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Extreme Weather Clothing

At the USAP’s Clothing Distribution Center, adjacent to Christchurch International Airport, we first receive a mandatory briefing. We’re reminded of the importance of protecting Antarctica’s pristine environment, how to dispose of trash (over 60% of materials are recycled and re-purposed, and everything else is carted back to the US via ship). We learn what to do if there are fuel or other spills—not immediately informing authorities of even the smallest incident is considered a criminal offense. Wildlife is not to be disturbed, and we must leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs (unless we are taking authorized samples for scientific purposes).

Another video teaches us about safety. The weather can change quickly and without warning, and the ferocity of Antarctica’s storms is legendary. While McMurdo has a small hospital, it is vital to practice safety and avoid incidents—and cuts, strains, slips, and sprains are the most common and often avoidable injuries.

One way we’ll stay safe and healthy is by wearing our EWC (Extreme Weather Clothing). We are issued two big bags full of clothing to size specifications we submitted months ago. Some items, such as the famous red USAP parka are standard issue, but exactly what EWC we receive depends on the nature of our deployment, what kind of work we’ll be doing, and where.

We get:

  • USAP parka

  • Insulated wind overalls

  • Balaclava

  • Fleece hat

  • Goggles

  • Neck gaiter

  • Fleece top

  • Fleece pants

  • 6 different kinds of gloves and mittens

  • Bunny boots: thick rubber air-insulated boots

  • We have to supply our own mid- and heavyweight long underwear and expedition weight socks.

Meanwhile, the nurse checks our temperature and ensures we’ve each had our flu shot. Without one, we’ll be unable to deploy.

The rest of the day we spend catching up on sleep (everyone is exhausted from travel and very jet-lagged), getting to know one another, and going to the supermarket for luxury items such as chocolate, a favorite tea, or anything else that will make our long sea voyage more comfortable.

After a celebration dinner, it’s early to bed. We’re being picked up at 5:45 AM tomorrow for our “ice flight”!

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