Sunday, 17 February 2008

My Last Month in Antarctica - i'd better get packing!

Amongst all the events of my last few days, we had an unexpected summer visit, by the German leased Polar 5 Basler, making a refueling stop, on their way back from a Medi Vac from Punta to Neumeyer - the German Antarctic Station, and a chance for me to take some pictures like a true plane spotter.

The Polar 5 Basler in the background with BAS's twin Otter.

As part of your wintering tour, BAS provide both a beginning and end of season Dental check, which is always a good excuse to get another trip off base and to visit Ernest.

Me transferring happy Dental patients back to base, via a Skidoo and happy sledge on the sea ice, to a waiting Snowcat on the ice shelf.

From sea ice to ice shelf, thanks to the well dozed ramp - hold on!!

The biggest impact for the 07/08 summer season here at Halley, is the Morrisson construction site for the new Halley 6, £44 million project. A project that partly involves analysing areas of the Brunt Ice shelf, depicting how fast or slow the old base is being pushed out to sea, as well as the construction 0f a state of the art new base, for the residents of the British Antarctic Survey.

The, specially adapted tracked Mantis crane and Genie Cherry Pickers, hard at work fitting the cladding (GRP - Glass Re-enforced Plastic) onto the steel framework, for 1 out of the 7 modules.

The cladded nose cone of the module, being lifted into place by the Mantis, on the left.

The construction site complete with container workshops, and Morrisson's workers. Stitching the specially made tents, over the remaining modules, to keep them protected over the winter months in readiness for next years cladding.

Stitched and winterised, with the help of the JCB Telehandler, digging in the valance around the tents to stop the wind catching them.

Views from the Laws platform before, December 07.

After, February 08.

The first sunset of the year on 14th February 08, at about 23.08, saw another start to the cycle of Antarctic seasons, as winter begins to slowly creep in again, as the sun slowly gets faded out.

Any excuse for a party, and the Summer Skidoo tent appeared the most favourable venue, with a Folk night, an open mike and various acts from many talented (ish) people.

And, as if planned by purpose with hangovers in mind, a sponsored ski, run, walk or crawl around the 5km perimeter, was organised for the following day. A 12 hour window in which as many people on base as possible, clock up laps to try and reach the equivalent distance from Halley to the South Pole, all 1602 km of it for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.

Halley at Sunset, on my way around the perimeter, adding to the total of 214 laps reached, 1070km trekked, from about 60 participants, and an ever increasing amount of £3700 raised - Job well done.

A Sun Pillar, streaming out from the setting Sun's rays.

An eerie mist rolling in from the February weather, with the Piggott building silhouetted in the foreground.

A 22 degree Solar Halo, with Sun dogs & a Perihelia circle, phenomenons caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere.

With it being my last month here in Antarctica, the weather was throwing all sorts at us, from dingle days to Halo's, and of course the unforgettable howling blows of the crisp Antarctic winds. With such severe weather relentlessly pounding the base, the extra summer accommodation outside the Drewery was temporarily shut, due to safety reasons with exit doors being snowed in.

The summer accommodation with the Drewery in the background, amidst another blow at Halley.

Just another day at Halley, digging for water, whatever the weather.

With my time here at Halley, very nearly to an end, there were two last jobs which i wanted to do - See the Piggott tunnels and all the amazing ice crystals, but also take a GPS reading to measure how far the ice, which is holding Halley in prison, has moved since my arrival on 1st Jan 07. The measurements from the Simpson building, show that our GPS position has changed, and moved 489 metres over the course of the year, averaging 1-2 metres per day.

The Piggott is its own self sufficient building, a backup in case the Laws has problems. The tunnels which lie 32 metres below the ice, hold a fuel flubber which contains 20,000 litres of Avtur fuel for the base, but more impressively, the most amazing winter, wonderland ice crystals, which live and grow down here. The tunnels temperature averages minus 17 degrees C, even at minus 40 degrees on the surface. Incidentally, the Laws tunnels have far less impressive crystals due to the Laws tunnels being warmer, averaging just minus 13 degrees C.

The entrance to the Piggott tunnels.

The ladder inside the shaft leading to the tunnels.

Probing the 20,000 litre flubber filled with Avtur, to check how full it is.

The crystals halfway along the tunnel, getting bigger and bigger, towards the colder part of the tunnel.

The frozen ladder on the other end of the Piggott tunnel.

Encrusted power box.

The new and the old winterers with the Summer support staff, outside the Laws, February 08.

27th February 2008.

Well, this is my last night on station, from here a couple of flights courtesy of the Basler, before boarding the Ilyushin to Cape Town, South Africa.

After staying up all night sorting and packing, packing and sorting all my stuff to be returned home, along with myself catching the early morning flight out of Halley, i had my last solitary glance from my kitchen window, staring into the 24hr daylight landscape, at about 03.05am.

If Carlsberg made kitchen view windows, this would probably be the best view from a kitchen window, in the world.

With temperatures turning from summer into winter, its all too apparent, what havoc Jack Frost plays in leaving Halley this late in the summer season, either by plane or ship. If the airs too cold on the ground the planes wings freeze, even before take off, and if the sea ice freezes over quickly, the entrapment of the ship heading North, cutting off all broken exit chanels, becomes ever more pressing and urgent. After a tentative start, and the aledged summer temperatures dropping to -25C, the pilot and crew annonunced on the radio more meths required, along with assistants in scrubbing the meths into the frozen wings. I didnt realise, until the pilot came back from the frozen Basler, watching the temperatures on the TV screen fluctuate, that, another 5 or so degrees and we'd be grounded for another day, as the Basler particulary dislikes -30C temperatures.

Lidia, which was the name of our Basler, being loaded with a mix of summer and winter crew out of Halley, for their onward flight to Sanae, Novo and finally Cape Town.

Touchdown at Sanae, the South African station, for the all important refueling stop.

welcome to Sanae, built onto a nunatak, (rocky outcrop), rather than ice like halley.

Touchdown at Novo, and the blue ice runway at the Russian station, where we finally meet the Ilyushin, which will take us to Cape Town.

Our taxi to the Ilyushin, our final plane flight out of Antarctica to Cape Town.

Ilyushin IL76 (link) , a Soviet era cargo and passenger transporter, with no windows, two strapped portaloos at the rear, and an added bonus of rough field work and landing capabilities.

SSSsssshhhhhh there sleeping? Arent they??????

3 Continents, 3 Islands, thousands of miles travelled and approximatly 460 days have passed since i last stood and walked across tarmac. I'd made it, my Antarctic experience was coming to an end. No more waddling out onto the ice like a bear, accompanied by my own shaddowy noise of crisp, crunchy ice under my cosy Mukluk boots.

Cape Town International Airport, and a whopping 48 degree temperature difference in just 12 hours from leaving Antarctica - let the sweat begin, the layers peel off and only 10 days till the big reunion with Sarah, my devoted girlfriend whose supported me through my entire experience.

Me and Sarah finally reunited in Cape Town, after 470 days of being apart. What a girl!

Joining in with the natives, with chickens on our heads.

February 08 Statistics:

Max. Temp. -2.85 Degs C on 20th
Min. Temp. -24.25 Degs C on 14th
Max. Wind Speed. 50.39 knots / 10 Min average 43.81

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Manhauling & Climbing with Orcas

15th January 2008

With relief well and truly behind us and the usual living and working, ticking along on base life, the odd trip out accompanying Richard, the new wintering Field GA, with some science equipment updates is always welcome. In this instance a solar powered, battery operated GPS system, which is continually monitoring which direction and how far the Brunt Ice Shelf is moving. There are 6 GPS devices scattered around key points of the Brunt Ice Shelf, being studied by Ryan Anderson (Life Time of Halley Science), to determine and possibly predict whether the ice shelf is moving as one or if some parts of the ice shelf are moving quicker or slower than other parts. All towards, being carved off and floating away as a huge iceberg, hense, why a new base needs to be built and moved further up onto the shelf.

The GPS site, based 10km South of Halley, which has already moved approximately 33 metres from 15th Jan - 19th Feb 08.

Richard making some adjustments and improvements, whilst getting instructed by Ryan, via radio.

Saturday 19th Jan 08, at a little past 9pm, myself, Richard (Doc) and Richard (new wintering field GA for 2008), took our first manhauling steps on skis to creek 4, 12km away from base. We'd been practicing and tweaking different rope traces, and who goes where on the system prior to our trip, by pulling the Nordic trail groomer, around the 5km perimeter of Halley. Which we all new would be harder, as it digs in groves behind it for skiers to glide in.

I'm sure i'm working harder than those two.

With our manhauling Nansensledge, tightly cramed, but very systematically packed with all the essentials for our trip - sleeping bags, tents, radios, spare warm clothing, food, cooking stoves and pots boxes and of course all the ice climbing and abseiling equipment for the following day. It was finally time, to experience a litle of what it must have been like all those years ago, when Shackleton and Admunsden manhauled to the South Pole.

Richard (field GA), skiing ahead and capturing the sillouettes of myself and Doc, on the vast flat plaines towards Creek 4.

Are we there yet??? Me manhauling with Doc.

And this time with Richard (FGA).

After 3 hours of leisurely manhauling, with a few chocolate nuggets and water stops enroute, we finally arrived just after midnight, at the caboose at creek 4, with fantastic vistas of the ice cliffs ahead of us. With plans of an early start for ice climbing and abseiling, sleep was on everyones list, eventually after the adrenaline and excitement relaxed out of our bodies.

Me preparing to abseil down the 30 metre ice cliff, with a possible Scottish grade rating of 3, (9 being hardest), while Richard checks my harness and rope work.

As always what comes down must go up!! Richard giving me the all clear to start the impressive ice climb, although this part rated a possible grade 6!

As if our manhauling trip, dingle weather, ice climbing and abseiling down the cliffs couldnt have been more perfect, a pod of Orcas swan up and down the stretch of sea ice along the cliffs, spouting air continuously, for the entire day we were there.

As the weather was so good it was also a good opportunity, for others to get off base, and so a nice walk back along the cliffs to our caboose at midday, saw 4 other eager climbers ready to throw themselves off the cliff - i mean abseiling, ofcourse! And off we went roped up as an Alpine 7.

Me (far, top left) and Doc, abseiling down the cliffs, with spectators already at the bottom - they look very small from up here.

Views of the sea ice and cliffs on top of Creek 4, with an Orca skimming the surface in the middle of the photo.

Its never a dull moment at Halley, especially half an hour before lunch, with the fire alarms going on full blast and the Laws platform looses all power. A full muster and Fire Emergency procedure are followed, including me "Donning" the Draeger Fire Fighting Equipment, in readiness for any insytructions given to me by the Fire Co ordinator.

Please excuse the scruffy right boot, i was in a bit of a rush and it was dark!

With an afternoon out of the kitchen and glorious weather outside, a short ski with some of my wintering buddies to the 4km marker, was a perfect excuse to get out and about.

Left, Dave, Me, Doc, Deano.

Some Alto Cumulus clouds over Halley, on our way back to base.

Jan. 08 Statistics:

Max. Temp: + 2.89 Degs C on 15th
Min. Temp: -19.62 Degs C on 20th
Max. Wind Speed: Gust 32.92 knots / 10 Min Average 30.0 knots