Tag Archives: Field Asssistant Antarctica

Work and Play

I’ve taken a vast amount of photos in the last few weeks since getting out of the field and haven’t really had the time to sort them into any semblance of order.  Hannah and a few others have commented on seeing photos of the “behind the scenes” stuff as well the pretty landscapes so I’ve been trying to get a bit better at taking these.  There is a couple of shots in here from earlier in the season as well.IMG_7317Serious science under the wing of a twin otter.  We are constantly surrounded by beautiful things but sometimes the pictures dont tell the full story.  This was in mid December with Mark and Hugh – this was taken just after midnight as I waited for Hugh to fit some ground penetrating radar into the hole Mark and I had just dug.  Always beautiful places but there is a lot of waiting around.
IMG_9428 The glamorous life of a field assistant.  Bradley trying to find some beefburgers in one of the many freezers.  In the end we unpacked about a third of the this freezer and still failed to find them.IMG_0485The HMS Protector in Ryder bay.  We have had a couple of ships in the last week, the protector and the final call of the Ernest Shackleton.
IMG_9445A very British BBQ.  We provided an a couple of days skiing for the crew of the Protector and then had a joint BBQ down at the wharf.  Not a massively glamorous location but the containers did make a good wind break.
IMG_8818 Octavian and Saz dismantling the sea ice camera.  Single day science stuff happens at very short notice whenever the weather plays ball – luckily most people need a field assistant to help get them to the site.  This camera was meant to take a photo a day for a year – unfortunately it was taking a photo a minute and only lasted a couple of weeks!IMG_8796 The glamorous life of a field assistant part 2.  Al sewing pockets in his tent.  You can just make out the climbing wall behind the tent – we definitely have the best office on base.IMG_8795 Three field assistants and the Comms manager, Danny hauling new batteries up to the radio repeater.  Each pulk had two batteries in each weighing 50kilos.  The guys looked pretty tired when they got back from dinner.IMG_8781 Rob walking out from an afternoons skiing in Stork Bowl – ski trips out of the flag line cross the boundary of work and play.IMG_8772 Al having a hard day at work.IMG_8104 Another science day trip.  Otty picking up “Algae samples” – judging by the huge elephant seal next to it I have no doubt what it was she was really collecting.  This was a pretty easy day for me as I was only there in case we got left out overnight.IMG_8089If I wasnt a Field Assistant I’d want to be a boatman – Adam coming to pick us up from some Algae sampling at Mackay point.IMG_9410We decided to head over to this extremely blue berg when out on the boat one day to check it out – unbelievable colours under a dark sky.
IMG_8466Otty also needed some samples from the nearby peaks.  Emma joined us (even though she is a marine biologist) and we decided to do a traverse of the three Stork peaks.  There were obviously no penguins or seals up there so it wasnt a surprise to me that there was also no “Algae”IMG_8455Otty and Emma enjoying the view from North Stork.IMG_7961More Science – I headed out with Ali (and two pilots, Al and Andy) so that she could fix the an automatic weather station.  Once I’d got us all across the non existant bergschrund I got to watch Ali do lots of things I didnt really understand.IMG_7966Andy and I amusing ourselves while we wait for Ali to finish (the swords are old geological markers)IMG_8121Another day another sciency thing.  Sam about to start working on a station that measures glacial rebound (how quickly the ground is coming back up after the ice has been removed) at Cape Marsh.IMG_8124Sam and Pippa checking out the extremely small Chilean hut at Cape Marsh.IMG_2349A happy elephant seal.

The last ship left this morning leaving only 21 people on base for the next six months.  Snow and strong winds made a fitting first day of winter.  Now its on to winter recreational trips for all the wintering staff.

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Sky Blu

Still getting through the backlog of photos so heres another post with some shots of Sky Blu where I was based for a couple of weeks in November last year and a few days off and on in the last couple of months.  Sky Blu is a blue ice runway and field camp roughly 600km south of Rothera which is permanently staffed by at least three staff for the summer season.  When I first flew into Sky blu after my week at Fossil Bluff (http://www.mountainstotheseaphotography.com/2015/12/fossil-bluff/) I could not believe how cold it was.  As Sky blu is at 4500ft above sea level it gets pretty cold and gets some incredibly high winds.  On the day I arrived it was -25degC and about +25deg inside the hut!  The runway at Sky Blu is essential to BAS operating deeper into the Antarctic Continent as the runway is made of blue ice allowing the larger airplane (Dash 7) to land on wheels allowing more cargo and fuel to be flown in.  The camp is staffed by two “mechs” and a field assistant with the mechs keeping the various machines working and clearing snow and the field assistant covers met observations, communications and various day to day chores around the camp.IMG_6266The pilots accommodation at the far end of camp.  All of the huts and tents are very spread out due to high winds.
IMG_6273The living melon hut and the various other tents strung out in a line.IMG_6263Inside the pilots melon hut
IMG_6330Inside the living melon hut.  Blair (far left) Brian (middle in orange) and Stu (far right) spent most of their summer at Sky blue going back to Rothera for a break about every three weeks.IMG_6332The comms desk and food storage.  IMG_6335Sky blue from one of the nearby peaks.  The two dots on the right are the melon huts and the other dots in line are (in order) the toilet tent, weatherhaven (sleeping) and the Garage.  The smaller dots are stores of various things.IMG_6309 There are a couple of peaks around Sky Blu which are great for a quick outing.  Brian, Blair and Bruno on “Mende”IMG_6340 Blair strolling up “Lanzerotte”IMG_6360 High winds outside the living Melon HutIMG_6426 There is also lots of ice.  While there were a few of us waiting around we managed a pretty good game of curling using large food tins and various brushes.  Cheese, Al and Sam discussing the rules.IMG_6448 Cheese in actionIMG_6552 Stu in giving a tin of beans some speed.IMG_6620 Facilities at Sky Blu are pretty limited.  After we had been there a couple of weeks Stu rigged up a shower.  I think this is Sam showering but I didnt want to zoom in.IMG_6655 Inside the sleeping tent.IMG_6658The sleeping tent.IMG_6657One of the coolest things I learnt while at Sky blue is that when its cold your washing freezes and then becomes dry without every becoming wet again.  This was a complete revelation to me (called sublimation) but probably not to most people who paid attention in school.IMG_6668Probably my favourite thing at Sky Blu was the ice crystals in the underground garages.  IMG_6678Midnight on Doppler Nunatak.

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R is for Rothera?

I usually try for one blog post a month with around twelve photos.  Although I have managed this so far I can feel the photos building up and theres nothing worse than just hiding them away on a harddrive.  I also realised that I had not yet posted anything about Rothera where I am ultimately based for a year and half.  As a field assistant Rothera is the home we return to from the field complete with amazing food, internet access, phones, a bar etc etc.  It is also where all the equipment gets shipped into the field from but for most field assistants the R is really for Recreation.  While there is a decent area for people to ski and snowboard in (within a flagged area) all the staff at Rothera need a field assistant with them if they want to go outside this area.  Though this does mean that there is a slight tinge of work to your days off it does also mean you get to all the best places.  Included in this post is a few photos from the last four months when I have been briefly back at Rothera.IMG_5822Icebergs against the shore at the point.  This was taken on one of my first evenings on base in October.IMG_5837Cross at sunset at the Southern end of Base.  Mat Etheridge and Al Docherty trying not to shiver in the wind.
IMG_5838New Bransfield House (looking Northish)  New Bransfield holds the Dining room, Library, Bar, TV rooms and computer room.IMG_5899Admirals building at the start of season.  My window is the second alongIMG_5900Standard en suite room in Admirals.IMG_8046Rothera from the North.  The big building on the left is New Bransfield, the Yellow tower is the Comms tower and the building to the right is Admirals.IMG_5914Twin Otter being loaded with a skidoo (its a tight fit!) Rothera has the furthest south hard runway of any of the Antarctic bases so is also a busy airport.  IMG_2290Malcy leading the top pitch of “Blue Sky White Berg” (HVS) with the edge of the runway just visible at the bottom of the photo.  There are over 100 rock, ice and mixed routes within a quick skidoo of base.IMG_2325Me leading the top pitch of “Final Countdown” (E1)
IMG_6032The edge of Stork Bowl.  There is two ski slopes within the base flag line and then numerous other skiing oppurtunities on the surrounding peaks.  Stork Bowl is as much of a powder trap as there seems to be nearby.
IMG_6042 First line in Stork Bowl.IMG_6104 Thought I better include a picture of someone snowboarding (Tom Griffin)IMG_6119 Fran cruising.IMG_6139 Sam getting low on his telemark turnsIMG_7919 More climbing.  Al Docherty pulling through the steep section of “Release the Bats”(VS (though potentially a bit of a sandbag))IMG_7973In the show crevasse.  The show crevasse is used for training and recreation.  A quick lower or abseil into a crazy world of ice chandeliers.  Usually as a mountaineer you avoid going anywhere near crevasses but I have to admit it is pretty amazing to wander around the bottom of one for a while.
IMG_7978 The climb back out of the show crevasse.IMG_8008Rothera also has plenty of wildlife.  Elephant on the beach at Mackay point to the North of Rothera.  During the summer these are everywhere at Rothera burping and farting constantly and trying to sleep on the runway.IMG_8037 Sleepy Adelie.  Seeing as there have been complaints that I havent put any penguin pictures up yet I thought I better get one in.  Being in the Field all summer means that I have missed most of the penguins being around but I’m sure this wont be the last penguin you see on the blog!IMG_8131We very occasionally get tourist ships visit.  Today we had the “Fram” and they were kind enough to let us use their hottub!

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I-Beam and the Ronne Ice Shelf

I had thought of a lot of humorous titles for this blog post – “Three men and a caboose” “The big, the flat and the white” “The one Ronne” “Antarctic Bin Men” etc but settled on I-Beam and the Ronne Ice Shelf.  I have just got back from my main project of this (Antarctic) summer season called “I-Beam”, based on the Ronne Ice Shelf.  This project was a traverse that was purely logistics, cleaning up from previous large drilling projects and putting equipment and fuel in place for a drilling project at a depot called “Beamish” in 2017.  I had no idea what to expect as I flew out to meet Tim and Dave who had already been out there for quite a few weeks.  All I knew was that I would have to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to look for crevassing when we were travelling on new routes and we would be living in a Caboose (Caravan on skis).  During the two months I was with the project we would also have an airdrop of fuel from the RAF and meet a german ship called the polarstern to offload some cargo and give them a vast amount of Antarctic rubbish.  I flew in a few days before christmas and was quickly struck by the vast whiteness of being on an ice shelf and the vast amounts of equipment we had.  If you have images of Antarctica with dog sleds and fur mittens you should probably stop reading now.IMG_7557 One of the tractors (some of my skiing friends might recognise these pisten bullies) towing the caboose.  There are actually a few other sledges behind the caboose here but they’re covered in snow.  One of the realities of living with everything on the roof of your house in boxes is that it always takes a long time to find anything.


Inside the caboose looking towards the kitchen


Inside the caboose. The square holes at the back are the bunks with normal sized single mattresses. We didnt keep much personal stuff inside the caboose, just a shelfs worth in the red lockers and some personal stuff in your bunk with you.


Christmas dinner anyone?  Yep – thats parsnips, brussel sprouts, turkey, stuffing and roast potatoes.  IMG_7338Tim (traverse leader) sorting out his Lego advent calendar.  Christmas eve was spent putting together lego space ships.
IMG_7342Dave looking very happy about the Stella Artois and a large cheese board.  IMG_7349Tim and Dave tucking into Christmas Dinner (we had a bit more than just the boil in the bag stuff in the other image.  A big bottle of port and the Father Ted Christmas special on the laptop.IMG_7355My skidoo with Radar sledge.  Christmas turned out to be a brief respite from moving lots of very heavy stuff around or driving for very long days.  When travelling on unknown areas I would drive the Skidoo in front of the tractors looking for any signs of crevassing.  Driving days were usually 10-15 hours long with one 30min break to refuel the machines and ourselves.
IMG_7544-HDRMy view on a driving day – the flat white and the GPR screen and GPS.  Driving in a straight line whilst simultaneously looking at the GPS, the GPR and the ground in front of me turned out to be the main challenge.  Needless to say I got through a lot of music and audiobooks on my Ipood.IMG_7561One of the pisten bullies with 3 sledges loaded with rubbish headed for our meeting with the Polarstern.  (The red blob behind is another skidoo on a different type of sledge covered with snow)
IMG_7807Dave adopting the co-passenger position.  On known routes I did some driving to give Dave or Tim a break or slept/read in their passenger seats.  The pisten bullies would travel at about 10-12km an hour but can tow around 50 tonsIMG_7706Getting fuel in place.  A major part of our work on the Ronne was getting supplies in place for the future.  The Pisten Bully here is driving up to a berm already loaded with fuel barrels towing 120 200L barrels.  Everything is put on berms so that the snow doesnt drift over the top of it.
IMG_7774 The flat white with a line of berms.  This is the “Three Ronnes Depot” near the ice shelf edge.  By the time we were finished the line of berms was over 2km long.  The tiny black dot on the left of the skyline is the Caboose.IMG_7749Unloading barrels with the Pisten Bully.

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Meeting the Polarstern

One of the major jobs for the I-Beam traverse was to meet the Polarstern to offload cargo and load all the rubbish and empty fuel drums we had from previous years.  The arrival of the ship was brought forward by 10 days after they made good headway through the ice (burning 45 tons of fuel a day!!) making for a busy 24hrs for us culminating in Dave and I finding a route off the iceshelf and down onto the sea ice.
IMG_7582 Dave driving out to the Polarstern on the first misty morning.  I never really got used to walking or driving on the sea ice even though it was over a meter thick.IMG_7587 Three staff from one of BAS’s other bases flew in to help us.  In the image above you can see Denzel walking back to the pisten bully in soft snow.  IMG_7589 Tim and the three guys from Halley stayed on board while Dave and I stayed in the Caboose.  They were put up in the hospital ward which had one of the best showers ever (or maybe it was just because we hadnt washed in a while)IMG_7591 We were treated like royalty onboard with endless food and drink.  Drinks with captain (front left) turned into rather a long night of free drinks.IMG_7603 Tim looking a bit tired and sunburnt in the middle of the bar.  I dont think there was a single moment this night were any of us didnt have at least two drinks on the go.IMG_7607Midnight sun from the deck of the Polarstern.  The caboose was at the top of the ramp with the tracks created by the endless coming and going of the vehicles.
IMG_7616 The Ship from the top of the rampIMG_7618 It was amazing to be standing on the ice offloading cargo while the ship wasnt even moored to anything.  The Polarstern is double hulled and can carry fuel between the two hulls and can break ice up to 7m thick.IMG_7625 Fuel bladders ready to be towed back to camp.  Each bladder is just under 6000L (yes that is the right amount of zeros)IMG_7627 Generosity.  Crisps, beer and coke to add to our rations!IMG_7629 The Halley boys, Silver, Tom and Denzel (any photo captions welcome).  Having been working in a team of three for a few weeks it was amazing having these guys with us for ten days, especially when lifting science gear weighing 500kg.IMG_7651 Denzel saying a last goodbyeIMG_7663 The two pisten bullies double heading (both pulling at once) to get 4 of the fuel bladders up the ramp after the ship had left.IMG_7666 Tim and Silver in deep thought over an unhappy Pisten Bully the day the Polarstern left.  I think Tim was happy to have another “Mech” along for a while.  As someone who doesnt work on their own vehicle I find it amazing that these guys were taking engines to bits in the middle of the Ronne Ice shelf.IMG_7668A very happy team after a busy 4 days.  Then it was just lots of sorting to do!

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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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


Blowing snow made the visibility fairly challenging at times.


Al and Mat driving past Mt Takahe in improving weather


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.


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

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