Wednesday, 15 November 2017

It’s a long ol’ way South!

There is nothing simple about the journey south - least of all the difficult goodbyes. And then there are the hours...and hours...of travelling!

This time I headed to Punta Arenas again, which is where I travelled on my first time to Antarctica. Heathrow – Sau Paulo – Santiago – Punta Arenas (with a short stop off at Puerto Mont without getting off the plane) to be more exact. There had been some delays in Punta Arenas for some parties before us so we were unsure how long we would be there for. As it turned out it was only for two nights. Enough time to have a little walk around Punta and feel terrible about your absolutely rubbish Spanish! Then it was on to Rothera on BAS’s Dash 7 aircraft. The flight took about 5 hours and it’s pretty comfortable – especially when compared with commercial airliners and their lack of space!

We arrived at Rothera on a lovely sunny evening with clear views as we approached.

 We arrived right in time for dinner, after which we were able to stretch our legs on a walk around the “Point”. It’s great to catch glimpses of the wildlife there – a few seals, gulls, terns, snow petrels and shags. And the icebergs are really quite impressive too.

Lounging seal!

Some snow steps up a steeper bank of snow.

The above picture is the memorial at the highest part of the "Point". It commemorates those who lost their lives at Rothera and also pays tribute to the dog teams who worked at Rothera over many years.

This is the view looking back over the base from the memorial. You can see the runway to the left, with the hangar next to it, and the larger green building centre right is New Bransfield House. This is where the kitchen, dining room, bar, tv lounge, library and computer rooms are housed - nearly all with wonderful views of the bay. To the left of the pic and out of shot is the "Ramp" which is the gateway to skiing and climbing areas.

New Bransfield House from the opposite direction.

We had no idea when we would be heading on to Halley. It’s all about weather and you can never take the flight schedule for granted. We had arrived on the Friday and had been told we may need to sit tight for five days or a week but come Sunday evening we were told we should be ready to go in the morning. That means meeting for 8am and awaiting news from the pilots briefing. If it’s a goer you have half an hour to grab your things, get your warm gear on and meet down at the hangar. So that is what we did!

The first time I made the journey over to Halley three years ago we stopped to re-fuel twice. So I was all set for a whole day’s travelling. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out the Twin Otter was fitted with a long-range fuel tank. This meant we could carry more fuel with us and so only needed to stop the once – brilliant! 
I was able to take the co-pilot seat until Fossil Bluff. It was pretty over cast with low cloud so we only had views at take off and landing. Fossil Bluff is a small fuel depot staffed by mostly a couple of individuals - BAS staff from Rothera swap in and out throughout the season. We re-fueled there, stretched our legs and used the facilities (a pee flag - a flag off to one side to use as a designated area for having a wee so people don't just go anywhere!) and from there it was about another 5 or 6 hours to Halley. 

Fuelling up at Rothera before heading off.

Take off from the co-pilot seat.

Back through the clouds approaching Fossil Bluff.

View from the pee flag - refuelling.

 The aircraft is not pressurised so the air can be a bit thin, but apart from that it’s pretty comfortable and you get to stretch out for a bit too. On the Twin Otters we always have to travel with a “P-bag”, which is a super cosy sleeping bag system, in case the weather turns and you have to stay out in the field somewhere. These were secured inside the plane in a way that we could then use them to stretch out for a snooze. I was travelling with Jan, our glaciologist, so we took it in turns.

 View from the passenger seat looking towards the back of the plane. The long range fuel tank is at the right of the picture.

View from the passenger seat looking forward in to the cockpit.

The weather was mostly cloudy again on our journey over so we couldn’t see too much. But it cleared up a bit over the Weddell Sea so we could look out over the sea ice. We also flew right by a huge berg the size of the M25! We then flew into some cloud as we came to the ice shelf so no nice views there and it continued to be a little rubbish until we landed. 

That is one huge berg!

And so here I am at Halley once more. I've been here just over a week but I haven't been able to log on to sort this post out until now. I’ll make another post describing how things are around here at the moment in a few days. In numbers we are 13 right now. We have plenty to do, though it is nice for it not to be crowded with people quite yet.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Another Season

So another season begins......

I'm heading down to Halley again. I am finishing of my "Halley Winter" contract really. I know it's been a while since my last post but most of you will remember nobody wintered at Halley over the past winter. I was offered work in Cambridge (at BAS HQ) over the souther winter - our summer, so that is where I was from May until mid October. And now it's time to head South again.
I write this quick post from my hotel room in Punta Arenas, Chile. We arrived last night and should hear in an hour or so when we're expecting to head to Rothera. Then, once I'm there, I'll hear when I will head off to Halley. has been confirmed this week that nobody will winter at Halley next year either. There's a little bit of info about it here (along with some weird discussions in the comments).  Of course it's a blow, but we will have a full and busy summer despite the news. A very small team are at Halley already waking the base up ready for more of us to arrive.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

My last full day?

One thing that's been obvious this summer is that here in Antarctica, plans change all the time! Having said I may be off today, that then changed and I should be off tomorrow...maybe. The ALCI Basler came in but the passenger list changed and instead of eight people flying out it changed to six and twelve of us should head to Rothera tomorrow. 
It's a lovely day here today. The sun is out and still offers some warmth, though it's getting a lot chillier in the shadows. I thought I'd try and take a few quick pics to make the most of it.

The plane coming in. Jan's wind farm is there in the foreground. That has been recently put up to power some science equipment over the winter.

John's taxi service to the ski way.

I look out of the window in the kitchen area here and see the neat lines of containers outside and thought I'd say a little about that. The base is kept really neat and tidy throughout the year and is very organised. We don't just park skidoos anywhere, or pop a container here or there. Everything has to be kept in a certain way in order. This means that windtales and wind-scoops won't develop where they aren't wanted, which can be dangerous when the visibility goes. The snow can be more easily managed when everything is ordered and of course it's then more easy to keep track of where things are. The vehicles guys do a great job of keeping it all sorted and really tidy.

All the containers are put on to winter berms to avoid them getting buried as snow accumulates. Sometimes this is one long "super berm".

And sometimes these are smaller separate berms like in the left of this pic above.

The Drewry is already sat in a little windscoop of its own after the last couple of blows. The snow is packed down directly by the building and then built up around it. 

The side door into the living area used to have quite a drop to the "ground". No longer. Since yesterday's blow the snow comes up and above the door in a pretty snow drift.

The sides of the Drewry windscoop are really pretty now with the textured sastrugi.

I forgot to include an inside shot of our phone booth in my last post. Not exactly super private, but pretty cool. Photo proof of Shrove Tuesday pancakes also.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Cosy new digs.

Just a quick post with a few pics of our living area and the kitchen in the Drewry. We're down to our last few days here, should the weather work out. My plane is due in today, though we haven't yet had confirmation of that. The plan was then to fly to Rothera tomorrow. We shall see!
It's very comfortable here though. Cooking for twenty with a small domestic oven has actually been fine. It's very different sharing your work space with other people to whom it is their living space, but it has worked well (I think). We're getting the last bits and pieces sorted to make sure the Drewry isn't a big mess when people are back next summer - cleaning products could freeze and burst and then thaw next year and other such things. Everything will be drained down and winterised before the last people have left.

The News and crossword on the table in the foreground are still a daily staple.

The far wall is where we project any movies or TV programs we watch from the vast media drive we have down here. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Life in the freezer.

Earlier this week it was time to bury the two reefers that have been outside the Drewry since Relief earlier in the season. They were housing all of this year's new frozen order. They obviously need power to work usually, but should keep the food at a good constant temperature when buried. It is fairly common to bury frozen food in Antarctica and the supplies we had buried last year for this year did really well and were in excellent condition. 

We have a small supply buried for the very start of this season, which will be more easily dug up than the large reefers (which weighed in at just over 10 tonnes each). And to last the next week or so, we have our mini-freezer that the vehicle guys made me - located just outside the Drewry where the reefers were. It's working a treat and is actually more accessible than the reefers were. There had been a lot of climbing over things and belly crawling inside those reefers to locate certain items. This one is just a small hop into a large whole. Really it's a two-man job - the getting out part at least. But using a box of fillet steak and a helping hand from Al, it was easy enough to be heaved out!

I took a couple of more pics of our melt tank here. We get quite a big mound of snow pushed up by Pete in the Bulldozer, which we then shovel into the tank itself by hand. The red flags mark the pretty deep and lengthy hole the digger leaves, so that we don't stumble or drive in to it on poor visibility days.

We are having some lovely mornings and evenings at the moment since our first sunset last week. So here's a nice shot of the Modules from the other morning for good measure.