The below gear is a list of what I ended up using during the expedition. Unsure of what to expect in Antarctica, I brought more than I needed to. As an Antarctic rookie, I did not want to be caught shorthanded. That being said, I knew that one of the reasons people failed in polar explorations was carrying too much gear. There was a fine line between having enough to make it through any situation and carrying too much to the point of being unable to succeed at the expedition at all. At the end of this appendix is a discussion of what was brought but is not in the below list, for either it was found to be useless during the expedition or I quickly realized at Union Glacier that the particular component was not going to work in the field in Antarctica.
For as many times as I had backpacked through the California Sierras and trekked through Yellowstone National Park in the winter, Antarctica posed its own particular challengesthatIwasunabletotestfor. NeithertheCaliforniaforestnor Yellowstone has any significant wind and both provide plenty of cover during the night. Unless there is a storm blowing, there is comparatively little weather to deal with. There were extreme freezing nights in Yellowstone, at which I enjoyed sleeping in a −20o F rated sleeping bag in −45o temperatures, and the few days of 25 knot winds blowing directly in my face for a few hours. Eventually, though, the landscape provided cover to reduce the physical and psychological pressure of the weather. None of these protections are available in Antarctica. Even in the biggest 3m high sastrugi fields, there is no shelter. The ice is sculpted to a perfect aerodynamic shape, so hiding behind a piece of tall ice only meant the wind blew from a slightly different direction. The only way I was able to take shelter during the day was to place the sleds abeam of the wind and hide on the leeward side. Laying on the ice was only made slightly comfortable by the use of the ski poggies as a makeshift mat, giving them a dual purpose. Getting out of the 40+ knot winds for a few minutes was well worth laying on the mile thick sheet of ice. Eventually my mind became annealed to the psychological effects of the wind, so all I had to bear was the physical, alleviating the need to hide behind the sleds during the day.
[GEAR LIST TO FOLLOW]
Weights not shown are due to variability during use or loss)
One thing I knew from previous trips was not to bring a plastic or Lexan spoon. Alexandre Gamme had mentioned regretting bring a plastic spoon in his blog. Over the years, I had two plastic spoons break on me in the field. Although metal spoons are slightly heavier, they’ll never break under normal use. And, in a pinch, it can be used as an improvised tool. Or even a weakly effective pry bar in the lateral direction.
The needles I brought were really troublesome. They were pretty neat, at the outset, because I did not have to try and thread the needle. All I had to do is slide the thread across the eye and it would nearly fall and hook into the needle’s eye. That was all good but as soon as I started sewing, the notch in the needle eye constantly caught in the nylon fabric and the fleece. For the little time they saved me threading the needle, they cost me lots of time fighting with the needle snagging. And the fine fabric base of the polar thigh guards also tore from those needles. Old-school, regular needles are the only way to go.
The bowl I brought for cereal as well snow scooping ended up being quite worthless. In North American snow that is relatively soft, an open bowl was very handy to use as a scoop, as I had no problem with any of the snow around the tent being too hard. And, the chance of spilling anything was low over a two week trip. I enjoyed the versatility of the bowl. But in Antarctica, the snow is very hard packed and sometimes icy, so it first has to be broken into manageable chunks with the shovel, piled under the tent vestibule, and then melted to snow. Even though the snow was broken to fist or football size blocks, they were still too hard for the plastic bowl. I quickly learned to use the Lexan camp cup, as it was much sturdier and reduced the risk of splashing water as I placed it in the water pot.
I brought a standard Lexan camp cup for scooping snow and drinking. It was great for a snow scoop to make water with but was unsafe in the tent to use for either tea or breakfast. The risk of spilling food was a constant danger and had to be ever vigilant. Even though I had lids for both the large drinking cup and food thermos, I came close to spilling each when I was especially fatigued or the wind was shaking the tent like an army of mad zombies. In retrospect, I could have easily done without the regular camp cup and just used the cup with a lid for scooping and chiseling off pieces of snow to be melted. Even though the little camp cup weighed a scant 59 (TK) grams, that extra weight was always there, slowing me down.
It was a good thing I brought spare tent stakes. There was more than one spot where the ice was hard to jam the stakes into. The design of the stakes I brought was very good for softer snow and for making dead man placements but in very hard snow or ice, there is the chance the stakes would bend at the drill holes. And, no surprise, they did. Two were severely bent and another two ended up partially bent. I did my best to avoid digging into my spare supplies until absolutely necessary. I wanted them to last as long as possible. In the first cache, ALE delivered their version of tent stakes, aluminum tent poles with small rope loops drilled through them. I learned these were far superior to the quarter-round cut tube stakes I brought. The tent poles punched through any hard snow and were pretty easy to get through harder ice, so I never bent them. This is what ALE used to secure their tents at Union Glacier the whole season, so after killing some of my stakes, I can see why they use those.