Antarctica

Week 24 Snug as a Bug in ECW

26th March - 2nd April 2000

This week was very quite. So quite I don't really have anything to write about. We were still busy with AMANDA. A number of requests to do extra little jobs. But they were all boring, but time consuming jobs such as restoring data (that did not transfer automatically over the satellite) from archive tapes. The only thing that stood out to me was that it was a uniformly cold week, with the temperature sitting around -60C all the time. I thought I'd take the opportunity to describe what I wear outside in these temperatures.

The first thing we do when arriving in CHC before coming down here, is go to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) and get kitted out with ECW (Extreme Cold Weather gear). What immediately struck me about this stuff is that it is purely functional. No trendy ski wear in the ECW! We are also informed that it is the property of the US government, and Uncle Sam wants it all back when we are finished with it - even our socks. We are advised to try it all on and swap stuff that doesn't fit for different sizes, hand back what we don't want, and sign for it when we're done. When we go into the office we get asked if we want a pair of issue sun glasses. In the participant guide it stress the important of high quality eye protection. I'm very disappointed when I'm handed a pair of plastic sun glasses with a trendy name on them. They didn't last the summer!

Everyone has a different attitude toward ECW. Some think it's great, and wear nothing else. I'm at the other end of the spectrum. I think most of it's very average. The only part that I think is very good is the real ECW component, the outside layer. The fleece layer, thermals, gloves, and headware, are far from the best in the world. And if I'm going to be spending time in this stuff I'd rather spend a bit of my own money on having what I want to wear.

Dressing for outside is quite simple here. There aren't that many weather changes - it's always cold! During the summer, on windless days, I occasionally only wore 2 layers to Mapo (thermals, jeans, and fleece top). But if I'd been stopped by the runway crossing beacon, I'd had to go back. No standing around in light gear like this. The principle is the same for the cold anywhere - dress in layers. But here I wouldn't expect to take a layer off.

Considering the 3 layer standard, there is a fair bit of choice in each layer. The thermals issued for polies are very heavy (and are ugly brown, and have a funny odor). I have my own Mac Pac thermals in different weights. I often just wear a t-shirt on top. But it can get cold in bare arms inside the dome. So I tend to alternate depending on if I'm feeling cold that day.

The second layer is fleece. But I'd only wear fleece pants if I were going to be working outside. Your legs tend to not cool you down too much, especially when walking. So jeans are fine most of the time. But the top is what I vary the most. On a cold windy day it's heavy fleece. On a warm day I might wear a long sleeve thermal top and a fleece vest. Never bare arms under the last layer.

In the summer people have very different tastes about the outer layer. Much of it is determined by who you work for. For tradies it's a uniform - Carhart (insulated overalls), the grubbier the better (indication of how hard you work?). For beakers comfort comes first. Also, despite the taunts from the tradies of "inside person", most beakers have to walk to work - to Mapo or ARO (tradies walk no where). So during the summer beakers tend to wear the lighter weight (easier to walk in) padded black nylon pants. Thus the nickname "beaker pants". I wore these most of the summer, but have swapped to Carhart now it's got colder. An important point with the Carhart is that they have pockets to put symbols in. The front pocket for putting your green brain, screw drivers, and mag light. If you are cargo the thin pocket on the side of the leg has a pair of tin cutters (for cutting banding around cargo). If you worked on the power plant during the summer (the ultimate macho job), a carabiner in the loop on the side of the leg. Carpenters go nowhere without a tape measure. And if you fix heavy machinery you have to go roll in sump oil to get the right shade of jet black.

There is no choice as far as I'm concerned about the outer top layer - the huge red fleece jacket. I'm sure it could be improved with better trim on the zips, and velcro flaps, but it's almost perfect for these conditions. I could do without the genuine fur around the hood. Once this thing is on it's fairly hard to see much close around you because of it's bulk. So I'm very organised about pockets. Spare glove liners in lower left pocket, balaclava lower right, sunglasses top left, anything unusual (camera) top right, and chemical hand warmer left sleeve pocket. Most people at pole get issued a green jacket with South Pole written on it. It's not often worn in winter as it's a bit light weight.

The fastest way to loose heat is through your head. For some reason your body likes to keep circulation up to it. But it is also the easiest way to regulate your body temperature. In summer, when the temperature was above -40C, I would usual just wear Harolds lizard hat he lent me 5 years ago, and a pair of sunglasses. It felt nice to have nothing over my face, and crisp cool air on the cheeks. Below this, or if the wind is really up, I would put a large neck gaiter on and pull it up to my nose. Your breath freezes on the outside of this, and it warms the air up before you breath it. Unfortunately your breath also freezes on your goggles. So I have a piece of cardboard taped under them to deflect my breath. There are all sorts of weird schemes to keep the goggles ice free. The weirdest is a diving snorkel. Once it gets below -50 then any uncovered skin around the face is soon felt. So under the hat I wear a balaclava which I pull in so my snow goggles cover over the edges of it. Sometime you get outside and realise there is small gap somewhere. It won't feel too bad at first. Then you go around the corner of Mapo and get hit by the wind, and it feels like a pins being stuck in your head. Now the dilemma, stop and try and fix it, or keep walking and get back as quick as possible.

I hate the gloves we are issued. Hands are about the only thing that get cold with all this gear on. For this reason I brought my own large selection. The issue leather gloves are good if you are doing work that is going to wreck the gloves - which a lot of people do. But they are uncomfortable and cold. Down to -50 my Black Diamond All Conditions are quite good. If I'm outside for a long period in cold conditions I'll wear my BD Sub Zero mitts (with liners if I'm taking photos or doing fiddley work). It's impossible to avoid cold hands every so often.

The foot wear is my favorite part of the ECW. In the summer I wore my Bunny Boots most of the time. These are white rubber thermoses for the feet. If you stand around on the ice for long period, your feet can get cold in these. But I've never had any problem when wearing my blue Frankenstein boots. These have really thick soles with a felt, and mesh liner in the sole. Around the foot they are heavy leather with insulation inside. They go two thirds of the way up to the knee with quilted insulation. As well as socks, you wear a pair on liners on your feet. Once you are used to them they are quite comfortable and toasty warm!

I hope everyone in the southern hemisphere is getting rugged up for winter. And in the north I hope you enjoy the sun.

To be continued .......

p.s. This is a picture of me in various states of ECW dress (undress). The squeamish might like to censor it.

p.p.s. By the end of the year I had altered some of my clothing slightly. I only ever wear Carhart bottoms now. On my head I wear a head sock, and never wear goggles. You can really reduce the skin exposed, and still see, with a head sock A head sock is a wind proof fleece balaclava, with e normal fleece tube that folds back into it, and pulls up over your face.

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