Happy Camper

On Monday and Tuesday we had Happy Camper, which means spending a night outdoors getting a genuine taste of the Antarctica field experience. The goal of the course is to provide Antarctic survival training on what to do in case you get stranded out in the field.

The group at Field Safety Training Program (FSTP) take a handful of individuals from each station. Sometimes the weather is nice and sometimes it is really nasty. Lucky for us it was gorgeous out… gorgeous for this time of year in Antarctica (light winds and 3°F).


We started in a classroom and then packed into a delta vehicle shuttle and sped out at max speed (15mph). We camped on a glacier near the base of Antarctica’s second largest active volcano, Mt. Erebus! There were spectacular views all around.

View from camp of Mt. Erebus smoking in distance

We dug snow shelters, made ice walls to block the wind, and set up tents. We all split up into tasks and our volunteer chef prepared “boiled water” from scratch, using only glacier snow and a whisper light stove.

dugout “kitchen” with ice wall

Just before our FSTP instructor Cory left us for the night, he gave us the dehydrated meals we were to add boiling water and have for dinner. When I asked which ones were good, he smiled and said “They’re all good as long as you add enough of the world’s best spice: hunger.”

Right he was. Your body burns an incredible amount of calories trying to stay warm in these extreme conditions. When trying to stay warm you can eat, hydrate, put on layers, or move around to increase circulation. I did all of them and paid for it in the middle of night when I had to leave the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag to get up and pee. Next time I’ll just wear everything I own, drink a modest amount, eat like a horse, and shovel snow.

Ice wall protecting tents from wind

Everyone was up and moving breaking down camp at 5:30 am… well, everyone except me and one other non-morning person. I sort of shuffled around in a circle nursing my instant coffee until my eyes fully opened. We all had more boiled water with instant oatmeal and instant coffee, and then awaited pick up.

breaking down camp and awaiting pick up

The rest of the day was spent learning how to use very high frequency (VHF) radios and repeater towers when there is no line of sight. We also learned about high frequency (HF) radios for extreme field sites. Then we tested all the training we learned in a pretend scenario wherein we were told we had 15 minutes before a storm hit and we needed to set up camp and radio for help using just one survival bag and HF radio.

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