Happy Camper Survivor

Water boiling detail in the ice trench

Camping on the Ross Ice Shelf

Aloha winter campers,

In the be careful what you wish for category I expressed interest in participating in the local “Happy Camper” program, which is overnight survival training while camping on the ice with 15 of your soon to be close friends. I got the call last Thursday afternoon that I was one of the lucky ones picked for the next class starting Friday morning, and given 15 minutes to agree to the terms of canceling the rest of my schedule and getting my affairs in order. Naturally I said YES and by 10 am the next day I was huddled in the back of a rumbling Delta, the same machine I have been driving the past 2 weeks, with the rest of the group heading out to the ice shelf. We met our instructors and following a cozy indoor orientation we walked our gear to our camp site where we were to spend the next 24 hours outside concentrating on staying warm, hydrating and daydreaming about a warm beach with a margarita in hand. First we built a wall to shelter the tents against the wind, and cutting blocks of snow with a saw and shovel was fun. I originally had delusions of building an igloo but the 20 below wind chill made it easy to decide to work around the pots of boiling snow into water and take my chances in a tent for the night. The Scott tent, named after the famous explorer, Robert Scott has remained unchanged for over 100 years. As crazy as it sounds, I thought about putting in a suggestion to the manufacturer of a floor in the tent so you’re not sleeping on the bare ice, but would probably be called everything from a lightweight to a killjoy, so I sucked it up and slept on a few pads under my sleeping bag, coat, wool liner, duffle bag, heated water bottles and everything else I could pile on before drifting off to sleep. To no one’s surprise, it was still sunny, cold and windy when we emerged from our frozen cocoons in the morning, and you realize very quickly that standards of hygiene, food preparation and even tooth brushing take a nosedive when your sole purpose in life is to keep from turning into a frozen block of protoplasm. We ate a hearty breakfast of instant oatmeal and enough cups of hot cocoa and tea to float a battleship before returning to some more indoor presentations from our smirky instructors who had slept inside a heated building. Our welcome pick-up at 2PM was followed by a little debriefing and soon we were living the dream of a hot shower and a warm bed for a luxurious nap back in the dorms. It was a challenging and invigorating experience overall, right up there with prolonged rope burn, but gave all of us bragging rights the next time someone in the real world asks if we’ve ever done any winter camping. Hope your floors are unfrozen and your snow walls are sturdy.


Ever Boiling Bob