Sunday, 27 May 2007


Just another Saturday night at Rothera
Since Midwinter (21st July) is a big celebration in Antarctica it is sometimes looked upon as our Christmas (as we don't have time in the summer to have the Christmas week off). Lizzy decided that if July is Christmas time then May should be the time to have a Halloween party, so we did. There were some sterling costume efforts as usual, some more scary than others, for example winter base commander Mike turning up in a little pink dress and blonde wig....again.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Pancake Diving in Hangar Cove

At this time of year the presence of ice can be problematic for diving and getting out and about on the water, it's often a case of too much ice for diving but not enough ice to travel on foot or skidoo. Hangar Cove (one of our regular dive sites, near the Hangar) was full of pancake ice (when the surface starts to freeze it forms 'pancakes' of slushy ice) which is okay for boating and diving but large amounts of ice around the point made access tricky, so we decided to move the Nodwell over to Hangar Cove from it's usual location at the Wharf and launch our small RIB Nimrod directly into Hangar Cove.

Pancake ice in Hangar Cove

Launching Nimrod with the Nodwell

Kelvin and I spent 35 minutes at -1.5 degrees C, successfully completing the task of photographing 12 "settlement plates" (plastic plates which have been in situ for 4 years to see which marine organisms will settle and grow on them). It was amazing surfacing through the loosely-formed pancake ice - pieces of soft ice broke off and sank down past us like snow. As we de-kitted we realised that a layer of ice had formed on our 1st stages.

Ice on the dive kit which formed during the dive

Thanks to Jim (boatman) for the photos :o)

Monday, 21 May 2007

Winter Trip

Nansen Sledge and Pyramid Tent
One of the best things about Wintering at Rothera has to be the winter trips, everyone gets 2 weeks off base one at the beginning and end of winter. You and a GA (field assistant / guide) get to spend a week camping / climbing / snowboarding / skiing. Liz and I set off on in relative darkness at 10am, our skidoos roped together and towing sledges packed with enough food and gear to keep us going for a month - it sounds over the top but if the weather turns you really can be stuck in your tent for days or weeks on end, plus you have to have almost double the amount in case one sledge falls into a crevasse! We set up camp near Trident, about 10km North of Rothera. Our original intentions were to aim for an abandoned Chilean base (Carvajal) on the far side of Adelaide Island but poor weather and short days meant we'd get more done if we stayed closer to base. Roger and Matt joined us and once tents were up we skidooed over to the recently named 'Hangover Buttress' on Trident and did a brilliant ice climb up one of the gullys. The next day Liz and I swapped gullys with Rog and Matt and enjoyed another excellent climb.

Hangover Buttress & Rog checking how wide the crevasse is

Ice climbing on Hangover Buttress

The next 2 days were windy with poor contrast so we were confined to the campsite. We made use of our time by creating a stunning snow hole and having fun with long exposures and torches in the evening....

The temperature stayed around -10 to -18 all week hence the tents got pretty chilly once the primus stove and tilley lamps were off. Frost formed around the top of your sleeping bag overnight and even the port began to freeze. The pyramid tents, tilley lamps and stoves are pretty much identical to ones that have been used since the days of Shackleton and Scott proving they are ideal for the job. Our sleeping 'systems' are however much more advanced and consist a wooden board topped with a foam mattress, inflatable 'Thermarest', a sheepskin, a thick down sleeping bag and fleece liner so once your inside it's pretty warm.

The final day brought good weather which allowed us to rope up and trek up Gwendolyn with our snowboards and skis. It was painfully cold at -20 degrees C but worth it for the views and the board down (made more interesting by having to avoid putting any turns in when you were crossing the snow bridged crevasses!!). On the way back to the tents we took a sort detour to enjoy the sun setting over Mc Callums Pass, it was strange to think that it is probably the last time we'll see the sun for a while as it no longer rises above the mountains and we're loosing about 10min of daylight each day.

Trekking up Gwendolyn & Sunset over McCallums Pass

Friday, 4 May 2007

Night Watch

There comes a time in every winterer's season when it's your turn to do nightwatch. This week it's my turn. The role of night watch is basically to make sure there's always someone awake on base to be ready to respond to any emergency situation, but also to provide emergency radio cover for field parties, do rounds of the whole base to check doors are shut and anything that doesn't need to be on is switched off and of course there's the glamarous part - cleaning. Any time left over is free time which I made use of by experimenting with my new-found photograpy skills in the dark room, putting together the scalextrix track, going to the gym (which was suprisingly empty at 3am) and catching up with all those little jobs you never find time to do.

Part of the night watch round invloves going through a small door in one of the phone booths to check the water pumps are working properly. Behind the unusually small door lies a Heath Robinson affair of pipes and cables and a very old computer which beeps occasionally and displays the message 'HELP' in green writing on a very old monitor (apparently it's very important and is busy measuring ozone).