on the trips up north, which was a good thing.

3. I got the picture of your camp, that must have been rough. We cranked out both walls pretty quick. I was either in the wind breaker or the fleece jacket most of the time. The only time I had to break out big red was standing around doing nothing after sweating.

Anonymous said...

Your sister posted your web site on the MSNBC blog. So I hope you don't mind me poping in once in a while and checking on you.

from Florida

Anonymous said...

I picked up your blog off the MSNBC site - interesting to read, but what a different job (and housing!)experience from the others I've read! My daughter is on the station as a janitor (she is actually pictured in the MSNBC report) and a friend as a dishwasher. They have been there since August. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Carol Hasko Bainbridge Island, WA

Anonymous said...


I will enjoy reading your blog while you are on the ice. My brother, who works for Raytheon, just got back from the ice on Nov. 20. His blog, in case you or anyone else want to read it, is at

RaiLynn from Texas

Crimson said...

It's nice to see someone else's experiences. My husband is down there (he is an electrician) for the second year in a row. I hope you do not have any negative experiences as he has had (not to say that there aren't positive ones!!).
Good luck to you and I look forward to more posts!!

Lei said...

WOW~~~How exciting~~
only mid 30's? my hometown is even colder than that(of course winter)
pictures are great!

Brian said...


It was fun to read your blog since we did have some nice weather compared to some winters in Wisconsin. It sounds like you got the chance to spend some time in Christchurch like we talked about at Gallagher's on Burger night (hmmm...burrrrrrger).

I also started a blog about our trip. It is located at: http://rockymtnpackerfan.blogspot.com/. Happy New Year! Go OSU!

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