Our camp will be set up snow patch and have (a) a group tent for cooking, organizing samples, recharging batteries and hanging out when the weather is bad, (b) individual mountain tents for sleeping and (c) a Scott tent for life’s other essential business (i.e., the bathroom). The Scott tent design, a pyramid made from heavy canvas has changed little since the early 1900’s and holds up well in nasty weather. For sleeping, we put down 2-3 air/foam mattresses, each ~2” thick, and then have down sleeping bags with a fleece liner. If it’s cold, we fill a bottle with hot water and put in the bottom of the sleeping bag to keep our feet warm. The sun is up 24 hours a day, but that doesn’t seem to stop most people from sleeping soundly after working hard collecting samples and staying warm all day. For those of you who have been camping and tripped over a tent string in the night on your way to the bathroom – you don’t have to worry about that here! There are some distinct advantages to 24 hours of light.
The word cold gets redefined in Antarctica. Cold is really just colder than whatever you get used to. We are likely to have temperatures are 0˚F much of the time, so a day when its 8˚ feel balmy and at least one layer of clothing will be shed by most and a day when the wind chill is -40˚, then its cold. The perpetual sunlight really helps heat things up and if it’s a warm sunny day, the sleeping tents may reach temperatures of 60˚! Of course there is no TV, and so no Weather Channel, so our mountaineer watches the sky for signs of impending bad weather. The closest weather station is ~150 miles away.
The food and water
Our food is cooked on Coleman stoves after some significant effort to thaw it. Cooking is time consuming and the kitchen is often crowded, but whatever we make seems to taste delicious. No dehydrated food here! In camps like ours, hours are spent ‘making water’ each day. This is simply shoveling snow into large pots to melt and then putting the water in a large cooler to keep it from freezing. Our trash is split into recyclables and non-recyclables and brought back to McMurdo station for proper disposal.
How do we bathe?
The short answer is: wet wipes (unless the package freezes into a solid brick). And if we have a day “off” because of bad weather, we can take the time to melt enough snow to make all the water needed to wash hair. Now that’s a real treat (until your hair freezes).