Monday, 15 October 2007

Here Comes Summer

The 1st BAS Twin Otter
Well that's it - Winter is officially over. The first of the BAS Twin Otters and the Dash 7 arrived today bringing BAS personnel and this means the start of the Antarctic Summer season.

The Dash 7

Winter seems to have flown by, I can't decide if I'm ready for summer or not. It's great to have a new input of people but having spent the last 6 months with just the 22 of us I have a feeling it's going to take some getting used to...

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Stork Bowl

We're very lucky having a local 'ski-slope' (Vals) which we can use for snowboarding & skiing. When the weather and snow is particularly good one of the GAs will usually arrange a trip to Stork Bowl. Situated on Stork Ridge it lies just outside the 'Technical Travel Area' (the area in which we are allowed to travel without a GA). Unlike Vals it is unsuitable for skidoo travel so access to the top of the run is by foot.The 1st Dash (plane) is due to arrive tomorrow bringing BAS personnel and signifiying the start of summer. So we thought a trip up Stork Bowl would be a good way to end the winter, since I had also volunteered for Sunday cook we got up at 6am and headed up the hill.
Because of the risk of crevasses we have to be roped up for the first ascent (after this we're safe enough if we stick to our original tracks). It takes about 10 minutes to walk up and 1 minute to board down but it's certainly worth it, especially as I got to put the 1st lines in through the fresh powder :)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Anatomy of a Dog on Stork Ridge

Today we had was what has seemed like a rare phenomenon over winter - a good weather day co-inciding with a day off. For the latter part of winter it has felt like we've only had good weather on school days. Rog very kindly offered me the chance to get out to play on the mountains. We did a route called 'Anatomy of a dog' which is a snow / ice climb up a gulley on Stork Ridge (the snow-filled gulley can be seen just to the left of centre in the photo above) . The snow was in a lovely condition and we were able to climb up without pitching it (i.e. we were roped together but didn't have to put in any protection and belay eachother up as it was pretty easy going).

Once on top of the ridge we were treated to spectaular views of Orca (another mountain) and the Sheldon Glacier. We continued to walk along the whole length of Stork Ridge descending into Stork Bowl.

Looking East along Stork Ridge

Looking West along Stork Ridge

Shadows - still a novelty after 2 months without them

Reptile Ridge and one of the Borek planes on the Ski-Way
Orca & crevasses on the Sheldon Glacier

With it being such a lovely day we decided to stop by Badger (not sure how these mountains get thir names) and do a quick route on this too.

On top of Badger

Jim had the brilliant idea of serving gin and tonics in the caboose at Vals before dinner so we asked him to bring our snowboards up too. The end of the day was rounded off with a few runs at Vals and G&Ts in the sun followed by another amazing dinner from Cyril including loads of freshies kindly brought in by the Borek team - all in all a pretty prefect day in the Antarctic.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Visitors from the Real World

Today we welcomed visitors to Rothera - the first 'outsiders' since the ship departed 6 months ago. The distant sound of the engines was very surreal and it was a strange feeling seeing the planes appear over Rothera. Two Borek Twin Otter planes landed on the freshly-cleared runway. The Boreks arrived from Canada and are on their way south to Patriot Hills (a private base in Antarctica owned by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions who provide Antarctic expedition support and tours), they stop off at Rothera to swap their wheels for skis (as the skis are much lighter and from here on they only land on snow).

The pilots and crew very kindly brought with them LOADS of fresh fruit and veg - pinapples, mangos, oranges, apples, bananas, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, onions all sorts of luxuries which we had been without over winter. We all went a little mad piling our plates with salad and fruit and exclaiming how good it tasted. Dinner was followed by a very sociable evening in the bar sampling vodka and 'clamato' juice (some strange concoction of clam and tomato juice which is apparently very popular in Canada)..... I can't say I'd recommend it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Snow Clearing

With the threat of people, ships and planes drawing ever nearer this week has seen the start of preparations for summer with clearing of winter snow from roadways, pathways and the runway. This is a huge task for the mechs but they seem quite happy playing with their big toys....

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Rocktober Fest

The end of winter was in sight - so with the Borek Twin Otters due to arrive the following week and after 4 days of base scrub-out (tidying the base for summer) it was a perfect time to have a party, the last one with just the 22 of us. Infact we intended to celebrate all weekend as it was also Birgit's birthday (for which she had planned an Oktoberfest feast) and time for the now traditional Winter Film Festival.

Saturday night saw a party in the sledge store, with some people dresssing in typical FID clothing for the occasion (FID - Falkland Island Dependencies Survey was the original name British Antarctic Survey, thus people working for FIDS called themselves Fids). The band played under the new name "Ass of BAS" and with 9 of us on stage at one point there were nearly more band members than people in the audience.
Tris with Matt (or should that be Matilda?) who has obviously been here too long

The Oktoberfest and Film Festival evening was planned for the Sunday night, both food and films were outstanding. The films included a horror film from the Bonner Lab, various photos to music, films of extreme skiing & boarding, winter trips, an underwater film from Tris filmed with the ROV he BUILT over winter and Rothera version of 'Stomp' (the group that make music from random household items) - all very impressive. Films were watced between courses of a Bovarian meal prepared by Cyril and Birgit.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Shag Rock

Dickie, Drew and I took a boat over to Shag Rock today so that Dickie could count the blue-eyed shags that nest there. Shag Rock is a small island situated to the West of Lagoon Island and it is absolutely covered in shags, 100s of them. Drew and I spent an hour or so taking photos and observing the antics of the shags (some flying in with seaweed for nesting material others simply stealing it from the nest next door) whilst Dickie had the unenviable task of counting them all. Despite the awful smell of birds on a seafood diet it was pretty spectacular experience.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Seal pups on Lagoon & going on holiday by mistake

A lovely September morning combined with a decent low tide prompted me to plan a boat trip out to Lagoon Island to do some shore work (photographing some plastic panels which had been buried under rocks in the intertidal to see what marine life would grow on them). So my trusty crew (Dickie, Roger & Rob) and I set off for a morning on Lagoon. On arrival we were greeted by a weddell seal and her pup which must've been no more than a week old.
We walked over to the west side of the island to look for the intertidal panels, unfortunately most had been damaged by ice bergs over winter and had the pieces had to be recovered leaving little to photograph. Task completed we wandered back to the hut for a well-earned cup of tea and were pleasantly suprised by the appearance of a brand new seal - less than an hour old.
We noticed that the wind had picked up during our stay but decided to give it a go and headed back for base. However once out of the shelter of Lagoon Bay the sea conditions deteriorated and we reckoned we'd be better off staying on Lagoon (a decision in no way influenced by the presence of the seal pups). Since we'd not planned to stay we had no overnight gear with us so had to make use of the 'emergency' supplies in the hut. Dickie and Rob had not even brought any shoes or outdoor clothing with them (not really required as we all had boatsuits on but a good idea to bring it for just such circumstances). No worries - there is spare clothing in the hut too - one size fits all....

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Many apologies for having not updated my blog, I've been rather busy. I promise I'll try and do something about it soon. In the mean time here's a photo of an incredibly lovely weddell seal pup which I've just been to visit on Anchorage Island.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Second Winter Trip

One of the best things about wintering in Antarctica is the winter trips. We each get to spend 2 weeks (one at the start and end of winter) with a GA ( mountaineer / field guide) camping / climbing / skidooing / snowboarding. For my second trip I'd hoped to be able to get out on the sea ice, which although made a brief appearance around Rothera, was never thick enough to travel on. So I decide to try and get to the abandoned Chilean base at Carvajal and do some climbing and snowboarding along the way.
Roger (my designated GA) and I set off on the Monday loaded up with a spare skidoo engine which we were dropping off for Mark and Andy who were temporarily stuck on the other side of the island with a broken skidoo. Unfortunately for them they had also mislaid their 'poo tent' and had been stuck in high winds and blowing snow for the previous 3 days with out the luxury of wind / snow-free toilet facilities. They were still in high spirits when we met up with them and seem to have enjoyed their 3 days of lie-up (sat in the tent awaiting good weather, if the weather and or contrast is bad you can't travel anywhere as you can't see where the crevasses are). Antarctic AA job finished with Andy and Mark on their way back to base Rog and I carried on heading for Carvajal. 10 minutes later we found ourselves surrounded by low cloud an had to stop, the cloud refused to clear so we had to pitch the tent where we were and hope for better weather in the morning.
Andy poses (again) with the broken doo
Good weather the next day enabled us to reach our destination, where we were later joined by Lizzie and Richard. An enjoyable afternoon and night was spent at Carvajal where we slept in the bar. The corridor to the bunk rooms was quite creepy, straight out of The Shining. The base hasn't been visited by the Chileans for a few years but there is still lots there - skidoos, RIBs (inflatable boats), books, food and a fully equipped gym. Kenny (our generator mechanic) managed to get the generators going on his trip here earlier in the year, we had to rely on tilley lamps and candles to find our way around the buildings.

Buildings at Carvajal

The Bar & "The Shining Corridor"

On Wednesday we headed off to pitch camp near the Myth (a mountain which we were hoping to climb) leaving Lizzie and Richard to continue exploring. On our way we met Drew and Steve who were heading to Carvajal. Once the tent was up (a "swift" process taking merely 2 hours to unpack sledges and dig in the tent) we skidooed over to the Myth putting in tracks (skidoo and GPS) which we could use the next day should the weather not be ideal. Then went to look at the 'pinnacle' an impressive pillar of rock at the base of the Myth.

The Pinnacle at the base of The Myth

Thursday turned out to be as glorious as Mark had predicted on the radio sched the night before so we headed for the Myth. We kitted up with the usual gear - harness, rope, helmet, crampons, ice axes, snow stakes and all the "jingly janglies" (a vast array of metal work clipped on to your harness for the purposes of creating anchors to secure yourself to the mountain; belay devices to allow you to control your or your partners ascent / descent and gadgetry to allow you rescue your partner from a crevasse should they be so inclined to pop into one).

A few small crevasses on the face of The Myth

At the top

The North Ridge of The Myth

As you can see it was difficult finding space to pitch the tent

It took about 3 hours to get to the top via the North ridge and we were bathed in sunshine the whole way, a new experience after so long without proper sunlight. The views were stunning, impressive mountain ranges to the North and East, the Fuch's Ice Piedmont covering the whole West side of Adelaide Island, and sea ice and icebergs out to sea. Massive crevasses littered the slopes of the Myth and surrounding mountains and our tent was a mere speck, barely visible, surrounded by ice and snow. It was truly awesome. A few hours later and we were back at the skidoos and drove back to camp for a well-earned cup of tea. The icing on the cake was the appearance of 'sun dogs' (a relatively common halo, an atmospheric optical phenomenon mostly associated with the refraction of sunlight by small ice crystals) which made for an impressive tent photo.

After the success of Thursday we should have expected things to take a turn for the worse, again Mark was spot on with his predictions, though unfortunately this time it was for 40knot winds and blowing snow. Still, a day of lie up is never a bad thing and we passed the time reading, playing cribbage and backgammon and learning how to play the mouse organ. However the bad weather wasn't showing any sign of letting up and one day of lie-up quickly turned into 2, 3 and finally 6 days! Plans of snowboarding down Snow Dittie, exploring the Sloman Glacier and climbing more local mountains were somewhat scuppered and our new, perhaps less inspiring challenges included finding the toilet tent in the snow storms, digging out the sledges and skidoos so they didn't disappear, striving to be the top scorer in cribbage, backgammon and killer dice, getting beyond "3 blind mice" in the learn to play the mouse organ book, and those ever difficult tent-decisions such as choosing between Fawlty Towers or Eddie Izzard on the ipod and port or Highland Park? Fortunately we were well-stocked beverage wise unlike Drew and Steve who were also stuck in bad weather at Carvajal (Lizzie and Richard had made a succesful break for freedom on Thursday). During one brief break in the weather we built a tower from snow blocks, sadly it didn't stand up to the 50knot winds that evening.

The short-lived tower
Snow accumulation around the sledges

When the weather eventually improved it took 3 hours of digging to free the sledges, tents and skidoos (despite frequent digging throughout the week, the snow was constantly building up). The weather held up and we made it through Mc Callums pass back to the East side of the island and home to Rothera for a much needed shower!