Camping, Antarctica-style

inconsolably A few people have asked what it’s like to camp in Antarctica, so here is a brief summary and some photos of our home for 40+ days. Basically, think car-camping, except our car is a Bell 212 helicopter capable of lifting 3000lbs of gear…

Key to the whole operation are two Bright yellow Polar Scott tents – pimage1 (8)retty much the same design as that used by the original Antarctic explorers. One contains our kitchen / dining room in which we melt snow/ice for drinking water, cook (all on a propane stove) and eat. Cleaning the dishes usually involves a quick wipe with a paper towel. We store all of our food (about 200lbs worth, or two weeks supply) outside the tent in coolers and wooden boxes. We separate our trash into food waste, recyclables and non-recyclables, and these all get returned to McMurdo station and added to the waste stream that is removed from the continent.

Our bathroom Scott Polar tent contains a grey 5 gallon bucket with a seat which serves as our toilet and a 5 gallon container for liquid human waste and ‘grey’ water from cooking. All the waste freezes pretty quickly here, so there is no smell. Once ~75% full, the containers are sealed they are transported back to McMurdo station by Helicopter, packaged into shipping containers and returned to the US on the supply vessel to be disposed of. Incidentally, it’s important that we don’t overfill the containers, because as the waste freezes it expands and if the container is already full, it will burst and leave someone, somewhere a very nasty cleanup job…

image2 (5)We each sleep in our own mountain tent (a Mountain Hardwear Trango 2). The tents are just large enough for us to sit up in and fit all of our personal gear, our giant -20F rated sleeping bags, a foam sleeping pad and a big thermarest. Because they are small they tend to warm up quickly and trap a lot of heat from the sun, so they are quite cozy little cocoons. The only downside is that they are not as weatherproof as the Scott Polar tents, and occasionally they get destroyed in severe winds / storms.

We cook on a propane stove, and we have no need for lights as it’s daylight 24/7, so our minimal electricity needs are easily met by a solar panel + battery system that charges our various radios, satellite phones, laptops, cameras etc. We communicate with McMurdo station daily on a satellite phone, or if we are close enough a handheld VHF radio. We also have a Vietnam-era portable HF radio that we can use as a backup.image3 (4)

All in all it’s a pretty comfortable, if not somewhat basic, existence.

~ John for the Antarctica360 team

2 thoughts to “Camping, Antarctica-style”

  1. I was going to ask a silly question about night sky. Reading your first hand experience is most interesting.

    1. Hi Ann, yes….add “face mask” to required camping gear. The dimmest it ever got was at Nussbaum Riegel, where the sun (around midnight) was obscured behind a fairly large mountain we were camped close to. But it was still basically broad daylight.

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