Antarctica '09: Clothes, gear and camping

Clothing

Our gear
Our gear to cope with Antarctica and its cold head on


boots Boots, that are made for walking ... in Antarctica. Canadian “Baffins”, supposedly good for -100°C!


sunglasses For sunny and warmer days, particulary at Patriot Hills, our good old alpine glacier glasses with nose and side protection serve us very well. A fleece hat and the universal neck tube are our constant companions.

sewing-goggles Preparing for colder weahter, especially closer to the pole, we sew face-protective flaps on to the goggles.

T in full gear Trudy in full gear: a Parka over a hooded jacket, goggles with flaps covering the upper part of the face, while the lower part is protected by a bandana pulled up all the way to the mouth.

full gear Fully geared up with packed sledges, only the skis aren't visible.


G feet End-of-day joys: Gernot is airing his feet, quite literally letting off steam as he pulls off his boots.


Tent domestics Tent domestics: Boot liners, socks, gloves, glove liners, bandanas, hats are dried overnight on a convenient clothes line running the length of the tent.

G-goggle We also tried to thaw and dry our goggles/facemasks overnight, successfully except for the last night, when it was too cold in the tent to make much progress.

Skiing and Camping gear

skis Skis with skins, bindings and boots

sledge Packed sledge with tent strapped on top

Cooking in the tent1 Cooking in the tent2 While we have done a lot of camping in the past, cooking inside the tent (actually the vestibule) is a novelty. (The picture might be slightly misleading: our establisment, in fact, features Gernot as our head chef and Trudy as maitre'd—a well-practised arrangement not to be disturbed in a fragile environment as the Antarctic.)

Camping routine

On the expedition, we maintain a fairly strict camping routine, mostly to ease unnecessary effort - we are tired after a day's skiing, it is cold and we just want to get into shelter, get food and relax in a warm spot.

As we stop for the day to set up camp, the first part of the routine is the same as for any extended (more than 5 minutes) stop during the day: pull the sledge towards yourself, unzip the pulk, pull out the parka and put it on.

Trudy often has a short rest first as we stop and is sitting down on the pulk (she certainly gives it all during the day!), while Gernot starts pitching the tent. He can just grab it as it is tied on top of one of our pulks. When packing up, we break the tent poles only once, leaving a pack that is too long to put inside the pulk. There is a good reason: in bad weather (which, fortunately, we did not experience) you want to get the tent up as quickly as possible. It routinely only takes a few minutes to pitch.

One of the other tasks done right away is to dig a pee hole hole, which is filled with snow again when we leave. Excrement is collected in bags which are taken back to base camp, where they eventually all get shipped back out to Chile for proper disposal.

While Gernot is still tying down the guys, Trudy fetches the stove, fuel, pot and a non-empty water bottle and, immediately, Gernot starts the almost never ending process of melting/heating/boiling water. This takes 3–4 h in the evening and 1.5–2 h in the morning! Snow is a poor conductor of heat, and is therefore almost impossible to melt on its own. You start with maybe 0.5 l of water in the pot, and keep adding snow until there is enough molten water in the pot, then you bring it to a boil. It is then filled into bottles. We keep a big bag of clean snow in the tent entrance for melting. How fast we get our water molten and boiled is the main factor determining how much sleep we get (and to the end our efficiency lags a fair bit behind Rob's).

Trudy meantime prepares our accommodation, laying out the tent floor mat and for each of us a closed-cell foam mat and on top a thermarest. She makes up a king-size bed by zipping up the “-35°C-proven” sleeping bags with liners. There is only a small duffle bag with the few remaining additional clothes (essentially one set of back-up thermals) plus our “stuff” bag (holding our few personal belongings such as the note book or the toilet cum medication bag) to be retrieved from the pulk, and finished are the living quarters.

Once the stove is in action, Gernot goes about digging a foot-deep “convenience” hole right at the entrance to the tent, which makes for a comfortable place to sit down to take your boots off when coming into the tent. It is also used for draining surplus cooking/washing water (although this sort of “surplus” is absolutely minimised, given the effort it takes to make water). Given the dryness of the air and the physical exertion, we drink about 4 litres of water each per day, in addition to all the water used for cooking.

GearO/N Once the first load of snow is starting to melt in the pot, Gernot ducks outside to complete securing the camp site: Our tents have large skirting flaps, which we load u[ with snow to help stabilise the tent. Also, the harnesses, ropes and ski poles are made secure packed into the sledge's bag, secured with bungees, and the sledges themselves secured by tying them to the skis. All to ensure that we don't lose any gear should a storm develop.

In our pulks we carry plenty of food (measured to last for 10 days), packed in a single food bag for the whole group for each day. The supplies add up to about 6,000 calories per person per day!

While Gernot tidies up outside, Trudy lays out the menu for the next 24 hours: entree (soup), main (a freeze-dried gourmet noodle/rice/potato mix with an extra 500 g of frozen meat for the two of us), desert (chocolate and cake), brekkie (porridge, nuts) and snacks/lunch (all the rest, e.g. crackers, salami and remaining nuts, chocolate, cake).

To make inroads on the calorie intake, we immediately make ourselves a cup of soup (to be followed by a second cup soon after) as soon the first batch of water is boiling, and add a big junk of the daily ration of cheese to it (we worked out that frozen cheese is not that a great for lunch, and this is a much more pleasant way of eating it).

With a cup of soup or two in our stomach, we can relax a little bit. While continuing to boil water, we cycle through our clothes: the think thermals are swapped for the thinner ones which serve as bed clothes besides being back-up for the day clothes. Similar with socks and fleece. The overhead clothes line is barely enough to hang all our stuff, especially since we also need to Tent domestics dry our boot liners and vapour barriers worn around the socks.

We don't wear the fleece jackets for sleeping but usually as long as we are cooking, since the door from the inner tent into the vestibule is open, which makes the tent interior quite chilly away from the stove. Once that part is zipped up, the tent becomes much more comfortable (above freezing when the sun is out, maybe -10°C when it's overcast).

We have to be rather pedantic with the footwear, as feet present the biggest risk of frostbite. Any moisture inside the boot will freeze and reduce insulation, hence the vapour barriers (Trudy uses non-breathable socks borrowed from our friend Ron while Gernot uses the less spacious and simple means of plastic bags). Also drying need the orthotics, the boot liners and the boot inner soles and finally the shells of the boots. We also brush off any snow and and as much of the ice as possible from our wind jackets and face masks to then lay tem out inside the tent to thaw and dry out. With the sun up (and the corresponding warm tent temperature combined with the dry air) things dry well overnight. Without the sun (as during the last two nights) not everything is dry in the morning.

With his customary dedication, Gernot produces dinner, and this in extremely generous amounts. Trudy at times finds it a challenge to eat it all, but we need the energy... All the while, Gernot keeps melting and boiling water, filling all our thermos and insulated water bottles. As we snuck into our warm and comfi sleeping bags, the last thing Gernot does before he turns off the lights (here, this means before he puts on the eye shades) is turning off the stove and filling the last one of the water bottles.

The morning routine is in similar style: first thing Gernot does is turn on the stove and start melting water. We are getting dressed, attend to the pee and poo, have breakfast (porridge certainly has a place in this climate here!) and start packing up. As we use plenty of water for brekkie and tea in the morning, we need to do another long melt-and-boil job, although faster than in the evening, as the water bottled the night before only needs to be re-heated.

(Interestingly enough, it turns out that the camping routine here is, in fact, not all that different from that on other type of adventures, be they small or large: keeping to a similar routine gives a certain continuity/comfort and we simply enjoy each others' little extra treats and special care and attention.)


Trudy & Gernot


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