Entry Four: Camp Life

 

Camp Life

In camp, a routine was rapidly established. The early risers would appear at about 6 am, the rest by 7 am or soon after. Though, if it was sunny, most of us had been awake much longer (remember the sun never sets during the summer at these latitudes). The first order of the day was to head for a bath. This event was certainly bracing; I don’t think any of us would recommend bathing in glacial melt-water on a regular basis, though I have to say it was a quick way to wake up! Meanwhile, the first person to the base-tent would fill the jet fuel stove and get some water boiling. Soon, there would be the great smell of real coffee, with the early risers sitting round warming up. Coffee in hand, breakfast would start. This consisted of either instant oatmeal, cereal made with powdered milk, or crisp breads with jelly.
 Once breakfast was completed, there were chores to do; mainly washing up and collecting fresh water. We would take turns walking upstream and collecting 5 gallons of drinking water - some of the best I have ever tasted - and then struggling back through the boggy tundra to the campsite. These tasks completed, we would each attend to chores of our own; clothes washing, charging the satellite phone or camera batteries using the solar panel, journal writing and the application of fresh insect repellent. At 8 am every second morning, we would make a satellite phone call to the airport at Constable Pynt, to confirm that we had no serious injuries or illness, and that there was no other crisis requiring the immediate dispatch of a rescue helicopter. It should be noted that attack by polar bear is a real threat in this region and that these animals have been known to stalk and occasionally kill people.
 The breakfast and “household” chores over, our last tasks before setting off for the field were to pack some lunch, and to make sure our field supplies (labels, newspaper, tape, plastic bags, etc.) were adequate for the day’s collecting. Lunch typically consisted of a granola bar, a chocolate bar, some nuts or fruit and slices of salami or parmesan cheese - our main sources of protein on the trip - and between one and two liters of water. In addition to the standard kit of extra clothes, rain gear, geological hammer, sharp knife, notebook and sample bags, one person would carry the satellite phone (for emergencies), one the rifle and ammunition, one the first aid kit, and one the GPS (Global Positioning System), while the shovels and picks for clearing work would be distributed between us.
 On our return to camp in the evening, the order of priority was again fairly clear. First, samples collected that day were carefully stored under a large tarp. Next, we got water on the boil again, ready for more coffee and dinner. Once the water was boiling, we would download photographs to the laptop and discuss problems that had arisen that day and what our ongoing strategy would be. Dinner was always fairly substantial (you use a lot of energy in Greenland) usually a hearty soup, followed by either rice or pasta with a sauce full of either salami or parmesan cheese.
 What I have just described were working days; some mornings, we woke to the sounds of a strong storm; waves pounding on the shore and the incessant drumming of rain on the tents. On such days, fieldwork wasn’t possible; we tried! If we could get to the sites, the fossils would disintegrate in the wet and the paper would blow away or would turn to mush as we wrote on it. So, we would gather in the base-tent and wait for the rain to stop. Sitting there we could hear a rumble, like thunder, but it was always the cracking of ice. I have been told that thunder and lightning in Greenland don’t occur, or are at least very rare. Rainy days were days of boredom and cold! Everyone wore all (or most) their clothes at once and we would sit and read, sharing magazines and books, or just simply talk and wait for the next meal, which was always an eternity in coming. We had six such days and they were six too many.

 

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