Category Archives: Rothera Winter Team

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.

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The Other Side of Winter

Its easy to keep taking photos of the stunning scenery here, the icebergs, glaciers and snow-clad mountains but for this month I have tried to focus on life on base and to try and answer some of the questions that have come my way.  With no sensible way of getting anyone away from the base we are all “stuck” here until the first plane comes in October.  A few people have asked why BAS need people to overwinter in Antarctica.  There is some marine science done from Rothera over the winter either diving from boats or through holes in the ice.  Obviously if you need some people to be on the base the list quickly grows – if theres diving there should probably be a doctor and boatman, these people will need basic amenities like water, electricity, housing etc, these people will then need to be cooked for and so on.  The list quickly grows.  Another reason is so that Britain continues to have a say in the Antarctic treaty.  With these things in mind there are 21 of us based at Rothera over winter, Station Leader, Chef, Doctor, Communications Manager, four Field Assistants, Dive Officer, Three Marine Scientists (I am sure I will get some abuse for not actually knowing there job titles!), Boatman, Two Plumbers, Chippy, Sparky, Mechanic, Generator Mechanic, Electronics Engineer and Meteorologist.  Most people work 9-5 Monday to Friday with everyone taking turns to do a day of “gash” (cleaning) and to cover for the Chefs day off.  While we work core hours if something needs done then people just get on with it and its pretty normal to have a few people helping on big jobs (like digging out doorways).
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The Flag lowering ceremony.  As the most senior person on base (his tenth winter in Antarctica!) Dave lowered the British flag last week to mark the last time the base will see direct sunlight for a few weeks.  Our days are getting shorter by 7-8minutes every day making the lack of daylight really noticeable from one weekend to the next.  The flag will be raised again by the youngest person on base in about two months time.IMG_2723

Its not all pretty sunsets.  Ben walking to work (9am) last week as the base was slammed by rain, sleet, snow, winds up to 50knots and temperatures up to +9degrees C.  Even walking between buildings can be pretty hazardous.IMG_2593

Digging out one of my sledges.  All the field assistants have at least two sledges of kit for their winter trips stored about 4km from base with easy access to the mountains.  While Antarctica is the driest continent, we do live in one of the places that gets the most precipitation and digging out your sledges can be a fairly common activity.  IMG_2728

School.  As there are a variety of skill sets throughout the staff people occasionally run sessions so that you can learn about their trade.  We had a “Doc School” the other day with Doc Tom (right) showing us how to use the X-ray machine.  In Toms case its important to run these sessions in case of a major incident so that people are able to assist him (or fix him!).  I have no idea why Calum, Ben and Adam look so serious!IMG_2726

The real men of Antarctica.  Nelly the Generator Mech (left) and Maybell the Mechanic (right) using the D4 to move some fuel around.  With the ice we have all around the base just now even this machine was sliding around.IMG_2608

With the long nights we have to find ways to amuse ourselves.  Friday after work drinks in the Genny shed for a change of scene.IMG_2677

Tom (Doctor) and Rob (Plumber) in serious discussion at one of many fancy dress evenings.  (this was a masquerade ball)
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Table Tennis – probably the most popular Antarctic sport.  I would guess that there a few of us currently playing a minimum of about 7hrs of table tennis a week complete with a leader board and a handicap system.IMG_2566

Sea Ice.  The sea ice of lack of sea ice is a daily conversation on base.  This affects whether the boats can go out or whether people will be travelling on the ice to cut holes and dive from the ice itself.  Both the boating or the sea ice could involve any number of people from base.IMG_2599Sea ice party on the ice in the early afternoon.IMG_2600The tag out board.  One of the things I struggle with most down here is the lack of freedom to go where and when you want.  The tag out board is used to show your movement around various places both on the base and off it.  The white tags are everyones names (mainly tagged into their rooms) and you move your tag to where you are about to go while also recording it in a book with the time you expect to be back.  The four tags in the bottom right are “in the field”- basically out on a winter trip.  You can also see a VHF in the bottom right.  We all carry VHF at all times.IMG_2604Lewis (Chef) helping out Matt (Mechanic) in the kitchen even on his day off.
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More digging.  You should just be able to make out Nelly digging out the Hangar doors.  In the winter the Hangar is used for most of the big machinery.  Theres always something needed dug out.IMG_2537

There are no simple jobs.  Almost everything you do seems to involve digging stuff, moving stuff, finding and starting a skidoo and usually asking for help on the VHF.  Hector (Chippy) loading old plasterboard into the skip in the hangar.
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The good news is most of those boxes are cheese.  The bad news is we had to move them all from the freezer to count them and then put them back again.  Lewis (chef), Malcy (Station Leader) and Al (Field Assistant) in the middle of the count.
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Some people do work at random times.  John (Meteorologist) has to send weather balloons up three mornings a week as well as doing Met Observations at three hourly intvervals.  John releasing a weather balloon after I had messed up the first one by dropping recording instrument (the little white box).IMG_1853

Marine Science happens all year round and the marine team usually needs crew to come out on the boats with them.  Saz (left) and Emily (right) being helped by Octavian (Electronics Engineer).  Helping on the boats is a great break from normal routine but can be incredibly cold with no direct sunlight.IMG_1848Permanent sunset from the boatIMG_1872The Winter Team.  Back row from Left – Dave, Al, Calum, Emily, Saz, Octavian, Rob, Nelly, Lewis, Bradders, Maybell, Hector, Tom.  Front row from Left – Malcy, Ben, Chris, John, Kate, Adam, Me and Jesus.

 

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