It’s a hard concept to define.
The season is coming to an end and it’s sadly time to close down camp. I’ve lived here for 3 months but have hardly mentioned it, so here is a description of the place that gives me pangs to pack up:
We’ve spent most of our time at a place called F6. Named for the stream site it sits next to, it’s comprised of a small hut surrounded by several flat tent sites. The building itself is divided into two sections – one half is a dedicated lab space where we dress up in white coats and pretend to be important, and the other half serves as a kitchen/eating area. The building is small – each of the two rooms is only 10ft x 20ft – but it fits three people incredibly comfortably. It’s a prefabricated structure, and so while tiny, it’s so heat efficient that we only turned on our heater for a total of 2 weeks out of our 3 month season. The roof is painted black to increase the absorbtion of solar radiation, and the double-thickness walls are stuffed with baby-penguin feathers and imported kittens to serve as insulation.
Our lab has supplies for filtering water samples, a fume hood for toxic gases, and enough scrap supplies to rebuild a gauge box in the event that it’s destroyed by wind/glaciers/the second coming. Several different sorts of emergency eye washes and absorption towels line the walls on the chance that we are unfortunate enough to have a chemical spill.
Between the lab and the kitchen is an exciting area of the hut that we often refer to as ‘the doorway’. This underappreciated space contains not only our refrigerator (seemingly redundant in Antarctica), but our pull-up bar that serves as our only means of staying fit.
After an exhausting 6 foot distance to the opposite end of the building, our kitchen contains the precious Cinnamon Toast Crunch and coffee that provide me the motivation to wake up in the morning. We have a propane stove top and a sink fixture that leads into a grey water bucket. The technical piece of equipment in the right hand side of the photo converts and regulates the input from our solar panel to our storage batteries. There is no electrical lighting in F6 – the 24 hour sun provides quite enough light for both indoor light and for our power needs: our solar panel is sufficient for our limited power draw and we rotate it by hand 4 times a day.
Outside of the hut there are a number of rather unsightly items that are necessary for running a field camp that is off-the-grid and self-sufficient. Several 55-gallon barrels are stacked near each other. While hard to distinguish, they have different contents: most are grey water/urine barrels, one contains AN8 fuel, another is regular gasoline, and some are propane. The fridge and the stove run on propane while our ATV runs on gas. I’m still trying to figure out what we have that uses AN8.
There are no living quarters inside F6. This means that we live in 4-season mountain tents and -40 degree sleeping bags for the entire season. I slept wonderfully. The constant exposure to the sun meant that I could wake up to a tent that sometimes reached a blazing hot 25C (77F). On cold nights the dryness of the air meant that no condensation would form inside the tent. Spacious, warm, and dry, it is difficult not to feel at home.
The outhouse. I’ve decided to spare readers the grim reality of it, so to describe it succinctly: a bucket. But damn if the view’s not good.
F6 will be missed.