Tag Archives: Mt Murphy

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.

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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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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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