What was it like at camp K131?

Antarctic Camp K131

We were camped out in a ‘remote’ base camp about 20-30 km from Scott Base run by Dr. Tim Haskell.  It was definitely remote in the sense that it was a self-sufficient camp sufficiently detached from the main base that we could not easily go back and forth.  The wanagins (a name originating in Maine for a hut on skids) we lived and worked in were metal insulated shipping containers welded or bolted onto large skids.

Airing out the sleeping bags on a sunny day.

Before we came they had been towed out from Scott Base by large tractors, and they were towed back in after we left.  One wanagin held the large generator (and tried in vain to hold its thrumming noise in as well).  Another was for storage and spare parts.  Another was for a cold room (a freezer!) for Dr. Pat Langhorn’s crystallography.  A fourth was the kitchen, with large glass doors looking out on a magnificent view of Mount Erebus, the nearly 13000 foot active volcano that most often spouted fumes to remind us of that fact.

Mount Erebus

Tim Haskell is known for his choice of views for his camps.  The kitchen had a small electric stove/oven, a couple of counter/tables, a coffee pot, a perpetual tea/hot water pot, and enough folding camp stools for all or most of us.  Dishes were done by heating water in a second coffee pot and catching the washings in a 5 gallon bucket to later be filtered and poured down the ice holes.  Everyone took turns cooking, washing, fetching snow for water, etc.

Malcolm, Cindy, Ken (on the left) and Sean on the right enjoy a good technical conversation over dinner.

Everyone helps around here. David is doing the dishes today. Thank you, David!

The food miracle of each day was a huge loaf of fresh bread that Tim cooked in a bread maker in his wanagin.  Waking up to fresh bread and brewed coffee in an Antarctic camp has got to be one of the true joys of life.

Tim always made fresh bread for breakfast in a breadmaker in his wanagin. This was such a delicious treat! On a good day there might be enough left for lunch with cheese and sausages.

The evening meals were fabulous research collaborations, plus a ‘quorum’ that justified sharing of chocolate and occasionally wine.  We had one wanagin as a lab, with a bench along one wall, lights, and outlets (New Zealand style … the first thing we did was blow the main breaker in camp testing to see if one of our questionable plug strips would do the job … nope, better stick with the heavier duty ones.).

Uh oh! Within 5 minutes, we had tripped the circuit breakers for the entire camp and let the magic smoke out of this plug strip! Guess you knew the electrical engineers had moved in! (Yes, we knew we might blow the breakers, we just had to try it anyway. New Zealand power is 240 V, and US is 110 V. The US plug strip had some electronics inside that couldn't withstand the 240 V, and poof! David is loving that ozone smell...

The four of us shared a second bunk wanagin for sleeping, and divided the space into ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ with a tarp.  The 9 other researchers in camp had a collection of lab and sleeping wanagins, and some slept in Arctic tents (in part for fun, and also for a little more privacy than the packed quarters most of us shared).

Joyce peeking out of her bunk. Each bunk had curtains to darken our sleeping space and for privacy.

Electricity was supplied by a large diesel-powered generator.  It was used to heat the lab and sleeping wanagins, running our coring drill, recharging the batteries of all of the other equipment, cooking, etc.  Food boxes were delivered from Scott Base periodically during our stay, mostly dehydrated foods, with a little frozen meat and veggies, chocolate, canned or dried fruit, pasta/rice/couscous.  Cooking for one would have been pretty simple, but cooking for 13 was a little peculiar, as we mixed and matched various combinations of foods to try to come up with ‘what’s for dinner.’  Strange as the combinations might have been, it all tasted good, no doubt because hunger is the best sauce for any food.  Water for cooking or dish washing was slightly salty and came from melted snow.  Water to drink was hauled from Scott Base.  There was no other water (no showers or wash water).  We kept pseudo-clean using wet wipes and dry shampoo.  The toilet was a bucket in a small outhouse and holes drilled in the sea ice.  When you walked just a hundred yards or so from camp, it produced the most beautiful silence, perhaps even an eerie silence, except for the wind.  I am used to backpacking in Utah, where frankly, it is rarely silent as the multitude of birds, bugs, and animals keep your ear drums vibrating.  So in these respects, this camp was remote.

In other respects, our camp was not so remote. It was right on the ‘main drag’, so we often looked up to see some fantastical Antarctic vehicle buzzing along in the distance.  A collection of treaded vehicles (Pisten Bully’s and Hagglunds, for example) as well as big-wheeled conveyances are shown on our photo blog.  We were about an hour’s drive from Scott Base, and in direct line of the airport.  We watched the daily C17 flights whose flight path was within easy sight of our camp.  In addition, we were in constant radio contact with Scott Base, providing an emergency lifeline for everyone’s safety.

The coolest part about K131 was the collegiality, the FUN, the play, the belly-bending laughter, the true enjoyment of spending time with science, scientists, and science challenges.

There was a lot of laughing and horsing around in addition to serious science in our camp.

Our friends at K131!

For more photos, check out:  http://picasaweb.google.com/ccfurse



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