Sunday, November 13, 2011

BACK 2 (snow) SCHOOL

Shovel training. Seriously.

One thing about this place is it's orientation load. It's pretty dizzying when you think about what you need to do to get cleared for work here. On one hand, I understand. This is a hazardous continent for real. But for the FNG it can be a bewildering array of trainings and orientations for your first couple weeks.

So far I've done:

Antarctic Overall Safety Video
Gear Instruction and Issue
C-17 Flight Briefing
McMurdo Station Briefing and Introduction
Internet Protocols and Confidentiality agreements- I'm on gov. servers here
ASMA- Antarctic Special Management Areas (for travel in especially sensitive regions)
Lab Safety
Lab Tour
Helicopter Safety
Sea Ice Training - how to navigate dangerous cracks in the ice and profile without meeting a watery end for you or your transport
and Happy Camper - which i'll describe in detail below.

Still to do:
Comm Training - Its called MacOps here - glorified class to teach me to use a walkie-talkie
Piston Bully Driving
Skidoo Training
Outdoor Safety Lecture - for the cool hikes around the station

And this is just really the minimum to make me a functioning lab member. I could also get machine training, carpentry orientations, crane operations, etc etc etc. While most of these videos can be pretty yawn inducing and repetitive at times, the need is there, and is MUCH better to be safe than flying an early trip back with a broken arm or worse.

By far, the coolest (well coldest orientation) was Snow School - also known as Happy Camper. We spent a night in tents (and a few brave -crazy? - souls in snow trenchs also known as coffins because well...that's what they look like) and learned all sorts of survival skills if we get caught out and have to live a night on our own out in the field. I had two awesome instructors Jules and Chandra, and 19 chilly compatriots to share the evening and the tasks of survival with, and we really had what is known as "Miami Beach" weather for it - 20-25F and 5-10knot wind. Balmy. So enjoy the pictures of my school of cool.

My walk to school was a little chillier than I remember, but the scenery was much improved over New Jersey.

Once we found a good spot for instruction, one of the first things we had to build was a snow wall to block the wind. And Mongols. You never know when they'll strike...

Next came the tents. The large triangular ones are Scott Tents, after the great Antarctic explorer. The smaller ones are Alpine, or Mountain tents - portable, but with less protection. I spent a chilly night in one of those - from the condensation of my breathing, there was snow on the inside of the tent from my breath, and everything outside of my sleeping bag was frozen. Fortunately my pee bottle was in with me to keep me warm and so i didn't have to clean up frozen pee!

We had to get the snow blocks we carved out from somewhere, and our quarry became our kitchen. Mmmm who wants rehydrated rice and beans!? Me!!! It wasn't actually that bad, and really anything warm was a blessing out there. The Hot Cocoa was the best.

This is where you go after dinner. Ladies and gents both sit to pee here, since the toilet seat is special foam so you don't freeze to it...

I almost didn't caption this because i thought it'd be funnier to have people try to figure it out.
Give it a shot.... Caption below...

Give up?

It's called the infamous bucket head scenario. When Condition 1 strikes on the ice, vis can drop to literally a foot or two, with 80 knot winds and driving snow. So we put these buckets on our heads to simulate a true whiteout condition rescue of a victim trapped outside. I tried it too, it is very very disorienting - hard to hear, impossible to see, you have to use memory and touch only to move, and without much guidance (flags, ropes, buildings) it's pretty hopeless. In our scenario, we were ~30 seconds too late to rescue our poor victim.

But after all the scenarios, this makes it all worth it. What an effin' beautiful continent.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you're blogging again!

    You always have such wonderful adventures. When are you going to visit the pole? Are you primarily staying at McMurdo? It sounds like you're almost at the end of your training, but I'm sure as I'm writing this you've probably already completed it. Piston Bully Driving sounds interesting, what's that about?

    Rehydrated rice and beans? How does it compare to Ramen? I thought that's what they'd be packing you off with.

    Nice box, I guess the bottle's for nighttime when it's too cold to venture out of the tent. Is the bottle made out of a special foam too? ;) You realize the bottle program is really meant to help keep the continent white.

    My guess with the head gear... so the next person doesn't know who to blame the pee icicles on. Go figure it's for an important training exercise, did you guys get to draw the faces yourselves?

    Thank you so much for sharing, I look forward to hearing more!