"Birthday Camp"

Terry Trimingham - January 7-14, 1995
Communications Operator

    I have had a fun week, and can't really figure out why I feel so TIRED, but maybe you will see why...

Last weekend I pretty much didn't sleep for 24 hours from Friday to Sat. night. I was a stage hand for the play on Friday night, and then tried to nap to get ready to come into work at midnight. I worked 0030 to 1230. I was hungry when I got off, so went to grab a snack and ran into someone I know that had been out on the polar plateau at an automated weather station site and at the South Pole, gone from McMurdo for a few weeks. We sat and caught up, but I didn't get home to take a nap until 2:30pm. I had to get up at 5 to go eat and get ready to be a stagehand for the play again, and I didn't get any sleep. I stayed up late after the play as another friend had just come in from being out at a field camp for 12 days and we took a walk to Hut Point to try to see the Polar Star that was on its way in. You could see it out there, black smoke issuing from the smokestack...it wasn't going very fast, the ice is thick this year and it took over 3 days to break its way into the station.

Sunday (January 8) was a really pretty day, clear skies and sunny, but windy. I struggled to get up at 10am, and went to brunch hoping to eat and then go out to ski the Castle Rock Loop as is my habit. After I put food in my stomach I just lost all energy! I ended up taking a long nap instead. At 3pm I finally struggled out of bed and went to see the Chili Cookoff Competition that had been going on since noon. It is a yearly event. They had mill vans set up for folks to cook in. There were at least four teams: ASA, Medical, VXE6 (our flight squadron), and the Navy Post Office had a team. Everyone had a theme and wore costumes and decorated the mill van and had music blasting. I heard later that ASA won with "Chili de la Muerte" and the Navy P.O. team came in 2nd with "lumberjack chili". There were a lot of skuas flying around looking over the scene with anticipation! After that I went for a walk with a friend up to the top of Ob Hill to see the progress the Polar Star had made. We also cruised past the aquarium to see the latest fish there, and then went out to Hut Point to get a closer view of the ship. When we got out to Hut Point we saw a group of 18 penguins standing around like nobody's business. They tend to take advantage of the ship cutting the ice and come up and wander around.

Monday after work I had to go to an orientation lecture at 3pm, as I had the opportunity to go to an overnight snowcraft course the next two days. All day the weather was calm and GORGEOUS. The Polar Star came in and sat at the dock for a little while, then left to go refuel Marble Point, our helo refueling station about 60 miles away.

Tuesday dawned calm and beautiful again. I opened up all my birthday presents that had come in the mail. I had to pack in a hurry for camping and barely made it on time to meet the group. We went to the Ross Ice Shelf. To get there you go out past Scott Base (on the way to Willy Field) but turn off the road and head towards Mt. Erebus a bit...it is about a mile out there in the middle of the white where they have "Snowmound City", the site of the snowcraft school.

The Polar Star had broken up some ice, but the harbor is still pretty solid looking save for the crunched-up path the ship took. When the ice is broken up we always get morning fogs. I think it is the additional moisture in the air coupled with the fact that the sun is starting to go lower in the sky in the evenings. When we got out to the ice shelf we were in a thick pea soup white; we couldn't see ANYTHING much at all. We stopped at "Silver City" a silver box-like shelter along the trail that goes out to the ski hill and all got ice axes. Next we climbed up a snowy slope nearby and learned how to do self-arrest using the ice ax. The fog slowly lifted during the course of the morning and by that time we were pretty competent at stopping ourselves from sliding. We had a commanding view of Mt. Erebus, Willy Field, and all the surrounding area in clear blue skies and sunshine...it was MAGNIFICENT! No wind at all! We had lunch at Silver City, learned how to light stoves, and then proceeded to Snowmound City to learn how to set up tents and make snow shelters. It was so hot as we were shoveling snow and cutting ice blocks that I had to take off my polypro and put on a t-shirt! I also gooped on the sunscreen, and put on my visor with a t-shirt looking like an Arab! I had sunscreen melting and running into my eyes too! About 5pm we had a Scott tent set up and 2 mountaineering tents. We had also constructed a "quincy", or snow shelter from piling all our gear in a pile and covering it with snow, packing the snow down and then pulling out the gear and making a little tunnel to get in the shelter. It is kind of like a snow cave, but built on the flat instead of into a hillside.

It was a fun group of people, some VXE6 (pilots for the Hercs), some NSFA (regular Navy support), ASA, and one person from NSF. I had been invited to the instructors hut by one of the instructors teaching the course (there were 2). He knew it was my b'day. I thought about it and didn't want to go over there to the nice heated hut and eat and then have to come back and sleep in the snow, so I decided to eat with my fellow course-mates. I made "Black Bart Chili"; you just pour boiling water in a pouch with the dehydrated chili and wait 10 min. It was good and spicy, but the beans never did really hydrate like they should. I ate all of it though and decided to go for a little ski as the weather was SO nice. Then I decided that since it was my birthday I was going to do what I wanted, and so I skied to the instructor hut and had another dinner as my friend was so nice to fix it for me! I was one FULL camper after that! The instructor hut is a small Quonset hut that has been modified to have nice windows looking out to the south at Mt. Discovery and to the north to Mt. Erebus. They just got a solar panel out there and it has enough power to charge a "boom box" and so we sat there listening to music and watched the few wispy clouds cast interesting shadows on the mountains. It was very nice and I really enjoyed it!

The next day it was overcast. It started to snow as we learned to set up HF radios. Then we had to simulate crashing on a plane and only had 30 minutes to set up some tents, treat wounded, set up the radio etc. The big fat snowflakes were dumping down as we did that and my mittens got soaked! After that exercise we got to rope up and go up a glacier and look into a crevasse. We all took turns getting roped up and lowered into the big ice crack about 35 feet...it was fun! The whole time it was snowing, so I felt like a true Antarctic explorer! I got home Wed evening about 5:30pm all wet from being out in the snow. My arms were sore from shoveling the day before, and my eyes tired from constant strain in the bright white (even with overcast and snow), and I felt wind/sun burned. My roommate had left a note on my bed that she and some friends had planned a b'day party for me and all I had to do was show up. I only had about an hour to unpack my wet gear, take a shower, eat and try to call friends to tell them about the party. I think about 15 people showed up. I was the first one to try to smash the pinata my sister had sent....I didn't even hit it. The second guy didn't close his eyes like he was supposed to and he mashed it pretty good. It took a couple more hits to severe the head and cause it to drop and spew the insides. There was a lot of candy inside and we had fun scrambling for it. All in all it was a great birthday for me! I had the chance to go camping, AND had a party!

Thursday I went to the play that night as a spectator and really enjoyed finally seeing the whole thing! It is a 3-act comedy and takes about 2 1/2 hours including the two intermissions. I was a stage hand for most of the performances, helping the actresses change costume (only one change per scene), flicking light switches at appropriate times, and making the Xmas tree fall at the right time. I also turned on some of the set lights to start each act going, and moved props between acts. It was really fun. I am glad to have had the chance to participate in it all. Friday sped by for work, my last day of day shift (I now move to the evening shift). I was going to be a stage hand that night too. The play went really well, I had a nice time. They video-taped the performance too, so I am hoping to see it. Tonight is the final night and cast party, but I have to work until 12:30am so I hope people will still be there by the time I make it (if I decide to go).

Today at work it was fun as I got to talk to the Polar Sea, the Polar Star, the Nathaniel B. Palmer (our research vessel) and the Richard G. Mathieson (our tanker)...lots of ships!

The field camps are getting ready to pull out in the next few weeks. It seems hard to believe that the summer season is almost over!

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