Sunday, 18 September 2011

Catching Up

Hello Folks

Aplogies for being out of touch for so long....yes, it is winter and I should have loads of time for the blog but I find other things getting in the way all the time. Anyway over the next few days I hope to catch up to where I am now. So let's kick off with midwinter.

This is going to be a work of art
 It is the tradition on the base that each member of staff makes a present for another member of staff . Matching names are drawn out of the hat earlier in the season and we have a couple of months to scavenge what we can find around the base. Then the difficult task of matching our imaginations to the scrap we have found commences.

The finished article

I decided to make a box...not any old box mind but a carefully crafted and embossed box. I embossed the map of Antarctica on the top and on one side an elephant seal (looking suitably manic) and a killer whale on the other.
It’s a tense moment, but one of the best of the winter I reckon: the exchange of midwinter presents. Finally finding out who made what for whom. I love watching everyone’s faces as the fruits of their labours are unveiled. I got so involved in making my present that I’d almost forgotten I would be receiving one as well.

Santa's been!

Not sure what my reaction tells you here!

Proud recipient of 'The Box'

Then after the rigours of the gift exchange it was off to the Coms Room to hear the BBC World Service Midwinter broadcast and then all hands to the pump for the formal Christmas meal. A truly amazing day.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Happy Midwinter From Everybody at Rothera

Rothera Wintering Team

The start of our 'Christmas' Holidays......and your longest day.

We're having the traditional Christmas feast here later, after unwrapping presents and listening to the Antarctica radio broadcast from the World Service.

It's going to be fun!

Midwinter World Service broadcast can be listened to here

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

World Busk

This year a few of us at Rothera Research Station are taking part in World Busk 2011 for Musequality, supporting music projects around the world. This is my first video uploaded to the internet...tell me what you think! I feel a new career with MTV may be beckoning....

The link to the video on You Tube is...

If you are able to donate you can at  the following link below....... and many thanks for watching.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Lowering of the Flag

Today we officially marked the day that the sun did not rise above the horizon. It is the tradition here that the oldest person on the base lowers the flag on the day that this happens and then sometime in July the youngest person on the base will raise it again.

And the oldest person on the base is?!

Everybody gathered at the flag-pole for a short speech from the Base Commander and then I lowered the flag...which turned out to be slightly more complicated than I'd the knots had frozen.

The flag duly lowered we all trudged back to the bar for sunset cocktails and for the raffle of the old flag. Despite putting my name 62 times in the hat I didn't win it...but the guy that did then gifted it to me!

Midday at Rothera

Monday, 30 May 2011

Field Trip Part Three - The Journey Home

On arriving back at the camp the wind had picked up again but visability was OK and I got a bit lost in time just watching the ice crystals dancing across the surface of the snow. I have to say that one of the higlights of this trip is that I haven't had to cook a thing! I haven't even had to make myself a cup of tea. Mike has looked after me so well!
So that night Mike cooked up a great dinner and we settled in for the night with a bottle of wine. Mike had ensured that the wine was left hanging at the apex of the tent so that the heat from the stove would keep the wine from freezing. Attention to detail...I like it
Dinner was followed by a beautiful sunset.

Of course, with no cloud cover, the overnight temperature dropped to -20, and we woke to a thick layer of frost inside the tent. Everything inside was frozen solid and it took us ages to melt the water for our morning cuppa. Taking advantage of the good weather we re-visited Cavajal. This time we wandered along the coast, enjoying the wildlife, although not the smell.

The following day the weather turned nasty and after riding out on the Sidoos for an hour we had to turn back. The visability had dropped to 20 to 30 metres and there was almost no contrast. In a situation like that it is as if you cannot trust any of your senses particularly the one of direction! We returned to the camp and we were tent-bound for much of the next 48 hours.

Where did I put the Roof?
To allievate the boredom Mike set out to teach me how to build an igloo and we did pretty well before the weather forced us inside the tent again..

I read a book.... and then another book.....and then the Paros Life....desperate times.....

all of it....

from cover to cover.

The next morning we spent a fair amount of time digging ourselves out of the snow that had accumulated around the tent and digging the Skiddos out. A lot of snow had fallen!

Tent Peg Here Somewhere

Then it was a brilliant but uneventful five-hour ride home, where we had to unpack all the gear from the sledges, clean it all and stow it all away in it's place, ready for the next team to use. Mikes first priority was a hot meal. Mine...a long hot shower! My shoulders and back really ached from riding the Skidoo...they are very physical to ride and require a lot of input.

Despite my intial anxiety I really enjoyed this trip. Mike was a superb leader and great companion. Being exposed to the fury and the calm of Antarctica has made me appreciate the beauty of this continent even more.

Thanks Mike

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Field Trip Part 2 - Carvajal


Living/Accommodation Building
Built in 1961, Carvajal used to be a British base called Adelaide Island Station. It consists of five buildings - living/accomodation, genny shed, garage, trade workshops and an additional accomodation building. The reason that it came into existence is that the buildings were originally intended to be built at Rothera, thus establishing the base there, but for two seasons the ship couldn't get into the Rothera location due to bad weather, so the base was built at what is now known as Carvajal.

Spot the Pilot
The British occupied and operated the base until 1977 when the aircraft skiway deteriorated. Rothera had opened in 1975 and operations were gradually moved over. The base was transferred to Chile on the 14th Aug 1984 and renamed Teniente Luis Carvajal Villaroel Antarctic Base (Teniente Carvajal). Chile has allegedly used the station as a summer only facility since this time. In the last few years the skiway has deteriorated further, leading to the death of a Chilean air mechanic, when he fell down a crevasse. Since then the Chilean Air Force have ceased operations at Carvajal. The Chilean Navy continues to visit the base during the summer. Their visit should be to ensure the Base is in good isn't. It is a complete mess and was I was taken aback at the amount of rubbish and machinery, including a crashed twin-otter plane, that has just been left here to rot. I suspect the annual visits by the Navy are more to keep a claim on the territory than anything else.

The Welcoming Committee

The base is overrun now with fur and elephant seals who we had to contend with to get to the Base. They are fond of biting anything they can get their teeth into and we had to approach the base with sticks, banging them against the rocks so to create the clanging sound that elephant seals hate. They are incredible beasts that despite their size move alarmingly quickly

It looks like the death of the Chilean air mechanic sparked a sudden and mass evacuation. The place is frozen in time with items abandoned in mid-use. Compared to the relative luxury of the facilities at Rothera the guys here must have really had a hard shift.
The Bar
Exercise Room

Games Room

Boot Room

The Chapel

Having left my mark on the whiteboard in the ex-boss's office and Mike having stamped my passport with the official Chilean seal it was time to head back to camp.

Marked for Posterity
This about as much climbing as I can manage with this lot on!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Field Trip Part 1

The weather forecast
All the winterers on the BAS bases get two weeks 'holiday' a year. The first week is in the early winter and this was my opprtunity to spend a week away from the base becoming a true Antarctic explorer. Everyone has a choice as to what they want to do with their week but unfortunately choosing to have a lazy week in the base, watching dvds, eating Mars Bars and watching someone else do the washing up didn't appear to be of them. The choices that were available were climbing the local peaks and exploring the mysterious crevasses in the areas around the base or to go further afield and visit the Chilean base of Carvajal, at the southern-most tip of Adelaide Island. We were to live in a tent for the period and I was told not to bring any changes of clothing...what I had on when we left was what I would have on when we returned!

Practice Session

We were due to leave on the Monday morning and return on the following Sunday night but as Monday dawned the weather turned nasty with 40 knot winds and almost zero visability. So Mike and I skidooed to Vals where the half sledge was waiting and went for a practise linked drive with the sledge in the middle and me following along behind. It was really difficult to see and keep the rope taut without adding extra weight pulling onto Mike's skidoo. All the vehicles and sledges are linked together and we tie ourselves securely to the Skidoos for safety because the Antarctic terrain has many hidden crevasses. If one of the Skidoos goes down a crevasse the ropes provide safety lifelines. This was a theory I was hoping would not be tested.We were out for 3 hours but it felt like 10.
Tuesday morning we set off, the weather having improved a bit but not much. First challenge was getting the sled away up the slope which had turned into a wall of ice. We ended up traversing it at an angle. Once achieved we made our way to the first stop...a small caboose, where we sat and debated whether or not it was wise to continue as the weather had deteriorated further.
We decided to go for it and set off on a five-hour journey towards our base camp location.

The Stork Bowl
To get to the south of Adelaide Island from Rothera you first have to head north. We rode through Stork Bowl. Then it was a long arduous descent down through the notorious McCallum's Pass. Mike had warned me that we would need almost perfect visability to go through the Pass as it is a heavily crevassed route down to the Shambles Glacier. Fortnately by the time we got there the cloud had lifted sufficiently to wend our way through.

The Shambles glacier flows west to east across the middle of the island. We headed west along the Shambles, and then turned south onto the Fuchs Ice Piedmont on the other side of the Island. From there it's due south all the way to Carvajal. As with everywhere in Antarctica, it is a potentially dangerous route needing good visibility and contrast to ensure both parties cross safely.

The scenery around was amazing and I was beginning to enjoy myself!
But things can change very quickly in Antarctica.

The Myth
After about three hours the weather started to change; the wind picked up and the sky darkened. We pressed on for another hour through the rapidly deteriorating weather until we reached our base camp location, a place at the bottom of a mountain called The Myth.

We parked up the Skidoos and started to unload the camping gear from the sledge. At that point the weather got nasty and I got a bit scared. The wind suddenly picked up,snow was falling heavily and the temperature dropped. A blizzard was on the way.
Pitching the tent was so difficult in such extreme conditions, but Mike's experience proved to be a major factor in getting the tent erected. It was exhausting work, fighting against the angry Antarctic weather, but finally we managed to get the tent up and crawled inside for a very welcome cup of tea.

The following morning the wind had dropped off significantly and it had stopped snowing. We got the shovels out and started to dig out the Skidoos and all our other stuff that had been buried in the blizzard.

With the prospect of potentially good weather ahead of us, we set off on an the ride to Carvajal.

Of which.....more later