Day 8, The Shakeout


Editor’s note:  the more common term is “Shakedown” , but Tom’s a newbie. (rph)
It’s late afternoon and the weather is relatively calm and snowy. The Scott tents are all lined up perpendicular to the wind direction and the snowmobiles are parked in a row downwind from the tents and in the gaps between the tents. The Scott tents are small but sturdy and quite cozy inside. I can hear the voices of the other members of our party talking and laughing, enjoying their new homes. Shaun, our guide and my tent mate, is asleep with his big boots on and his sleeping bag draped over him. The wind had been howling a bit earlier when we first entered the tend to take shelter and have a cup of tea, but now the stove is off and the tent is quiet. This is the first day of our shakeout camping trip: a one-night trip to test out the gear and to teach us all how to drive snowmobiles, pull trailers and set up camp.
We started out on the sea ice in front of McMurdo where we had assembled our gear and sledges yesterday. Our snowmobiles were lined up in a row with many others. Unlike the previous calm and sunny days, the sky this morning was partly cloudy and there was a wind. I couldn’t wait to get going. The first order of business was to load the sledges with gear, food, and tents and lash everything down. Next, it was time to start the Ski-doos. Three pumps to prime the carburetor, five pulls to turn the engine over, two more pumps to prime again. With a little choke, one pull of the starter cord was all it took to bring my machine to life. The first task was to practice driving around and over bumps. Next, we hitched up the sledges and started out on our journey.
The plan was to ride out in a long line over the sea ice, around the point and past the Scott Base and camp out at the Happy Camper site on the ice shelf. We ride in single file to practice for when we are following our guides on glaciers with crevasses. It will be important to follow our guides exactly. As we got going, the clouds cleared off and the day was brilliant. We could see clearly, the tall mountains over by the Dry Valleys and we had a fabulous view of Mount Erebus. We rode on past the ice road that leads to the Pegasus Airstrip. We were surprised and happy to find a couple of lonely out houses out on the ice. This is the Happy Camper camp. We dropped off the sledges about a half mile west and rode off toward the infamous Kiwi Ski run, which comes down a crevasse covered slope below Castle Rock. We zoomed up the snowmobile track to practice our skills at riding in steeper terrain. We could see that weather was coming in fast so we headed for our sledges to set up camp.

John and Shaun demonstrated how to erect a Scott tent, starting with the top pointing toward the wind so that the tent would not catch the wind and blow across the ice like a parachute. Once our tent was up, the others started setting up theirs. We were lucky that there was not much wind because the tents are difficult to set up in wind and can require more than four people per tent. The tents are lined up perpendicular to the wind to minimize the drifting of snow from one tent to another. The sledges and the snowmobiles are parked between the tents, but downwind so that they are not caught up in the drifts behind the tents.

The snow is coming down and the wind is howling again. Soon it will be time to  cook dinner, have another cup of tea and settle in for a warm night in a cold and windy place.

Tom Sharp, Dec 5, 2012 McMurdo Station

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