As part of the orientation for all first-timers in Antarctica, it is a requirement that all attend the Field Safety Training Program, better known as “Happy Camper School”. This two-day, overnight course teaches general survival skills such as building snow shelters, snow camping as well as cooking and living outdoors. One of our first challenges was working together to build a snow cave, or Quinzee, which is constructed by forming a deep pile of snow, letting it set in the sun for a few hours, and then hollowing out the inside. Below, the team shovels snow until a large mound is formed; in the background is Mt. Erebus.

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After a few hours for the snow to bond together, we spent the next several hours digging an entry and hollowing out the center. Once finished, the Quinzee was large enough to sleep four people!

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Along with the snow cave, we pitched tents of various styles and learned how to construct snow anchors. Why might these anchors be so necessary?
Below, you get a sense of the variety of shelters for our night out on the Ice.

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In order to block the wind and further secure our tents, we then used saws to cut snow blocks, which were then towed by sleds and constructed into snow brick walls on the windward side of the tents. This greatly helped reduce the amount of wind stress on the tent anchors and keeps the residents much warmer.

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Finally, it was time for dinner, which involved digging an “Ice kitchen” with a windbreaker for the stove. Here, Tracy and David get to work assembling the camping stoves and preparing dinner for hungry shovelers.

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The next day, we simulated the conditions of an extreme storm by donning buckets on our heads. This seems, and certainly looks, rather silly, but it was a great way to learn how to get your bearings and work together even without the use of your eyes or voice. The Bucketheads worked together to find and retrieve a “lost” team member and practiced walking in a straight line. Try it- it’s harder than it sounds but lots of fun!

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