Antarctica and the Princess and the Pea

January 15, 2009

Even the fussy Princess in the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale might slumber peacefully in an Antarctic tent.

She turned up at a castle unannounced in a storm and married the prince after proving she was royal by complaining of a sleepless night because of a lump in the bed — a single pea the Queen placed as an identity test beneath the 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds.

Above is Daniel Fitzgerald, a field assistant at the British Rothera research station, carrying a bag that contains a foam mat, sheepskin rug, sleeping bag and other layers used to spend a night out in bone-chilling temperatures — in total there are 10 layers separating you from the ice and snow.

Reuters TV reporter Stuart McDill and I spent a night on Reptile Ridge on the Antarctic Peninsula — for a story, click here. (We slept in the middle two-person tent in the picture below.)

Temperatures were only just below freezing — but can plunge to minus 20 Celsius in mountains to the south of here in midsummer, meaning you probably need all the layers.

If you are planning a camping trip to British Antarctic Survey standards, here is what you need to pack:

At the bottom, the tent has an inner liner that goes on a hole you dig in the snow. Above that you lay out a plastic groundsheet.  On top of that goes a wooden board.

Then you unpack the green bag and unroll another seven layers — from the bottom, it contains a foam mat, an inflatable mattress, a sheepskin rug, a thick green waterproof sheet, a fleece blanket, a sleeping bag and a cotton sheet to line the sleeping bag.

I’d thought, wrongly, that all polar scientists spend weeks shivering. If anything, it was too warm. 

You also cook inside with stoves and lamps run on paraffin. Those can also add a burst of heat if you need to warm up or hang up your socks to dry them out ( … probably not something a Princess would do).

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Here in Scotland my pupils have been learning about explorers in their Science class. I have only just found your blog and think my pupils will be very interested in it. Any chance of having a look at our blog and leaving us a comment. We are new to blogging and keen to make links with people from around the world.
Caroline McCombie

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