I’m writing this from a snow cave on the Ross Ice Shelf. It’s midnight, and greenish sunlight is seeping in through thin patches in the roof of our shelter. We’re halfway through Happy Camper School, a two-day, 20-student training program taught to anyone who intends to spend even one night away from McMurdo Station. It’s a rite of passage for any Antarctic scientist.
Over the course of the day, our two mountaineer-instructors, Karen Hilton and Danny Uhlmann, taught us the basics of being comfortable on snow as well as how to avoid hypothermia, recognize frostbite, and make a bombproof tent anchor out of a bamboo stick. But the schoolwork got serious at 6 p.m., when Hilton and Uhlmann left us alone to finish up our shelters, boil water, cook dinner, and prepare for the night. We’ll see them again tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.