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!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Badminton - Winter Style

Only in winter would a seemingly sensible badminton match turn out like this....

Tris, Matt & Lizzy ride to the Hangar in style

Tris & Pete - looking err... lovely?

Andy & Drew - Badminton Champions

Roger & Tris mincing around on bicycles