Monthly Archives: December 2015

West Antarctic Traverse

I am going to try and continue my one post per month rule but as I am about to head back into the field till some time in February I thought I would slide Decembers one in a little early.

The trip I have just returned from was a group of four field assistants pulling lots of Geology equipment 800km across West Antarctica to a coastal range called the Kola mountains.  While BAS does a lot of “traverses” where machines tow huge amounts of equipment and big bladders of fuel this was the first time this had been attempted with skidoos.  We flew in to an area south of the Ronne Ice shelf, packed up and left for what was meant to be 7-10days of ski doo driving across the great white flatness.  In the map here  we basically drove through the word West Antarctica out to the Amundsen Sea.  I dont usually keep a diary but did for once keep some notes which as the trip wore on (just a bit) enabled me to keep track of what was happening.

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My sledge all loaded up and ready to go. The enormous bag on the front with my name on it is my sleeping system or “P-bag” with the various boxes containing food and cooking stuff, the big bags on top various tents and the jerries (hidden in the middle) fuel for stoves and skidoos. You can just make out the second sledge with a fuel bladder with 600litres of Petrol in it. All told the sledges combined weight of the 2 sledges was about 2000lbs

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Al Docherty ready to go. We left at 6pm on the first day and drove until about 3am. Any mountaineers will probably know why looking at this photo – the circle round the sun (a sun dog or parheilia) is associated with good weather turning to bad – high winds in the next 24 hrs.  We drove for 10mins before the first thing fell off one of the sledges.

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Sledges parked up for the night pointing into the wind and away from the tents so they don’t drift them in. My parents asked “what happens with the toilet” – the red bucket is part of that explanation.

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My tent mate “Cheese” writing his diary in our first camp. We managed 100km in the first night (it doesn’t get dark just now) before pitching camp for “Lie up”. I wrote a note on the 2nd day that Cheese had mentioned casually “if we end up out here for three weeks we might start the good food” – I think he might have had a premonition as to what was to come.

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Al Docherty sporting the latest in fashion wear on his skidoo and fairly ecstatic that he had found his ipod. Driving a skidoo in a straight line in the whitness for up to 20hrs at a time is not very exciting! We were laid up in our first camp for 3 days after the initial evening drive.

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Al and Mat trying to rehydrate some food at a quick evening break. The thermos’s don’t quite keep the water hot enough to hydrate the food properly so you end up eating a lukewarm soupy substance and hoping it will hydrate inside you. We had got up at 8am on this day and this photo would have been taken at 8pm when we had our scheduled call in to Rothera to update on our progress. We then drove until 130am having made 130km

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Cheese walking back to his skidoo and sledges for another long stint of flat white driving.

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Cheese melting water at 2am after pitching camp. 2am in Antarctic summer is much like 2pm in Scottish Winter with the sun low in the sky but very much still up. We finally got to bed at 3am on this night (Day5) and got up at 8am to drive until 3am the next day.

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Our first sign of the mountains. By Day 13 we had got to within 80km of our final destination having spent only 3.5 days driving and the rest of the time in lie up.

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Sundog over the pyramid tents and Mt Takahe. We had a brief window of good weather in this camp before the winds rolled in again. At this point we all thought we would be finishing the trip any day.

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Lie up. Cheese and I reading in our Pyramid tent. The BAS system is pretty luxurius with a Tilly lamp to heat the tent and a stove in the middle of the tent (the circle in the middle of the image is the snow melting pan on the stove) It is pretty comfortable but the full 800km ended up taking us 18 days of which 14 were spent in lie up – lots of sleeping, reading and tea drinking.

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The only other thing to do in lie up is visit the neighbours. We played “Hearts” every day for a couple of hours.

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Cheese getting dressed for the last haul in some blowing snow. We heard a weather forecast that seemed just good enough to risk it and packed up and left camp at 8pm driving through the night to our final destination

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Self Portrait of me sheltering by my loaded skidoo just before leaving.

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Blowing snow made the visibility fairly challenging at times.

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Al and Mat driving past Mt Takahe in improving weather

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Cheese and Al waypointing one of their Geology sites on Mt Murphy. We had finally got to bed at 545am but Cheese and I had to get up again at 7am to start giving weather observations for the plane that was then headed our way. We finally got up properly at 2pm and headed up onto the shoulder of Mt Murphy for a look around.

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Camp under Mt Murphy. The Twin Otter plane flew in with the Geologists and picked up Mat and I.

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Fossil Bluff

After my last post I recieved a few emails from friends asking for more information, more writing and to know what it is I am up to.  I will try and fill in the gaps a wee bit though I do like the thought of people having to do a little homework and look things up!

I am currently working as a Field Assistant for the British Antarctic Survey.  BAS conduct enviromental science  in Antarctica and also hold a presence on the continent to get a say in the Antarctic treaty.  The field assistant job was described by my manager (the Field Operation Manager) as facilitating the science in the field.  While this is true for all jobs with BAS the field assisstants are the ones on the ground making sure that the scientists (beakers in BAS terminology) stay safe, everything from glacier travel to cups of tea.  The job is varied with loading and unloading vehicles, skidoo driving, camp managing and cooking, taking people skiing and climbing for their recreation, endless digging and the slightly randon co piloting of planes.

I am on an 18 month contract with BAS and will be based at Rothera until early 2017.  The two summers will be filled with field work and the winter with recreational trips for the wintering staff who all get a couple of weeks holiday skiing, climbing etc.

I am briefly back at Rothera after a few weeks on various projects and will try and get up a couple of blog posts up before I head out again.

First up I was sent off to Fossil Bluff which is a very small BAS base operated by just two staff during the summer months.  It has a reputation as a bit of a holiday spot as the only real work is giving weather observations (Met Obs) every hour and refueling planes that come in on their way further south.  Fossil Bluff is about 300 km from Rothera on Alexander Island looking out on the George VI Sound.  The hut was built in 1960 and was actually wintered in by 3 men in the winter of 1960/1961.  The place oozes history and the book about the first winter, “The Silent Sound” is a great insight into the “old days” where the men would throw their rubbish out the door and let the wind blow it away, had an underground snow toilet and a generator that stopped working 2 weeks after they had been abandoned (in true antarctic style they also ran out of food and fuel for their stove).

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Flying into Fossil Bluff. The hut is in the bottom right of the photo with a thin white line leading to the hut (its a path in the scree).

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Busy night at the bluff. My first night there we had three planes stop with us as the weather was too bad to fly back to Rothera.  This is the main room of Fossil bluff with the reflex stove in the middle and a sink etc around the corner.  The only other room is food store.

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Matt eager to unload a few barrels of aviation fuel. Almost any job you do with Aviation fuel it ends up on you and it really does stink.

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Unfortunately the beer wasnt full!

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Looking across the sound.  The small green hut is the generator shed.  The thing at the bottom right of the photo is the Emergency Caboose (currently on its side after the winter)

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Cab hill and the mountains behind. The Cab is from an old “tractor” – I should be driving a newer version of these soon

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View out of the door

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Emily and I relaxing on the balcony inbetween some plane refueling. I ended up at Fossil Bluff for a week, 2 days of which I was working with Dave who was then replaced by Emily

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Emily doing the only work of the hour. Radioing in with a Met OB

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One of the Twin Otters coming in to the skiway

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Emily skiing off to Belemite valley on a no fly day.

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My last night at the bluff. Talisker and a homemade lasagne.  You can see the sleeping bunks at the back.  There just one main room and a food store but its pretty homely.

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