Once in Antarctica, there are some necessary training procedures to ensure everyone’s safety while working in and studying this extreme continent. Ashley, Sabrina, and Ruth had never been to Antarctica before and were required to attend “Happy Camper”, AKA “Snow School”. This training is essential for everyone new to McMurdo who will go off-station for any reason (field work, collecting samples, tending experiments). Anyone who has already been to McMurdo and participated in Snow School previously also gets a shorter, “Refresher” course upon arrival.

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Ashley is ready for Happy Camper (Snow School)!

Snow School teaches about cold weather and outdoor skills, hazards, and what to do in case of certain emergencies (such as getting stuck in the field during bad weather). This training lasts for 2 days and covers: how to use high frequency radios, send emergency signals, set up tents, cut snow blocks to build walls for wind protection, dig a snow trench to sleep in if you need shelter, and how to maintain body warmth in frigid temperatures. Our Snow School session had 10 participants, and together, we learned and practiced these techniques, built a camp, cooked meals, and practiced rescue/emergency scenarios. First our group set up tents for the camp. We learned how to set up the Scott tent, which was designed for and used by the R.F. Scott expeditions in Antarctica in the early 1900s. We still use these tents today because the design is perfect for standing up to the tough Antarctic weather (plus, you can cook inside of it!!).

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Our group sets up the Scott tent!

Next, the happy campers built the snow wall to protect the camp from wind and blowing snow. Even though the temperature was just a little below freezing, cutting snow blocks is hard work and warms you right up! Ruth and Sabrina took off their parkas while working to avoid getting too warm and sweating too much.

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Ruth (Left) and Sabrina (Right) cut snow blocks to help build the camp’s wall. The wall will help protect the campers from wind and blowing snow.

After the wall was in place, the group learned how to make shelters if the tents were lost (such as in a storm). To do this, they learned how to dig into the snow and then hollow out trenches to sleep in. The trench protects from the wind and harsh weather and provides a cozy place to snuggle into a sleeping bag. Ruth and Ashley slept in the trenches that they dug, while Sabrina opted for one of the tents – all three got a good, solid, and warm night’s rest.

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Sleeping trench with the finished camp (completed snow wall, tents, and snow kitchen) in the background!

Snow Camp

Completed Snow Camp!

We also learned about communications while in the field, we discussed VHF radios, HF radios, Iridium phones, and signal mirrors. We practiced using the VHF radios and HF radio. We set up the HF radio and called South Pole station (they were expecting our call!) to run through the whole radio process.

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Our Snow School group learning about the HF radio!

After 2 days of Snow School, we headed back to McMurdo Station. We are all ready for a safe and productive field season in Antarctica!!

Mount Erebus

View of Mount Erebus from our Snow School camp!

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