I arrived at the pier in Punta Arenas with hardly a scrap of warm weather clothing. How could this be, you may wonder. This girl is going to Antarctica!
Well at the pier there is a warehouse that holds the Extreme Cold Weather gear, which is issued to each scientist or support staff employee. Before deployment, everyone sends in their physical measurements so that the ECW staff can have ready a bag with the correct sized gear for you. However, the sizes are inevitably off, and you have to check for holes and make sure that all the zippers work correctly. This process involves trying on all the clothing to make sure it fits together, starting from the bottom layer of long underwear and working all the way up to outer parkas. You end up feeling somewhat like the von Hindenburg: a blimp that is burning up.
The work gear is generally carhartts and plaid flannel so one ends up looking a bit like a lumberjack. Eddie posed in his canvas and flannel next to a slim female mannequin outfitted in black goretex pants, a red US Antarctic Program parka and a tight-fitting fleece cap with earflaps. They made quite a pair.
I think what did me in was trying on endless pairs of the Sorrel boots (rubber feet with leather ankle support). Somehow, I swear, every pair of size 6 boots was slightly different and every time, I had to stamp them onto my feet, walk around, and then pry them off against a fearsome suction force. It’s a little bit like a standardized test: at first it’s fun to fill in the little bubbles, but by the end your mind is fuzzy and you just want to leave.
By the time all my gear was packed into big black duffels and I stumbled outside into bright light and wind, overheated and disoriented, I felt as though I’d been through a washing machine on the fast spin cycle.
In the end, my Extreme Cold Weather gear includes:
2 pairs thick tube socks
2 pairs long underwear tops and bottoms
carhartt work pants
flannel-lined carhartt overalls
flannel work shirt (plaid of course)
carhartt work vest
lined carhartt parka
gore-tex ski overalls
gore-tex Antarctic Program parka
rubber fishermen’s bibs and jacket
2 pairs lined rubber gloves
2 pairs lined leather work gloves
2 pairs polypro glove liners
mittens with fleece inserts
And no, sadly I do not get to keep this gear; I will return it at the end of the season. However the US Antarctic Program may not miss a pair of wool gloves…