One of the really exciting parts of the BAS induction process for newbies is a proper Antarctic camping trip up on the hill above Rothera, to get you acquainted with how to erect the tents, the cooking equipment, the radios and generally get into the swing of living in the middle of a snowfield. Therefore one early evening I jumped aboard a Sno-Cat along with one of our experienced Field Assistants, and another newbie, and we headed off up into the hills.
By a huge stroke of luck it was a superb evening – crisp, not too cold and with the amazingly clear air that Antarctica can offer. We picked a site up near a temporary hut on the ridge, out of view of base but still overlooking the bay, with icebergs and mountains to complete the stunning view. First job was to dig a stable platform for the tent. Apparently digging snow is a big part of Antarctic life, so it was good to get started early.
Once the platform was ready we stuck the tent up (easy on a still evening like ours, but a much more exciting job when it’s blowing a gale) and, being British, headed inside to make a brew and chew over the joys of living in a tent 9000 miles away from home. With the primus and a brightly-burning Tilly lamp on the go, the tent rapidly became warm and cosy and before long we were sweating in the muggy heat.
Fortified by the tea, we had a quick ski to work up an appetite before dinner, and then headed back inside as the temperature was dropping rapidly. Field rations (or manfood as they are still known, to distinguish them from the now defunct dogfood) consist mainly of packets of dehydrated food, tins of cheese and that staple of Antarctic travel, ‘biscuits brown’. Despite the discouraging names, we discovered that an afternoon of exercise in the cold was enough to perk up any appetite, and processed cheese on non-descript biscuits suddenly took on a much rosier aspect.
A glance at our watches showed it to be getting late – something that it is surprisingly tricky to judge when it is still pretty light outside – and we unrolled our P-bags (personal bags – a BAS term for your sleeping kit) ready for bed. The BAS sleeping system is brilliant – it consists of one of every bit of warming sleepwear that you can dream up. Rollmat, thermarest, sheepskin, down-bag, bivy bag, fleece liner, etc etc – the list goes on. The long and the short of it is that the bits of me in the bag were much too hot, whilst the bits outside were much too cold. Something to look into before the next trip out…
Once the morning light had filtered in and we drifted awake, it was time to get on another brew. Already the bright sunshine outside had warmed up the tent considerably, and we had breakfast with the flaps open, looking out over the gorgeous panorama. Soon enough it was time to get moving and pack the kit away before heading back down the hill. The next camping trip cannot come soon enough!