Sunday, 25 May 2008

Medieval Banquet

We normally make a bit of an effort for Saturday night meals, this week we decided to do something a bit different and have a medieval banquet. There was the the usual Saturday morning rush to make costumes and decorations with outstanding results.

Some of the decorations including an amazing candle holder that Al 'just knocked up'

Ferg and Matty partake in a spot of post-banquet jousting

Posing for a photo around the bar which most definately isn't in the 'lounge'

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Snow & Ice

There has been quite a bit of snowfall over the last week and some impressive drifts are forming around the buildings on base... Notice the position of the sun, this photo was taken around midday and at this time of year the sun is remaining really low in the sky, we're currently loosing around 7 minutes of daylight each day. It starts to get light around 10am and is dark again soon after 5pm. It also appears to be rather shy lately - often opting to hide behind the clouds.

Typically the windscoops form around the buildigs that we don't use in winter whilst elsewhere doorways, windows and pathways get drifted in and require daily digging.

I took a long overdue walk around Rothera Point this morning (it's been nearly a month since I last went round. It's a great walk, taking anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how distracted you get by the wildlife and scenery). The light was far from ideal for photograpy but you get an idea of what the snow / ice is like at the moment.

As the sea temperature cools ice begins to form on the rocks. After last years' poor show we're keeping our fingers crossed for some decent sea ice this year. The surface of the sea begins to freeze once water temperatures reach -1.9 degrees C

It's best to let sleeping furries (Fur seals) lie - they're grumpy and very smelly. There are still a lot of them about (over 60 today) along with a few Crabeater seals, Elephant seals, snow petrels and gulls.

This is an impressive arched berg currently sat in North Cove, the large cloud was full of snow which descended on me seconds later.

Winter Trip

Initial plans of travelling through McCallums Pass to the other side of the island were scuppered by large amounts of snow making travelling conditions poor. James (my GA) and I decided (along with the 4 other winter trippers - Adam, Tim, Dan & Birgit) to travel to a popular campsite near Trident, just 30min skidoo drive from base. The 'short drive' ended up taking 2 hours as poor snow conditions meant that we had to double-head the sledges (using 2 skidoos to pull one sledge). On winter trips we have to take a skidoo each and 2 sledges - one the 'living unit' laden with the pyramid tent, fuel, boxes of kit (stove, tilley lamp, food), 'p-bags' (the BAS sleeping system of a camping mat, sheepskin, down sleeping bag etc), climbing gear and personal kit and the second the 'half-unit' which is mostly emergency equipment - a 'pup tent' (small 2-man tent), spare clothing & 'p-bags', fuel, 1st aid box etc... this is required incase the 1st sledge happens to disappear down a crevasse. There's no such thing as 'travelling light' down here! The whole setup is linked together with ropes so that when travelling the order is GA on front skidoo (as they generally know where they're going), linked to a sledge, which is linked to the front of the 2nd skidoo which is also towing a sledge. The tricky part is moving together so that the 2nd doo doesn't run over the rope. 1 Antarctic Campsite (3 x 2-man pyramid tents; 1 x 3-man pyramid tent [a bit of a luxury, we took this as a 'party tent' since it's a bit difficult to sqeeze 6 people into a 2-man for evening drinks and the radio sched with base]; 1 x old pup tent converted into 'toilet tent'; 6 skidoos; 6 sledges; lots of flags for marking anything that's likely to get buried in snow).

Wednesday brought poor contrast, wind and snow meaning it was unsafe to travel (as you can't see the crevasses). We occupied ourselves by attempting to build an igloo complete with tunnel-entrance. Sadly we didn't get it finished before dark (which is around 5pm these days).

Thursday was slightly more promising and allowed us to get over to and climb on a local nunatak (top of a mountain peeking through a glacier) called N26. James and I opted for a rather nice snow gulley around the back (with a not so nice walk-in through the deep snow).

Walk into the climb (we went up the wide gulley left of centre)

The snow was good and the slope not too steep so we managed to do the whole route moving together (meaning we didn't have to stop to place protection / belay one another)

View from the top - looking towards Gwendolyn & McCallums Pass

Thursday evening brought strong winds and LOTS of snow, about a metre of it. It made walking around camp rather difficult and we generally opted for crawling about as it was easier! The high winds and blowing snow made things rather unpleasant and so much of the day was spent indoors reading and playing cards.

The weather improved slightly on Saturday and after digging ourselves OUT of the tent (the door had drifted in overnight which was rather worrying) we spent four hours digging out the sledges and skidoos and attempting to move them. The snow was so soft that moving the sledges was impossibe without the doos digging themselves in and getting stuck.

There's a skidoo under there somewhere...

.. and the half unit sledge is about to disappear

Several hours of digging later - doos and sledges are returned to the surface

It took another 2 days for the snow to firm up enough to allow us to travel back home, during which time winds got up to 30-40 knots and more snow fell. Fortunatley we'd brought enough books, games and port. It took us 2 hours to dig out the tent and guy ropes which were fairly buried by this time.

Home sweet home - looking a little sorry for itself (as were we after all that digging)

Despite the digging it was great to be back under canvas and off base for a while, you can't beat camping in a big orange tent in the snow.