Herald science reporter Jamie Morton has travelled to Antarctica and is filing regular stories, along with a series of diary entries. Here is his third.

One of the strictest rules of camping in Antarctica's white wilderness is not leaving a single blemish on the snow.

A tiny blotch of Milo? Scoop it up with a teaspoon.

A few drops of diesel on the ice? Mop it, remove it, bag it, report it.


Such is the dedication by Antarctica New Zealand and other authorities to ensure Antarctica remains the absolutely unspoilt environment it always has been.

It also raises an interesting concept for people traveling more than a short distance from Scott Base: field toileting.

Before I left New Zealand, a friend asked me how it is that you pee when out in Antarctica's cold, eluding not to the pristine environment but the suggestion you might catch an unfortunately-located case of frost-nip.

I answered that you don't.

Those going out in the field take with them a pee bottle - plastic canisters with the letter "P" marked boldly on them.

One of the
One of the "pee bottles" that are used in the field in Antarctica. Credit: supplied

They're typically used in the warmth of a tent and then emptied into a 20-litre container shared by the whole expedition team.

For women, there's the awkward choice of the "she-wee" device - it'd be inappropriate to detail that here - or a funnel placed on the container.

Once back at base, the container is emptied, rinsed with iodine and treated by staff in Scott Base's wittily-named "P lab".

Nearby is a closet where empty "poo buckets" are stored.

Lined with two clear plastic bags and usually emptied when three-quarters full, these aren't any more glamorous than their names suggest.

They're nevertheless essential for teams on "deep field" expeditions - hundreds of kilometres from the luxury of a cubicle in Scott Base.

On our one night camping on the ice, no one was game to give it a try.

In the morning, we met Drew, a friendly instructor who helped introduce newcomers to the ice with a first-hand experience during compulsory AFT, or Antarctic Field Training.

Throughout most of the day, we stay in base running through the health and safety guidelines that are part of every facet of life in Antarctica.

When you leave base, you sign out and write the time you'll be signing back in - forgetting to do this might mean you have half the continent out looking for you.

If you venture further afield, you radio Scott Base communication and check in each day with pre-arranged scheduled reports, or "scheds".

Your gear must be checked thoroughly for any sign of rips or damage and you must stay warm and cover up any frost-exposed parts of your body at all times.

You need to stay vigilant about where you're stepping or whether your field kitchen might be exposing your tent to potentially-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.

Perhaps most importantly, there's the weather.

True to everything we imagine about Antarctica, it has a brutal tendency to switch wind direction and intensity in the space of a few minutes or kilometres.

When we rode a tracked Hagglund out to a field training camp site, about five kilometres from Scott Base, there was little to see but the faint outlines of marker flags in the distance and misty glimpses of mountain-sides.

It was snowing and there was little that wasn't some shade of white.

 Antarctic field training involves camping out on the ice and creating a
Antarctic field training involves camping out on the ice and creating a "field kitchen" out of ice bricks. Credit: supplied

Yet this was Condition Three weather, officially "normal" in Antarctic terms.

At Condition Two, when wind chill can plunge below minus 60C, sustained winds reach 89-100km/h and visibility becomes less than 300 metres, restrictions kick in for travel outside the base.

And when you reach Condition One - winds howling at over 100km/h and wind chill temperatures south of minus 73C - no one's going anywhere because no one CAN go anywhere.

These events happen a couple of times every summer season, and while we were out on the ice it might have deteriorated to Condition Two - though by that time, we were snug in our polar tents, wrapped in two fairy down sleeping bags.

Drew showed us how to erect a polar tent - with pegs hammered into the ice and snow packed around the sides for extra stability - and how to construct a field kitchen.

This involved quite simply sawing an L-shaped trench and using the ice bricks to build a wind-break.

Next, we set up portable gas burners - much different to those used in your typical tramping hut - to boil a billy for our packets of dehydrated meals.

I've dined in some fine restaurants, but none could match the satisfaction I got from the sachet of sweet and sour lamb I hastily devoured amid the falling snow on a bright-white night in Antarctica.

As the snow began to wet our extreme cold weather gear - wet snow is seldom seen in Antarctica - Drew was anxious to get us off the ice and into a cosy little nearby hut, adorned with pictures of home.

After an hour's yarning over a block of chocolate and a few cups of Milo, we were ready to climb inside our polar tents and get some sleep, safe from the increasing snowfall outside.

The experience was invaluable, not just to appreciate the alien nature of Antarctica, but to appreciate why it is that the world so fiercely guards it with measures like the Antarctic Treaty.

Knowing you'll be leaving this continent without having threatened its purity in any way - even with that tiny blotch of milo you scooped up - makes peeing in a bottle hardly worth grumbling about.