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

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