Friday 2nd Nov 07.
After the excitement of our new arrivals, seeing a plane, fresh fruit and vegetables, different conversation and the reality that our winter is so very nearly over, it was finally time for my last winter trip with Sune, Jules and Kirsty. Our destination (s) which are very weather dependant, would begin with N9, which was the first place i stood onto Antarctica's ice shelf after stepping off of the Ernest Shackleton, which docked there, before departing and leaving just 18 of us for the harsh antarctic winter, 9 months ago.
As with everything you do here preparation is paramount and consistent, increasing ten fold before, during and after your winter trip. Locations have to be agreed, Nansen sledges have to be lashed with all kinds of Antarctic survival gear - tents, fuel, primus stove, tilley lamp and spares, skidoo spares, tents, food boxes, radios, first aid box, personal gear - P bags, spare clothing, climbing gear and any other luxury that you can be bothered to shove into an already snug, compacted space that hasn't had the air squeezed out of it. Lets not forget either the several layers of clothing you wrestle into for the skidoo journey ahead, fighting heat exhaustion and sweat putting them on, in the comfort of a warm base, to the struggle and dis-pleasurement of bursting for the loo once you've finally walked outside and got a lung full of crisp Antarctic air.
One of 4 sledges which have to be lashed and unlashed for our trip.
Arriving at a frozen N9, S 75* 13.582' / W 025* 32.511', Sune probes for potential crevasses, to avoid us making camp on them.
After 2 hours of skidooing, what a nice camp site, set up in nearly 4 hours, skidoos and sledges tarped, pyramid tents erected and the infamous "Poo" tent on the far left.
The best window in the world, mine and Sune's view from our cosy pyramid tent, a sight which greeted us each morning for breakfast.
Looking bleary eyed, collecting a snow block for morning tea, from the pile outside our tent.
On the agenda for today a lovely walk in the fresh Antarctic air. So after ample cups of tea and bowls on sweetened porridge or biscuit browns with Marmite, (army style rations of high calorific biscuits in green foil packets, resembling that of brown bread but as a biscuit), i slowly crawled out of my body heated air of my down sleeping bag, quickly wrestled for warmer layers to wrap up in, in a space just big enough for you to lay and sit up in, before packing my rucksack with spare clothing and flasks of hot water and then stepping outside onto the ice and snow in minus 15 degs, fiddling with frozen metal parts of climbing gear to attach to my harness, before taking a 9 hour stroll as an Alpine Four around the N9 hills and slopes, hopefully finding some interesting ice climbing features and crevasses. And so, the day begins.
Our camp in the middle left of the photo.
Me, ice climbing to the summit of this blue ice slope.
Iridescence light reflecting around the sun.
On top of the ice shelf looking down towards the first sightings of the hypnotic sea, another exciting feature i haven't seen since the Shackleton left me here 9 months ago. We saw here some dark patches on the sea ice, which would suggest a hole in the ice, that wildlife maybe using - further investigation required.
After the excitement of our first day, the weather changed, the winds picked up and the contrast diminished, and so our first lay in, tea drinking, eating, reading and sleeping, in that order for the entirety of the day.
Sune radioing in sched. on the HF radio, with Halley base 9am and 9pm each morning.
The next morning the weather changed for the better and it always amazes me how sudden and severe the weather changes are. Where else on earth can such a place experience fluctuations in temperature from minus 29.4 degs to minus 1.7 degs in 36 hrs or even more incredibly a fluctuation from minus 29.4 @ 05.30 on 5th Nov - minus 16.5 @ 15.30 on 5th Nov, a change of 12.9 degs over 10 hours.
And so it was another slog of applying layers, 2 pairs of thermal bottoms, wool socks, wool cat suit, salapets, 2 thermal tops, 1 fleece top, 1 wool jacket, windy jacket, neckie, hat and 2 pairs of gloves worn together, then your harness laden with all manner of climbing gumpf, and if that isn't enough a rucksack with ice hammers and axes, ice anchors, climbing rope, spare clothing, food and flasks, laden like a donkey and tied up like a convoy of Yaks across the plains. Always the way, as soon as your set to go your bladder sends a message to your brain that it needs to be released, it never sends the message when your wearing next to nothing - typical. So off we went onto the frozen sea ice with ice drill in hand, just to check how thick the ice is we are treading on.
The cliffs and frozen ocean at N9.
First sighting of an Antarctic Skua this year, no doubt searching for cute, fluffy Emperor penguin chicks.
Penguin tracks leading out to sea.
After strolling out onto the sea ice, drilling as we go, making sure we didn't exceed our given ice thickness limits, which we were well within, with parts of the sea ice ranging from 25cm - 100cm plus.
We were so lucky to come across not one but two different breathing holes in the ice, with Emperors gathered around it like a fascinating amusement attraction. Would we be lucky enough to see wild Emperors jumping in and out of the water?..........................I think so!!
If the jump doesn't quite make it, the sturdy beak is always at hand along with the huge talon like claws.
After a quick dip at the seaside, i like to keep cool by basking in the midday sun, and letting the chilling air, freeze icicles on my beak.
Me, stepping onto virgin sea ice, using the Bog chisel to detect crevasses or weaknesses in the ice. What a picturesque winter wonderland, no place on earth have my eyes ever been so busy at gazing at Mother Natures sculptured landscapes.
A gentle, soft slide with a light dusting of powdered snow to land on.
Part of Sledge Kilo (minus Sune, taking the picture) posing by some pressure ridge ice.
On top of a snow drift, with a blue crack in the sea ice, bottom right.
View from the top of the snow drift, with a salt water pool (left) growing frost flowers on it.
Yet again, another day held up by the elements, blowing snow, winds, poor contrast poor and visability.
With average contrast and already a day and a half laying up in our tents, with the occassional visit from our other tent laid buddies, Sune decided a short excusion was in order - crevasse hunting, around an area we already browsed upon in good contrast with some potentials. Its amazing, this hole was completly covered by a thin sprinkling of snow, was about 2 metres deep and labarythed in both directions for a good 20 - 30 metres.
Inside the crevasse, the crack at the top is ground level barely visable and the crack at the bottom is the sea ice.
The beautiful gun metal skies over the N9 Brunt Ice Shelf.
With the prospect of moving camp the next day, it seemed as good a time as ever to have a snow bath, or more like a quick strip off, dance around like your treading on hot coals simultaneously throwing powdered snow on yourself.
The convoy, Sledge kilo on its way to Windy, N9 to Windy - 70 km - 3 and a half hours.
Making my contribution, melting snow on the reflex stove, for tea and dinner in the caboose at Windy.
Our new camp, at Windy.
Taking advantage of the good contrast but not so good wind, we roped up as an Alpine Four and walked North West around the ice shelf at windy, experiencing another vantage point of the Emperor Penguins and the majesty of the cliffs.
Blowing snow streaming off the shelf, onto the Emperors below, too windy to get down onto the sea ice and get closer to the Penguins.
Standing just a few feet away from the 20 metre high edge, with adjoining cliffs in the background.
Taking a detour around the cliffs at the North West Cape, looking at the leads through the sea ice.
A short rest stop on the way home, admiring the drifting snow and the vast expanse of endless Antarctic space, with absolutly no blemish distrupting the horizon.