Tent Days

One of the modified ANSMET Scott Tents at Davis Ward (see the postscript for more on that tent).

The ice is such a special place – Jessica Meir 

It’s obviously cold here in Antarctica, with almost constant winds that drive the temperatures even lower with the wind-chill factor. Naturally, we understood this when we applied to be on the ANSMET team and I believe everybody is enjoying the adventure of hunting for meteorites only a couple hundred miles from the South Pole. But we also need to consider the health and safety of the team and sometimes the extreme temperatures and wind-chill require us to forego the hunting and keep close to camp. These days are referred to as “tent days”. The first half of today was a tent day due to the weather(~24 knot winds and near-zero temperatures), but we were able to get in a half of day meteorite hunting when the weather turned favorable after noon. We also had a tent day shortly after arriving here in camp. My understanding is that this is not unusual and in fact, approximately 25-30% of days in the field are typically tent days (or “partial tent days”, if the weather improves during the course of the day). So, what does one do on a tent day?

As mentioned previously, we are camping in “Scott tents”, which are named after Robert F. Scott, who reached the South Pole shortly after Roald Amundsen (but unfortunately perished on his return). They are pyramidal in shape, and double walled to help insulate them, with dimensions of about 8 x 8 feet squared, floor space – some have a small vestibule on the front which allows us to house our gear away from the snow. They comfortably fit two people, along with a small propane-fed cooking stove and a couple of boxes of tent and cooking supplies. They also have pockets conveniently sewn into the walls, which allows us to place/retrieve some of the smaller, more often-used items. Each tent also has a solar power station (24 hour sun – bonus!!) that allows us to charge our laptops and tablets, as well as other small personal items. Obviously having electrical power and our personal items greatly improves the conditions of tent life, and despite all my readings on the subject I can only imagine how difficult it was for the first explorers to entertain themselves and stay informed in the early days of Antarctic (and Arctic) exploration. Each tent is also provided a satellite phone to make the occasional phone call (we use this sparingly, as it’s expensive to phone home). With our laptops and tablets available, we are able to do a variety of activities, include reading books and watching TV/movies, if you had the foresight to download these prior to going “off the grid”. Some folks brought a few paper-back books as well. Hosie and I watched a movie last night prior to going to bed. Others have actual work to do and Paul takes the time to continue working on his Doctorate thesis. Cooking takes up a fair amount of time, but it also provides some level of recreation. Admittedly, Hosie is the (outstanding!!) cook in our tent, and I try to help out where I can, collecting ice chips for melting, and cleaning up. We have a tagup in the “science tent” every evening, to go over the days activities and tomorrow’s plans, and to just socialize. John Schuttt reads from the journals of Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton every evening, which, at this time of year is even more significant when you consider that Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14th, 2011 (rph note: make that 1911) – the anniversary being just a few days ago. All in all, tent life is quite enjoyable here in the Antarctic, and it’s obvious that years of hard work and dedication has resulted in the ANSMET team developing a very efficient, meaningful and enjoyable program here in the Antarctic.



-John “Johnny Ringo” McBrine

PS added by rph: The tent shown in the picture is a bit different than those some “vintage” ANSMET veterans might be familiar with. Several years ago ANSMET was invited to suggest redesigns for the Scott tents. Two Scott tents with an extended downwind “vestibule” were one result. These have their pros and cons. Pros: dramatically more room, more convenient cold storage, easier entrances and exits. Cons: colder (because the air-gap between the tent walls is huge), heavier (adds about 15 lbs to an already heavy tent) and can be “flappier” in the wind (more surface area to keep tight).  John Schutt isn’t a fan,  but he’d still be sleeping in a sealskin bag if he had his druthers. Some of the rest of us like the tradeoff.