Category Archives: Climbing Antarctica

Halley Christmas

A bit late on Decembers blog!  I’ve had a really varied season so far with the biggest difference getting to spend time at BAS’s other Antarctic Research Station – Halley VI.  Halley has been in the news a lot over the last couple of years as some previously dormant cracks started opening up in the Brunt Ice Shelf inland from the station.  Last year a huge team of Engineers, Drivers and support staff moved the main modules to the other side of the crack (known as the Chasm) only to discover there was another crack (Halloween Crack) even further “inland”.  Work continues at Halley this season with a lot of monitoring of the various cracks, readying the base to survive the Antarctic winter without staff and and attempt to fully automate all the long term science that happens.

From a Rothera perspective Halley is the place that all the fuss is made about while the science and field work happens from Rothera.  From a Halley perspective Rothera is not the real Antarctic.  The main difference for me is that you get bacon rolls for smoko at Halley

Antarctica Dec.001

At the start of December I spent a lot of time flying around the Ellsworth Mountains with Ian (Pilot) and Ben (Engineer) sorting out more science sites.  The views of the mountains were amazing as was getting to stay in the “hotel” at Union Glacier.

 

931A6048 Mt Vinson  – the highest peak on the continent (4892m)931A6052 Ben working at one of the sites south of the Ellsworths.  The first few sites were al uphill from the plane and involved lugging batteries to and from them.  A couple of these sites were at about 8000ft.  With the lower air pressure in Antarctica they feel more like 12000ft so its pretty knackering dragging car batteries behind you.931A6072 Tough place for a lunch stop.931A6090Enormous crevasses on the approach to the Union Glacier skiway.931A6098 Ben walking back to our tent on the guest side of the Union camp.  It was great to check out the setup here and catch up with some friends.931A6236 Flying again –  As field guides we spend a lot time in the aircraft.  Fellow field guide Julie knitting away on the long flight from Rothera to Halley.
931A6280 Halley VI.  The original Halley Base was started in 1956 with the most recent incarnation being commisioned in 2006.  The original four bases were snowed in and the staff lived in them underground.  Both Halley V and VI were designed to raised to deal with the snow accumulation.  931A6284 I’ve often wondered why you dont see many pictures of Halley from the air.  I think part of the reason is that its not a particularly exciting view but also that a lot of attention is focused on the space age modules.  The view from above shows the vast amount of infrastructure needed to keep the base running.  Above – Halley modules in the centre with the various vehicle lines, container lines, accommodation and garage modules.  The lines at the top of the photo are enormous windscoops leading to the “hinge zone” where the Brunt ice shelf meets the continent.931A6312-HDR Classic Halley view.931A6327 Christmas day – Doug climbing in Halloween crack.  Mark (FG), Doug (Air Mech) and Olly (Pilot) snuck off on Christmas for a quick climb in Halloween crack.  Having to ski-doo there, set up the ropes, abseil in etc meant there was only time for a couple of climbs each but a great way to spend Christmas!931A6332 Some things are the same on Christmas day the world over – lots of washing up!.  (Though I’m not sure Marks Hawain shirt and flip flops are standard)931A6343 Straight after Christmas it was back out into the field for me.  I joined Neil at Bluefields depot and then moved to a Depot in the Shackleton Range.931A6362Filling in the days with igloo building.  Rob (who switched with Neil) came to join me while I did constant Weather observations for the aircraft.  10 days of staring at clouds, drinking tea and reading.

Back to Rothera in the next couple of days and then back into the field for a couple of weeks before heading home.

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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.

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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.

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The Depot That Wasn’t There – Part 1

Summers as a field assistant at Rothera are all about being flexible to changes.  When working on base its possible to wake up in the morning and be told you are flying somewhere for the day, or a couple of days or even a couple of weeks.  With that in mind it should not be a surprise how different my summer ended up looking from the one planned.  Myself and Jo left Rothera at the start of December thinking we were going to the Kohler mountains for her Geology work.  We estimated that we were going to be out there roughly 50 days not knowing that we would be back at Rothera in a week.  We left rothera and headed to Sky Blu – a common place to get stuck as you wait for the weather to improve further south and a plane to become available.  As most of our stuff was in a depot at Mt Murphy we only need one plane and managed to get through Sky Blu having only spent 4 days there.  We flew on to the Depot at Mt Murphy picking up another field assistant (Al) on the way as he also needed stuff from the Depot at Murphy.  On flying in I was sat in the co-pilots seat and it was obvious something was not quite right.  We passed overhead in the plane a couple of times with myself and the pilot (Vicky) both looking for any sign of the flags and kit that was left there 10 months ago.  We landed and Al and I wandered out to the GPS point of where the depot had been.  As the depot was on a glacier we were not expecting it to be in exactly the same place but we did expect to see something of the 3m bamboo flags that mark it.
Antarctica.001931A0539Life at Sky Blu is a lot more comfortable than last year complete with couchs and a decent kitchen.
931A0583Twin Otter landing on the ice at Sky Blu to take us further into the continent.

931A0665

Steve with his first cup of tea of the day.  We stopped to swap Steve for Al at one of the depots.  Steve decided to share a tent with me to experience my sleepwalking – little did he know that he would have to put up with a month of it later in the season!
931A0704So we started digging.  We hoped to pick up the top of one of the 3m bamboo flags – probably as close to a needle in a haystack as you can get.  We dug multiple pits to about 1.5m before deciding on a spot of highest probability and digging a trench across the direction of flow of the Glacier.  Al, Jo and Vicky in the trench late in the evening.
931A0679Unsuccessful!  After a day of digging and searching we were told to return to Rothera.  Al, Jo and Vicky walking back to the plane at about 10pm.931A0707Vicky leading Al and I in some yoga before bed.  I think Al (far left) might be inventing his own yoga poses.931A0718The next morning we packed up and headed for Rothera.  Above – Jo contemplating 10hours in a small aircraft.931A0729Flying back to Rothera.

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Fossil Bluff again….

I have spent most of November at Fossil Bluff originally going out for “a week or so” and eventually staying for eighteen days. I was last at Fossil Bluff in November last year so it was great to go back.  Life at Fossil bluff is extremely relaxed while also being tied to hourly Met observations that get passed back to Rothera for the forecasters and pilots to work out what is going on.  The first 24hrs this year was very social.  Myself and Tom had gone in to relieve Al and Saz on a plane with two pilots and two other Field assistants.  We ended up staying at the hut together for a night before the plane could fly on to Sky Blu.  This was perfect for Tom and I as it gave time for Al and Saz to give us a good handover.
931a0105 Tom, Julie, Steve, Saz and Al chilling on the Balcony when we first arrived.931a0116 A heated game of Uno on the first night.931a0127Tom heading up the ridge from the hut.  Tom was with me for the first week and as there were no planes we got out and about in the local travel area quite a bit.  Tom works as a Base General Assistant (probably one of the most applied for jobs with BAS) who run fossil bluff after its been opened up.  These guys get to spend about a third of their summer in the hut but I think this more than paid for by the work they do sorting all the rubbish and recycling on base!img_8672Tom and I’s Saturday night – Pizza and Whisky!  The hut has a couple of primus stoves as well as a “Reflex Stove” which means you can make some pretty amazing food.0029Sun setting over the hut.  931a0131As many will know I go thought phases of sleep walking quite a bit.  I found myself on the balcony at 4am one morning but it was worth it for this sunrise.931a0144931a0153Olly the new pilot coming in from the North End of the Runway.931a0173With a name like Fossil Bluff its no surprise that there is Fossils everywhere.  Last year there was too much snow around to find much but this year Tom and I found quite a few on a wonder to Bellamite Valley931a0182The hut from North with one of the weather stations out the front.931a0199Tom staring out across King George Sound.  The skiway is below this outcrop (the Sphinx) by about 1500 ft.931a0209 One of our many wanders in the hills behind the hut.931a0219-panoLooking out (North) from the highest peak in the area “Pearce Dome”931a0268After Tom left I was joined by another Base GA Joe who brought some colder weather with him.  Above – me very happy (and possibly slightly caffeinated) in my down bag watching a movie (probably Harry Potter!) img_4668Joe and I didnt have a huge amount to do so spent a lot of time messing around and doing some filming.  Above – Joe and I sat in the old Muskeg tractor in the Garage behind the hut.img_4672The old Muskeg – its truly amazing that they ever got anywhere in these.  Maybe in 60 years Piston Bullies will look as dated.931a0283Olly came to take me home.  Fossil Bluff to Rothera is definitely one of my favourite flights and this one was great as Olly coached me all the way into the final approach to Rothera.931a0315Just after Olly took back over – The Rothera runway straight ahead.

I have a fair bit of film and timelapse from Fossil Bluff which will no doubt appear at some point though for now I am packing for my field season.  Back to West Antarctica and Marie Byrd Land for some rock collecting – cant wait!

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Snow Clearing and the End of Winter Trips

The last couple of weeks have seen endless low pressure systems hit the Antarctic Peninsular bringing stormy weather and lots of snow.  Winter trips have continued with life as a field assistant meaning alternate weeks on base or out in the field.  This weekend marks the last weekend of winter with the first planes due through Rothera next Saturday.img_0440Adam posing on the ridge between “Max” and “Mouse” in the Stokes peaks.  All the Stokes peaks are named after dogs and are a popular destination for winter trips.  Two days after this Adam and I experienced gusts of wind up to 70 knots (force 12 is described as 64+) which destroyed our toilet tent resulting in some adventurous toilet experiences.img_0238Kate approaching the summit of “Morgan” in the Stokes on her winter trip.  I realised at the end of Kates trip that I will have spent about 12% of my time in Antarctica camped at Trident East.  While not far from base the options for skiing and mountaineering from this camp are amazing.img_8331With planes now due in a week snow clearing has started in earnest with both machines and people power.  Above – Window in the accommodation building surrounded by icicles and buried in snow.
img_8324Snow clearing the runway.  Snow clearing can only happen on good weather days meaning long hours for the Matt the mechanic and the other drivers.img_8323People power on the Hangar doors.  This took ten of us a day of digging and chipping before we could get them open.  Turns out they’re snowed in again now!img_8314Hector watching as Matt clears in front of the Hangar with the JCB 436.img_8378 The last of the winter trips was myself and Al last week.  Above – Al looking up at the next pitch of one of the routes we did on the second day of our trip.  Al and I headed to the other side of the island (back to the Myth campsite) with the hope of climbing one of the bigger peaks.img_0953Al on the summit of Mt Liotard just after 11am.  Mt Liotard was named for a french observer who surveyed the peak in 1909 and is visible from Base across Ryder Bay.  The tenth photo down in this blog post  We heard of a brief weather window on our second night in the tent so left camp early to get up and down before the high winds came in.  You can see the edge of the weather front coming in from the right of the shot.  img_1037Al skiing back to the Ski-doos with the summit (on the right) already in the clouds.  We were pretty lucky with conditions with great snow from col (directly above Al’s head) all the way back down.  Probably about 4km and 1000m of descent on perfect powder!img_1050The other reality of winter trips – Al with a cup of tea and snow melting on the stove.  About 25-30% of the time on a winter trip you are stuck in the tent as the weather is so bad.  The first day of lie-up is usually nice and relaxing and a great chance to do lots of reading.  Books, games and lots of cups of tea are the order of the day.img_8416More normal winter weather.  Al and I spent the last day of our winter trip determined to get out climbing finding some very Scottish conditions.  I’m not even sure if this photo is of me or Al as we were both wearing the same BAS issue clothing.img_8498Even after six months stuck with each other its amazing the efforts people still go to.  Bradders (Polar Bear), Emily (Zebra), Tom (Lion) and Jesus (Girrafe) dressing up for one last saturday night before we get invaded.

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The Myth and Carvajal

I was going to wait another week before doing a blog post but realised it was the end of the month.  August has flown past – I don’t remember it starting and only noticed it was here when my payslip arrived the other day.  We have had lots of sun over the last few weeks with settled weather and winter trips running every week.  I am really realising the value of the winter trips this time round – having four people head off on adventures every week gives us something to talk about other than who hasn’t done the washing up and makes for a much more lively community as people are coming and going.  My first two trips of this round have both been to the same place, the Myth.  The Myth campsite is on the other side of Adelaide Island from Rothera and is at the base of some really impressive mountains (the Myth is a smaller subsidiary peak of “The Legend”).  Camping on the far side of the island feels incredibly remote and even getting there is a bit of an adventure with a lot of time on the skidoos through some crevassed terrain. IMG_8203Self Portrait on the way to the Myth.  Ben and I stopped to savour the first sun we had seen for a couple of months.  It was still -25degC and we discovered our sandwiches had frozen solid.IMG_8202Trying to defrost my sandwich on the skidoo exhaust.  The sandwich stayed frozen but I did have the lovely smell of toast coming out of the engine for the next couple of kilometres.IMG_6882First night at the Myth campsite with the milky way overhead.  Bradders and Octavian were out on a trip as well so it was great to camp as a party of four.IMG_6912On our second day the four of us decided to drive to Carvajal Base.  It was probably -30degC this day and we had to keep stopping as I kept loosing feeling in my throttle hand.  The skidoos are not too bad to drive most days if you wear enough clothing as they have boot warmers and heated hand grips but I think -25 is probably the limit!IMG_7163-HDROriginally a British base and called Adelaide Station it was abandoned in 1977 when Rothera was established and given to the Chilean’s in 1984 who renamed it Carvajal
IMG_7180The base is in a stunning location though pretty run down and its amazing to wander around an Antarctic ghost town.  IMG_8222Above the base is an abandoned plane which is great for random photos.  Bradders and Ben trying to fly the plane.
IMG_8232Another game of scrabble.  Ben and Octavian where both very keen to visit Carvajal so were thankfully not too put out when we got stuck in the tents for three days after we had visited.  “Lie up” days can be great fun with a bit of food and some games.  IMG_7198Emily and I visited Carvajal two weeks later in much warmer temperatures (-15)IMG_7118Emily had asked to build and igloo on her trip so when we woke up in a cloud on the second day it seemed an ideal opportunity.  Emily looking worried about having to build the roof over her own head.IMG_7516Tent and Igloo at night.  We managed to get the roof to stay on the igloo on our second attempt.  The peak above the igloo is “The legend” with the Myth the triangular subsidiary peak to the left.IMG_7545Bradders and Matt had waited a couple of days but came and found us at the Myth campsite.  We did offer for them to stay in the igloo but they declined.  The four of us enjoying the sun.IMG_7553Emily and I also had a day exploring some other areas.  We managed to climb to a coll between two mountains (Mt Mangin and Mt Barre) to get some views back towards Rothera.  Above – Amazing spindrift coming off the Mt Mangin ridge.
IMG_7564The view back towards Rothera in the bottom right of the photo.  As you can tell this was pretty late in the day by the time we got up to the coll (lots of false summits) but it meant for an amazing drive back in the sunset.IMG_7575Emily pleased to have finally made it.
IMG_7578The end is in sight.  My skidoo and sledge in McCallums pass.  Getting through the pass with a good amount of visibility is crucial so its always a relief to get there and find it looking like this.  The photo doesnt show some of the danger in the pass – the severely crevassed shambles glacier is heading down to the sea on the left and the pass goes up to the right of the mountain the skidoo is heading for (and through some more crevassing).IMG_8205Cant wait to get rid of the beard.  I am now trying to hang on until I’ve had it for a full year but it is pretty frustrating when your beard freezes to your moustache and you cant open your mouth!

The high pressure has broken at Rothera with a fairly stormy weekend but I’m currently waiting to see what the weather does tomorrow for my next winter trip – this time with the dive officer Kate.

Also posted in British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Long Exposure, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Myth campsite, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Rothera Winter Team, Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Winter

Antarctica doesn’t really have an Autumn perhaps because there’s no trees.  Or maybe its just a British Antarctic Survey thing where you go straight from the Summer season to the winter one just to simplify things.  With twenty one of us left on base and the last ship gone a few weeks ago we are very much into our winter at Rothera.  This means shorter working hours (theres now only 1.5hours between meals instead of 2) rapidly decreasing daylight and of course winter trips.  All staff who winter get two weeks off base away on a winter trip.  These trips are a combination of a chance to get a break from life on base (and for others to get a break from you!), learn new skills and get the “real” Antarctic experience.  With four field assistant at Rothera two of us head out roughly every two weeks with another person in tow somewhere on Adelaide island.IMG_0609

 Octavian on the summit of Trident peak on the first day our winter trip.  Options for winter trips include Mountaineering, Climbing, Skiing and Snowboarding, Crevasse exploring, Skidoo sightseeing trips and drinking tea (or whisky) in the tent.IMG_0686

Enjoying a cup of tea in his hammock.  Rothera is almost visible over the left edge of the Hammock.  You don’t have to get far away from base to feel pretty remote.  IMG_0695

Skidoos leaving camp.  Skidooing outside of the Rothera flagline involves being linked up just in case one goes into a crevasse.  You can just make out the rope coming from the back skidoo.  The sledge between the skidoos carries the emergency gear and pretty much goes everywhere with you.  Basically enough food, fuel and kit to spend three weeks fixing your skidoos.

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Stunning views North after some easy mountaineering in the Stokes peaks.

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As there is always two trips out at the same time its great to camp together and go visit the other tent in the evening.  Or in this case follow in the other parties footsteps all day and not have to break trail.  Octavian and Ben looking happy with their day in the Stokes.

IMG_0709My second trip was with Saz.  Despite being stuck in the tent for a couple of days we got quite a bit of climbing and mountaineering done.  Saz below “Spiritual Harmony” on Trident peak (the curving gully on the left)

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Milky way over the tent at night.  There some amazing photography opportunities if you and your camera can face the cold.  This took me a while to get right as it was pretty cold and I had had a couple of glasses of Port. IMG_0743The tents are really comfortable especially with both the stove and tilley lamp going.  Saz making Chocolate fondu as dessert after a cheese fondue for our main course.  Saz and I had decided when we wrote the proposal for her trip that photography and food were going to be a priority, we ended up with a huge amount of cheese and chocolate, pizza, pancakes, full brunch with homemade tattie scones and a fair bit of booze

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Skidoos under the edge of N26 Nunatak.  Saz and I headed here to snowboard in the big bowl in the middle of the photo.  Our skidoos had struggled to get this far so at least we knew there was lots of deep powder to fall into.IMG_0767

Feeling pretty happy to have survived one of my few snowboard runs in the last few years

IMG_0782Crevasse exploring is always pretty popular.  Stunning and beautiful for the winter tripper and a bit stressful for the Field Assistant.  Saz abseiling into the second chamber of a crevasse we found.  I was standing on a very hollow sounding floor at this point so we didn’t stay long.

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Drying clothes inside the tent at the end of the day.  All that stuff hanging in the roof is hopefully going to be dry by the morning!  You can also make out the speaker (small red thing in the centre) for the music, the jar of Marmite (standard BAS issue) and a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15yr old.

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Winterers can also choose to go “Man-Hauling” – basically skiing and pulling pulks rather than using ski-doos.  I went to pick up Al and Lewis from a manhauling trip last week and took my big lens to get some shots of them steaming to the end.

IMG_0960When not on winter trips theres still plenty of fun to be had near to Rothera.  The Ski-in, Ski-out accommodation helps.  Al loading a skidoo for another quick mission outside the accommodation building.

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Scoping out another ski line

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The sea ice was also forming last week so we did a couple of training sessions on how to assess it for safe travel.  Dave showing the dive team what to do on the first day that the sea ice was thick enough.  Personally I think the idea of travelling any distance on sea ice is pretty crazy but it is a necessity for the dive team who still have sciencey stuff to do throughout the winter (and who have to dive under the ice!)

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Skiing out on the sea ice surrounded by icebergs.  The ice has to be 20cm thick to travel on.  The bindings on the skis are just bendy plastic that strap onto insulated work boots.

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John testing the waters. You might be able to spot how we cut the hole in the ice.

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Theres been some clear nights in the last couple of weeks so its been great to be outside with a camera.  The full moon has been spoiling it somewhat though I spent a great evening with John, Tom and Adam at the cross taking surreal photos.  Above – John (meteorologist), Tom (Doctor) and Myself admiring the view.
IMG_2489The weather doesnt always play ball!  Above – Hector topping out of a mixed route in the spindrift having experienced hotaches for the first time on a day when we thought there would be no wind.

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