This was the first time in my life that I got paid to go camping! It is part of my job training, a mandatory requirement for everyone who needs to work farther than a few miles away from station. As my job includes servicing a seismometer located 5 miles away, I got one of the coveted spots in this year's class. So, after a quick briefing, 9 of us plus a mountaineering instructor piled up into two Pisten Bullys (see http://marcopolie.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html) and headed to a designated spot about a mile away from the station to practice some survival skills and to spend the night out. Not everyone gets excited about camping out in these temperatures. It takes a little effort to overcome the psycological barrier of leaving the warmth of the station and brave the elements for a whole day -a little bit like jumping in a pool of cold water- but once out, we all worked hard to stay warm, have a good time, and keep our spirits high. We were lucky with the weather: the wind had died down to a breeze and the temperature had risen to -26 F (-32 C).
First we erected two Scott tents. One was for sleeping (it can sleep up to 4 people), the other was our kitchen and mess tent. Here I am standing next to one of them.
Then we started cutting snow blocks with a saw to build a wall that would protect our three mountaineering tents from the wind. Luckily this was only an exercise, as the wind never picked up.
Here is our completed camp -two Scott tents and three mountaineering tents- only 1 mile from the Geographic South Pole.
The kitchen in the Scott tent turned out to be too hot for some of us, so we built an outdoor kitchen on snow blocks and we ended up drinking hot chocolate and cider and cracking jokes late in the night, while a group of five people (but not me) decided to build a snow cave to spend the night in it. They worked until 3 AM to build a full size room about 8 ft x 6ft, buried three feet under the ice, while we kept the kitchen going to supply them with hot drinks. In this photo (taken at 2 AM) our friend OV is warming up with one of his favorite drinks.
I chose to sleep in one of the mountaineering tents. This is the view from the vestibule out towards the open-air kitchen. I woke up around 9 AM, went skiing for a half hour, and came back just in time to break camp with the rest of the group, eat a cold breakfast, and wait for the Pisten Bullys that would take us back to the station for lunch.