Monthly Archives: February 2017

Last days at Rothera – How was it?

Sitting on the plane I can feel the question coming as I head towards catchups with friends and family – How was it?  Where to start? – Its hard to sum up sixteen months of life in a few short words but as I fly home I’ve been trying to think of the differences between Rothera and my home life and some of small things that help show the randomness of life working for BAS.

Since leaving the UK I have been on almost sixty flights from as short as fourteen minutes to as long as twelve hours. I’m not a massive fan of flying but there has certainly been a lot of variety with everything from cattle class on major airlines to flying as a co-pilot in the twin otter aircraft. If anything I’ll probably feel happier flying on a normal commercial flight – nothing can be quite as bad as a bumpy flight in the back of small plane surrounded by poo bins and petrol jerry cans.

Of the sixteen months almost two them have been spent in “lie up” stuck in a tent or caboose. Twelve percent of my total time on the continent has been spent camped at Trident East on winter trips.

I haven’t seen any trees, grass, flowers, dogs, children etc for over a year and I’ve only drunk in one bar. I’ve eaten amazing meals, both from the Rothera chefs and in various field camps and tents. I’ve also eaten somewhere in the region of eight hundred biscuit browns and some fairly average dehydrated food spiced up with fried spam and chilli sauce.

I’ve met some amazing people. Scientists who have been to Antarctica every summer for over twenty years, people who have done multiple winters (sometimes agreeing weeks before they were meant to go home at the end of their first eighteen months to stay for another twelve). And of course friends who I could meet in a week or ten years and still laugh at the same jokes, people who will hopefully turn up on the doorstep uninvited and stay for weeks.

I spent seven months with the same twenty one people between the ages of twenty three and sixty, living, working, socialising, cooking, cleaning and partying.  In such a short time I feel I know these people as well as I know some of my best friends.  I had the privilege of taking eight of these people on their winter trips. Camping, skiing and mountaineering in winter in Antarctica will always feel special but getting to know people at the level you do on these trips can only be described as a privilege. Being stuck with the same twenty people through what seemed like endless bad weather and dusk was at best some of the funnest times and funniest parties I’ve been too and at worst made me question some of my life choices.

I did more climbing and skiing than I expected but also watched more movies and tv series than I would have ever considered possible. From never having been to a gym before I became a regular (at least till the sun came back) in one of the least inspiring rooms for exercising ever. 2016 will hopefully always stand out as the year I did the least rock climbing since I was eighteen, the year I did the most digging, sitting around and most refuelling of vehicles.

The hardest part has been missing events in others lives. Friends and family have moved on, passed away, got married, moved house (some multiple times), had birthdays, had babies, been through hard times and done amazing things and its been hard to not be present for any of it. I can only hope that these people know I was thinking of them and while I feel I missed out on their experiences I don’t feel I could have missed out on this one for myself.  I have lived away from the UK for a lot of my adult life but for some reason this time felt different.  The idea that you cant return to see people no matter what happens can be a difficult decision to live with.

Its been hard to leave all the amazing people at Rothera, somewhere I called home for a while but with some Scottish tunes playing in my head phones (Frightened Rabbit, Braebach, Skippinish and Runrig) I cant wait to get back to my real home, my family and friends and see what happens next.

These photos hope to show my last couple of days on base as well as some of the things that might be a little different to home.

IMG_5482The view across the Ryder bay from Base.  I have photographed this view so many times but it never fails to be impressive.  It has occasionally felt like being in a museum with a look but don’t touch mentality.931A1999The wonderful Pilots and Mechanics of the BAS airunit.  These are the people you hope are doing their jobs correctly!  Keeping the planes flying or coming to get you and not complaining about how much you smell.931A2025The Cross.  This area is littered with memorials and a great reminder that some people do not come home from Antarctica.  In my last couple of weeks on base the ice was slowly moving North away from Rothera making the landscape even more dramatic.931A2028In the last couple of weeks also had a visit from the RV Laurence M Gould an american research vessel.  Possibly one of the most ugly ships I’ve ever seen but I had also heard that they had good food and a great coffee machine on board.  Twenty of the Rothera staff went on board for the day for a bit of a cruise and a bit of sciencey stuff.  Above – getting winched onboard at 7am.  Straight from here into a massive american breakfast while the Americans who had swapped with us went for toast and cereal!931A2043Nelly and I found the coffee machine and then took almost an hour working out how to make two coffees.  They were pretty amazing though!931A2048View from the bridge.  The Gould is not a full icebreaker but can push the ice around a bit.  Here we are headed back towards Rothera (top right) through the broken up ice.931A2066The Gould is a dry ship but traditionally stops at Rothera once a year for a bit of a social and some music.  Above – a well stocked fridge outside the music venue (the garage)931A2105 The band in full swing.  One of the things that has truly blown me away about Rothera is the amount of time people are willing to put into making things happen.  While some of us where on the ship a group of staff had built the stage and set up for the evening complete with decorations and a full bar complete with optics.  On stage (l-r) Adam (Bass -Boatman), Jim (guitar -chippie) Calum (drums -comms manager) Rob (vocals -Plumber), Kate (Vocals -Dive Officer), Trev (Sax -Chef), Tom (Trumpet -Doc), Ali (Sax-Bonner lab manager) cranking out the tunes.931A2132 The doctor.  The talent and time people are willing to put in to help others enjoy themselves is truly incredible.IMG_8742Traffic Jam on my commute to work.  Last summer there were hundreds of Elephant seals.  This year there were only three but they did decide to commandeer the bridge between the buildings forcing people to walk around them.  I think elephant seals are awesome but I’m not sure what they actually do.  These seals were in place for the whole of my last week on base never eating or drinking anything.  IMG_8745Decisions.  The only thing I have really noticed since returning home is that there is a lot of decisions to be made.  Above – the whiteboard tells you what to do and when.  The “foxhat” (worth googling) is the film choice of the person who’s been washing dishes all day.IMG_5497 The dive team heading off for a dive.  Before diving they need someone on Seal watch looking out for Leopard seals or whales in the area.  Such a tough way to spend an hour or so!IMG_8752The history on the walls.  Above – the family tree of all the Antarctic dogs that worked out of Rothera and Halley.  This amazing document is on the wall down a side corridor in a building that will soon be knocked down.  The walls of the base are littered with amazing things like this.  (Great to look out for themes in the dogs names with different generations – Lord of the rings, hebridean islands, film characters etc)
IMG_8753 View out of the library window at another weather front rolling in.IMG_8754 Tough times in the rothera bar.  This sign has been up the whole time I have been at Rothera so I dont think there is any risk of the stocks not lasting.  Getting used to using money instead of just ticking next to my name could be interesting (Top right is probably my favourite picture on base of Tom Crean picking up one of Shackletons dogs.)IMG_8755One last penguin shot.  There has not been many penguins about this summer but the odd Adelie does pop up around the point.

IMG_4836The awesome winter 2016 team.

Posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica

The Depot that wasnt there – Part 2

After two days sorting kit at Rothera I was headed back to Mt Murphy.  This time with Steve (Field Assistant) and Zac (Boatman) along with a metal detector, Ground penetrating Radar(GPR), snow blower and a full camp setup to be able to spend as long as needed to raise the depot and drive it back some of the way toward Rothera.  This time we got through Sky Blu with only a day of waiting and jumped on the plane with Vicky who had Adam (boatman) as Co-pilot.931A0755Steve towing and Zac reading the GPR.931A0756Zac, Adam and Steve in the first pit.  I thought we had seen a reflection on the GPR so we started digging down looking for flags again.  We carried on GPRing and saw an even better reflection so started digging another hole.931A0758Steve turned out to have the luck of the day spotting the depot on the GPR screen and finding the first flag.  Above – sheer joy at finding the first flag.931A0762Zac in the hole checking we are going the right direction.  The end of the metal detector is about 20cm from the top of the skidoos in this photo.  The depots were buried by about 3.5 – 4m of accumulation.931A0773Down in the hole.  We excavated the three skidoos and then tunneled back to pull out the rest of the kit.  In the depot were 3 skidoos, 5 Nansen sledges (Wood), a siglin sledge (Plastic), three tents, two 44gallon drums, 24 fuel jerries, lots of science boxes, skis, clothing, food, fuel etc etc etc.  Once we started pulling things out it got more exciting though chipping away in the back of the cave was not.931A0800Hard not to enjoy yourself when this is the view.931A0822Zac had not been on base long so in the name of further training we did manage to get out and about a couple of days.  Above – Steve staring out to the cost on the Ridge above camp.
931A0863 Steve and Zac doing some further training on Mt Murphy the large peak behind camp.931A0872 Steve, Zac and I having a tough day.931A0876 The final mission was digging up the fuel bladder which was on a big plastic sledge.  We had learnt what worked and what didnt (mainly the snowblower) on the first depot so this one wasnt quite as bad though we did have to dig carefully as we got close to it to avoid any punctures.931A0879Rain on the tent.
931A1833After twelve days we packed up for our 800km drive back across West Antarctica.  This was the same drive I did in 2015 though in reverse.
931A1841 Selfie in the wing mirror931A1849The next camp – everything is depoted in a line ninety degrees to the prevailing wind.  We were lucky with weather and driving surfaces on our first day and managed to move 150km.
931A1859Zac making calzones on a lie up day.
931A1875
The team with no place to go.  This was taken on the last day when we had to stop due to poor contrast.  931A1904 After eight days we finally got to “Castle depot” on the edge of the Ellsworth mountains where we were due for pick up.  We then waited for pick up for a few days ending up being out there for a total of a month.IMG_8719Steve and Zac cooking Christmas dinner in the tent.IMG_8723The final sledge coming out of the first Depot.

Posted in Antarctica, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Uncategorized