Dispatch Number Five
Date: March 6, 2012
Antarctica: Dispatch Number Five
Getting ready for our survival camping night. Image courtesy of 2041 (IAE 2012).
64° 52' South and 62° 49' West
Survival Camping at Leith Cove, Paradise Harbour
Camping in Antarctica is harsh – at the best of times – and I was leery of the overnight exercise that 2041 had dubbed “Survival Camping.”
On March 6, as part of the 2041’s Leadership on the Edge program, participants landed on a small island in Leith Cove, just one hour before sunset. Bivouac sacks replaced tents. Snow walls were built to shelter campers from ocean breezes and katabatic winds flowing off the nearby glaciers. No food or drink was allowed ashore. The portable toilet facilities were rudimentary.
Before departing for this Outward Bound-like exercise, I got some tips from the first group of Survival Campers – they were rained upon the previous night – who had endured an extremely cold evening and wet sleeping bags.
Luckily, for me and my team mates, our evening of Survival Camping was relatively mild with no wind.
Once ashore, I quickly assembled my Survival Camping team comprised of seven women and ‘Steve,’ a global sustainability expert from Melbourne, Australia. The women came from the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, the Philippines, China, the United States and England. Most of my team mates had never camped nor had they experienced snow. Camping out under the stars – and exposed to the elements – challenged many of my team mates, pushing them out of their comfort zones. Our discomfort – and how we overcame it – was a key part of the Leadership on the Edge program.
Working quickly and innovating on the fly, we started “snow farming,” building a one-metre-high snow wall to block the wind. Smarter, we believed, than the other three camping teams, we raced to secure a campsite downwind of two low-lying outcrops, providing us with an additional natural wind break.
Two of the campers, both specialists in renewable energy, set up LED lights powered by wind, illuminating the area for the campers.
As we bedded down for the night – shoulder to shoulder and snug in our expedition-rated sleeping bags and outer bivouac sacks – it started to snow lightly. Every 30 minutes or so, the glaciers – which wrapped around the island in a 180-degree arc – calved off substantial chunks of ice into the ocean, creating thunderous claps and associated mini-tsunami waves.
Retiring for the evening, I pulled my sleeping bag over my head, and the bivouac sack over my sleeping bag – from an onlooker’s perspective, I’d become the faceless camper. Lacking a zipper, my bivouac sack acted more like strait jacket, making movements inside almost impossible. During the night, I managed to lose two flashlights and several pieces of clothing somewhere in my sleeping bag.
Between the cascading glaciers and the plunging temperatures overnight, I didn’t get much sleep. I woke, very early in the morning, cold and shivering.
Team work enabled us to complete the camping task in one-hour flat, just before the day light disappeared. And, when the zodiacs arrived at 6:00am the next day, to shuttle us to the M/V Sea Spirit, our team packed quickly, catching the first zodiac back to hot showers, breakfast and coffee.
Despite our minor and temporary hardships, we returned to a warm, state-of-the-art motor vessel after an uncomfortable evening of camping on the snow. Our hardships paled in comparison to those experienced by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men during their Antarctic expeditions one hundred years ago.
Image courtesy of 2041 (IAE 2012).
M/V Sea Spirit Latitude and Longitude
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Position of the M/V Sea Spirit in Antarctica on March 6, 2012.
For more information about 2041, visit their blog where you'll find videos, pictures and blog posts from various participants.