University of Southern California

Brushing Up on Survival Skills

Judith Connor, January 11, just before midnight — Every morning after breakfast in the cafeteria, we’ve had an 8 o’clock lecture on the top floor of the Crary Laboratory building at McMurdo Station. The room has a spectacular view across McMurdo Sound to the Transantarctic Mountains, which peak at 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet).

This morning the vista had serious competition, as Donal Manahan lectured on the heroic age of early Antarctic exploration and science. He started with a 17th century map of the South Pole — with nothing there. Terra incognito! Dr. Manahan described Scott, Wilson and Shackleton’s 1902 explorations and their physical and mental trials. I felt heartsick at the wretched competition to reach the South Pole first: Scott’s larger party had a scientific objective but a tragic end, while Amundsen found success with fewer men, dog sleds and an expert skier. I never enjoyed a lunch break more than today, after our lessons on hunger, cold and scurvy in Antarctica.

I was glad for a chance to get outside in the afternoon to test my own survival skills. After a brief training session, we gathered shovels, camping stoves and tents and scurried downhill to the frozen sound. I learned useful tricks for setting up a tent in snow, how to light a camp stove in a blizzard and melt snow for drinking water, and how to check for cracks in the ice when traveling on foot or in a vehicle. That’s what we are doing in the photo below: crossing soft ice near shore and checking for cracks as we go.

Valuable training, and fun, too. It will be useful on my next snow-camping test outing, which is scheduled for tomorrow. Along with the other instructors new to Antarctica, I’ll be preparing shelter, melting snow and sleeping outside. I’m excited to learn more.

Judith Connor, Ph.D., is one of the instructors for the NSF Antarctic Marine Biology program and serves on the staff of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

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1 Comment

It was -64 degrees the day we left St. Paul MN in 1982. Welcome to my world ! Love the Blogs. Next New Years hope you'll be experiencing the Marine world at the Balt. Aquarium! "Here comes the bride!"