Terry's Field Journal: a Memorial Day retreat to Silver City (c) Terry Trimingham May 28, 1995

We had a two day weekend for Memorial Day, and a group of us decided to go out to Silver City for an overnight retreat. Silver City is about 3 miles from McMurdo, only about a mile out from Scott Base on the Ross Ice Shelf. It is a box of a structure with two bunk beds, a table and preway heater inside. In the summer it is a base for snowcraft courses, in the winter you can use it for a place to stay overnight.

After work we scurried home and packed our bags. The four of us were picked up outside our dorm right on time. The spryte (a tracked vehicle) trundled along with its metal tracks clinking away on rocks and ice which could barely be heard over the roar of the engine and the heater blower raging. It took us about 25 minutes to get out there. I was all bundled up in my survival clothes and got QUITE warm by the time we arrived as I was directly in front of the vehicles heater. It was hard for me to stay awake as tired as I was, with all the heat and movement. I do remember looking up at the black night and seeing the Southern Cross overhead out the window though.

No one had been out there since the middle of April (due to our nasty weather for so long) and there was a good drift of snow inside when we opened the door. We all got out flashlights and head lamps and set about to light the preway, get the stove going, sweep out the snow and cut steps outside leading up to the front door. I took off my jacket as I was sweeping vigorously to get all the snow out. Once the room heated up I was anticipating wet puddles everywhere, and that would be no fun. Everyone else had on ALL their gear.

We got the lantern lit and could see shadows on the wall of the clouds of steam created by our breath as we all worked in the cold to get the place warm and cozy.

We pulled an empty trunk over in front of a bed and put down a "tablecloth" (of bright cotton rags I had brought from the shop) to use for a table. Soon you could barely see any shadows on the wall from our breath. I got the hot water going and we all made a cup of instant soup. Then I put the fry pan we had borrowed from the shop on the Coleman stove and I proceeded to make stir-fried cabbage with onions, garlic, chilies, fenugreek seeds, an apple (poor scroungy looking thing), a couple of bell peppers from the greenhouse, and rice. We all added soy sauce and it was very tasty We were celebrating our 13th (out of 25) week of winter, and also the 8th month of our stay in McMurdo.

After we had all stuffed ourselves on that (no leftovers!), we had hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps, chocolate bars and dried fruit for dessert.

The rest of the evening was spent telling travel stories of one kind or another. It was very enjoyable to be inside where it was cozy and warm. The longer we sat there the more clothes we gradually peeled off too. When we had first sat down to dinner everyone still had on their hats and heavy sweaters along with wind pants. By the end of the meal all the hats had come off along with the wind pants and some sweaters too. Funny thing, we never did get the puddles I was anticipating. The snow didn't really melt, it sublimated! It is VERY dry here, and once it got warm, the dry air just sucked the moisture away!

We did notice that you could see wisps of white blowing in through the cracks around the door, so I took an extra blanket and used a Swiss army knife to poke it in around the perimeter to block any openings. That worked like a charm and it got even more cozy. Before turning in, I went outside with a friend and we were awed at the display of stars overhead. It was magnificent! The Milky Way was SO bright that it seemed like a streak of aurora. We could also see the Magellanic Clouds quite easily, and I spotted a couple of shooting stars. We stood there gaping for a while, and then spotted an aurora overhead. To me it looked like a big stick-figure of a man, and the legs kind of extended and retracted while the head and torso sort of twisted about. It was very eerie as it makes NO sound whatsoever, and if we hadn't looked up we would have missed the show entirely.

We were very warm by the time we crawled into our down sleeping bags with polar fleece liners, and turned the preway down a notch for the night. That worked fine until someone got up to go outside in the middle of the night and when they came back in they forgot about replacing the blanket in the doorway. It got a little cooler then, but it was not a problem for sleeping. The next day I awoke to the others stirring and much to my surprise saw that it was 10am! It was dark as ink outside, and the wind was blowing pretty hard. You could no longer see the stars, and needed a head lamp when venturing out.

We had hoped to walk back to McMurdo, but when we called in on the radio we found out it was considered a "condition 2", and that meant no foot travel.

We made coffee and had donuts and bagels for breakfast. It was quite a lazy morning in the candlelight. We did go out to do some snow shoveling that needed to be done as our part in trying to maintain the facility for the next people to come out.

By the time our ride showed up at 1:30 it had cleared outside considerably, so we talked the driver into letting us walk as far as Scott Base (about a mile) and piled all our things in the spryte. It was very enjoyable to have that little walk in the cold - a fitting end to a perfect retreat!

Copyright (c)1995 Terry Trimingham. This information may be redistributed online for education projects as long as this copyright notice is included. Permission to use this material in print or for commercial purposes must be obtained in writing prior to use from the author.