Base-Camp Accommodations in Antarctica: What to expect...
Within a few minutes of your arrival, you will naturally find your way to the village of tented buildings of the Airstrip Base Camp. Don't be confused or shy to find your way into the main dining hall tent. Nobody at this camp will snarl or bite. Visitors here are of all nationalities and are all now quite accustomed to differing languages, behavior and boots. Each visitor is just as modest and shy about interpretations to strangers as you are. Our tents were double-walled temporary buildings with windows, and entry-room and a giant rubber floor. Hot air is pumped-in by ducted kerosene heaters running outside, so the temperature was quite warm. Gloves and parkas are heaped over an overburdened coat rack and the murmurs over coffee and hot tea beckon from within. If you can't find the teacups or hot water tank, somebody will recognize your helpless appearance and direct you to them. Life in Antarctica is almost completely self-service. That is that you will be given a room assignment, but no porters will move your bags. The cook, however, will see that you are properly fed. He is formally trained proper chef and takes your health and dining quite seriously. You will find him a permanent fixture of the dining hall kitchen chopping, stirring, peeling and mixing.
After a good breakfast, you're ready for another good look around the place. By now, your tent has been assigned and any extra baggage from the aircraft delivered from the aircraft to the camp. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the amazing vehicular toys residing at the camp. As bizarre as they seem, they will all be familiar by the end of the visit. The entire camp is erected on a huge, thick layer of solid ice-pack. It's as-if the area was an enormous lake-bed, frozen centuries ago into land of ice. There isn't much to trudge-through at camp, with walked paths between buildings and such. One curious side-effect of the tent-camp is the heat effects on ice underlying each building. Naturally, the heat radiated through the rubber floor slowly melts away the top of the ice. It's no danger of sinking, for below it is even more ice afterwards. Permanent buildings are therefore doomed to sink slowly lower into the ice each year, but our village is only seasonal and will not suffer the same fate. So a small hole is dug in the ice behind each building for water to drain to, and each building is curiously its own supply of fresh wash water. Visitors drink bottled water, but this fresh water supply is good for hygiene and dishes. Dormitory buildings are segregated ladies here and gents there, with up to 10 cots and sleeping bags pre-arranged in each. You may be surprised to also find a private bath in each, with a clever vanity sink complete with a fresh hot-water tank. Our logistical hosts reassured us that these tented buildings were not to their liking, and that proper Canadian inflatable buildings have been specially ordered for the next season.
On discovery of the hot water tank in the bath, I felt curious to follow the chord. To my surprise, Found an electrical plug lying ready for use there in the ladies' dorm. While it isn't suggested that you plug your hair-dryer or microwave into the system, chargers and electronics are very welcome for a time in this cozy dorm at nearly 60 deg F. The plugs are European, so a two-prong 'inny' adapter is ever so handy. At the heart of the camp is a rectangular metal shipping container humming along, generating electricity. A closer look reveals an elaborate series of a half-dozen generators, wiring harnesses, fuse panels and fuel-source plumbing. The station begins to feel less like a camp and more like an outfit. Snowmobiles whisk by this way and that, as busy workers and visitors bustle about. It is hard to tell who are staff, mountain climbers or journalists, as everyone bundled in thick togs and dark shades just seem to be pitching-in with no sign of foremanship. All players seem to be on the same team. In short order, your mind nestles into the comfort level to grant a happy, well-earned nap. The spring-support beds is a pleasant surprise. So when counting backwards from 10, the number 7 is rarely met before sleep interrupts.
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by Jen Winter - Based on Site Inspection and logistical expedition of February 7-9, 2003
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