Winter Trips. The Sequel. Part Five.

Yes. Yes it is this Blue!

 

Didn’t bother with the symbol.

Yay, it’s the fifth and final part of my winter trip tale. Dragged it out a bit I suppose! As is traditional I’ll leave my favourite bit till last – though you may not agree (penguin chicks are hard to beat).

After a layup in the tent we awoke to a fairly reasonable day – not perfect by any means, with a cloudy sky and a touch of wind. But good enough to get out of bed and get outside. About a kilometre away from the tent heading down into one of the creeks was an ice cliff with a huge wind scoop in front, quite far back from the tide crack between sea ice and shelf.  This was a good spot for a bit of ice climbing.  It was also a perfect place to practice using our crampons and axes., climbing up the steep but not vertical walls of the wind scoop using the different techniques, with Al providing tips and instructions on the correct use. Some of these were pretty basic such as how to use the toes of the crampons to dig into the ice and how to descend back down again with your feet in different positions and angles to the ice. We also practiced fall arrest techniques using ice axes. It was a good place to get a feel for the ice itself – some of which is solid, some really brittle and the different methods you would use when dealing with each type – some will let you smash the axe or your crampons straight in and give a good solid hold, other bits will shatter and huge chunks will fall off and skitter downwards. We also used some ice screws, long threaded bits of steel that from anchors in the ice for you to rope on to.  After quite a while down in the wind scoop and on some of it’s gentle sides – where we learned loads, we set up the ropes and began climbing the cliff.  I mentioned it before after the last time I did a spot of ice climbing but you use muscles that don’t often get a workout. Your forearms quickly end up exhausted. This, coupled with the fact that your arms are always above your head (and heart), you are gripping the axes tightly and the extreme cold mean it can quickly become very difficult. The blood flow and circulation in your arms and hands is limited by all of the above factors.  About six feet away from the top and I could no longer feel my hands at all – which is a bit of a disadvantage when trying to hold your bodyweight on the handle of an axe. I did manage to get to the top though! Upon reaching the top Al asked how my arms were to which I replied “numb”.  His answer – “You’ll feel em in a minute”

 

Feel em I did. From being held above me, working hard and freezing to the point of numbness your muscles then fill back up with blood, getting pumped up in the way muscles do after a hard workout. Let me tell you. This really hurts!  The hot aches or screaming barfies as they are known in North America (because they make you want to scream and barf at the same time) are a bit like when you are a kid and you’ve been playing out in the snow, making snowballs and then you come back inside and your fingers warm up too quickly giving you a painful pins and needles type of feeling. Well, like that but times a thousand. I was, a bit pathetically, on my knees at the top of the climb trying to “find a happy place” for about five minutes afterwards.

 

I didn’t take any photos of all this climbing malarkey because I was either having too much fun or  a hundred foot up an ice wall (or both). So you’ll just have to imagine that bit.

Once we’d packed up our gear though we decided to have another little jaunt out onto the sea ice and head off in a new direction to see what we could see. As I mentioned the weather wasn’t bad but it was really cloudy. The sun was attempting to shine through but it was really overcast. This made the whole place spectacular. Monumentally spectacular.  Everything you could see, from the cliffs to the ice to the cloudy sky was a shade of blue. A few people have said that the pictures I’ve posted don’t look real – well the ones I took here are even more so. I wish I could post up the high quality photos but the bandwidth just wont let me!

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

 

Yes. Yes it was this blue.

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

Travelling round this lot just takes your breath away. I got all excited about the sea ice as I travelled through on the ship coming down and I’ve been blown away by it’s other-worldliness  each and everytime I’ve been out for a look around but this is just something else.

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

I could try and explain how I was just walking around in a trance staring at all this but the words wouldnt do it justice – the pictures are better but they are still a long way from what it feels like to stand out on the sea looking at all this.

You can see the colour but it was o much more than the pictures show – like thye blueness was was coming from everywhere at once. Then you add the immense scale and the eerie scilence and words don’t stand a chance.

 

So loads more piccies then!

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

 

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

In the words of Rutger Hauer “I’ve seen things you people wouldnt believe” Unlike the Blade Runner replicant though – I took pictures.

 

And lastly – just a little hint of penguin.

sea ice antarctica

 

Well, that was all about my latest excursion out into the great blue yonder!  I’ve been pretty lucky – the two pairs before us didnt really get much of a trip out to speak of and the two after me have only got a few days at windy caboose. Fingers crossed for the next lot. Hope they get to see what I’ve seen!

 

 

WTSQ.P4.

Winter Trip. The Sequel. Part Four. I’m going with initials in the title now, you know – to keep things fresh. Like N.K.O.T.B..  Next one’s just gonna be a symbol.

Anyway, back at the base camp it’s another fine morning. Not too bad temps and little wind with good sun and great contrast – just what’s needed to visit the Rumples.

The Rumples, or The McDonald Ice Rumples to give the area its correct name is a spot on the Brunt ice shelf where the shelf flows over a sea rise, grounding itself. This causes the surrounding floating ice to flow around it faster than the stuck ice in the middle. This causes all sorts of pressures and the ice ends up riddled with huge faults, tears and cracks in it. It creates spectacular features but also fairly treacherous ground.

Here are a few pictures from the air (not mine):

McDonald Ice Rumples, Antarctica

McDoMcDonald Ice Rumples, Antarctica

McDonald Ice Rumples, Antarctica

These are some old shots on the drive at base, not sure who took them and they seem to be taken some time apart from each other. You can see the ice pulling itself to pieces though. These are quite high altitude photos too it has to be pointed out – the area we are looking at is many miles across!

So. The Rumples. You need a good clear day to visit  because it’s easier to see the tell-tale signs of something not quite right below the surface! We skidooed in as far as we dared – and very carefully at that, with regular stops, inspecting the ice in front with a bog-chisel (big stick) and then proceeding slowly on. We got to the approximate location of last years camp and looked down a long canyon stretching towards the centre of the rumples. The plan was to find a likely spot and abseil down into this canyon and have a bit of an explore.  The first bad sign was the occasional deep sounding thump. It seemed to be the sound of cornices or overhangs just melting a touch in the bright sun and slumping down under there own weight.  We were now off the doos in a relatively safe place where we promptly roped up. We set off walking with  the rope kept very tight between us – to minimise any fall should one of us disappear downwards. Al knocked some anchors into the ice and set about trying to find a way down.

McDonald Ice Rumples, Antarctica

McDonald Ice Rumples, Antarctica

Al’s statements on the first slot he found started out like “hey this looks good” to “oh aye, this looks interesting” progressing to “it’s a bit gnarly mind” then to “bloody hell, we’re not getting down there”  I reckon a few more minutes and he might have been telling us to run for our lives!

We walked around and tried to find another entry point, Al looked at the various crevasses leading into the main one and again,  they all seemed to be in the range of proper gnarly to “we’ll die down here”.

It seems that, like Gatekeeper, there has been a huge amount of movement of the ice in a few short months. Flags and markers that had been left were now gone, ice features that were once there were now obliterated and crevasses had popped open in areas that were previously relatively stable.

Now, I can’t really describe in words the sound millions of tonnes of ice makes as it moves or breaks but what I can tell you is that it is a noise that tightens sphincters. Something you feel rather than hear. The sound seem to come from everywhere at once and reverberates up through your feet. The whole area felt very dodgy!  Edging across the ice, putting one tentative cramponed boot in front of the other, expecting each step to open up an abyss beneath your feet.  Ok, I’m being a bit dramatic perhaps but it does get the heart going! We have trained in crevasse rescue, are roped and harnessed up nice and tight, have all the right gear to climb back out or rescue each other with us and of course Al is experienced and really knows his stuff but it’s a freaky place. The number of visible slots – just bits of the ice that look slightly different rather than visible open cracks, as well as the knowledge of the ones you can’t even see – it all certainly makes you focus on what you’re doing!  We never did find a way down unfortunately but it was good to visit and see even just a bit of the place. Not too many photos because my mind was on other things, but this one’s a good un!

McDonald Ice Rumples, Antarctica

We slowly got back to the doos and then rode out – though even this was a pain-staking experience with us having to do about-turns a number of time to avoid danger.  Even Al, who was obviously a bit more relaxed about things than me said the place was pretty hairy.

So back to base camp, still a nice night so I managed to get a nice picture of the sunset over they pyramid tent.

Sunset over Antarctic pyramid tent

The following day was a bit of a non-event. The weather turned and the wind speed increased leaving us with no choice but to ride things out inside the tent. Having a day holed up in a tent, reading, playing cards, chatting and drinking brews whilst the wind howls around outside is actually fairly nice. You’re away from base, you’ve been exerting yourself for a good few days now and you can actually get fairly snug despite the outside temps. Though on this it has to be said that this is not as straightforward as it could be. In Antarctica you are often having to make choices between two things – and normally one of these is temperature related. When walking around, or even more so riding around, you will have to make the decision of whether to  keep your face nice and warm or have nice clear vision. Wrap your head up too much and your goggles, helmet or specs will steam up and then freeze. Go for clear sight and your nose and eyes will go numb. Your extra thick down sleeping bag provides another one of these dilemmas. You can go for warmth, snuggle up deep down inside and be perfectly warm, but this results in your bag filling with the moisture from your breath and the inside of your bag feeling  about as comfortable to sleep in as a sauna. Or, you can elect to keep your face pointing out of the bag and it will be nice and dry. But your eyeballs will freeze. Decisions decisions. I tried to make a little tunnel out through the top of the bag but kept waking up every hour, sticking my head in and then swapping an hour later. This is only really a problem when it’s lower than -30c though. It’s  fine above that. Whilst on the subject of sleeping bags. Inside your bag is pretty much the only place in the tent where liquid will remain liquid. Anything, from water to contact lenses to camera batteries – anything that has to be kept even slightly warm needs to be in your bag with you. It does become a bit like sleeping in a cutlery draw. I tried getting some pictures of inside the tent but it’s a bit hard when the primus and tilley lamp are on as it quickly gets a bit foggy in there. Cool fact: our primus stoves are made by Optimus. Optimus Primus.

While I’m rambling on, please forgive any spelling mistakes or sentences that erm, don’t make sense. I write stuff out and then by the time I notice a mistake it takes about a day to re-load the page and correct it – so plenty get through!

 

No penguins in this post. Final one coming up next!

Winter Trip. The Sequel. Part Three.

Next installment!

After a night in the sweat-box Windy Caboose we had breakfast, tidied up and made plans for the day. John, my partner on this trip had missed his last one and still (after being south a few times)  had still not seen the Hinge zone on any of his trips.  Hinge zone it was then!

We set off on the long journey that would take us back up to the base and then beyond. The route from windy to base is a well-travelled one and we were riding the doos un-roped. Once past base and away southwards towards the continent we stopped, harnesses up and roped all our sledges and skidoos together. This form of travel is a lot less relaxed for a few reasons.

Firstly you need to concentrate a lot more – you don’t want the rope too slack or it will be pointless (if a skidoo fell through into a crevasse it would fall further, meaning more shock-loading) or it can get tangled up in the skidoo itself. Too taut a rope and you end up getting a tow from the doo in front – pulling all that extra weight will quickly damage it.  It’s a fine line between the two and you have to constantly match you speed to the doo in front, something that’s easy on a flat road, slightly harder on a sastrugi laden ice shelf.

The second reason this method of travel is not as relaxed is the actual reason we have to rope up – crevasses. Huge slots in the ice that can be covered over with just enough snow to be hidden, or be completely open yet still impossible to see until you’re right on top of them!

The first big feature you come to when travelling to the hinge zone is Gatekeeper. A known large crevasse  with a section in the middle that narrows and has a very large and stable snow bridge across. Well, that was the last description of gatekeeper from the last visit there about five months ago. Things change!

gatekeeper crevasse

We got within ten or twenty metres of where the crossing was, Al stopped and did a bit of a recce. I sat about twenty metres or so back and really couldn’t tell what he was looking at all.  He turned back with a funny look on his face, waving his arms…

 

 

I roped up and walked down towards whatever Al was looking at, tied to a skidoo.

gatekeeper crevasse

 

From the pic above you can tell that there’s not much to see right?

gatekeeper crevasse

This was the view once I looked in. The photo is deceptive – this thing was deep!  Also, the bottom is definitely not the bottom and could be just one of numerous false floors going down.

 

gatekeeper crevasse

This is the view straight across, I couldn’t see any of this  from less than ten metres away! The far crevasse is where the bridge used to be. This has now slumped in as the gap widened. Another slot has opened up in front leaving an island in the centre. The whole thing is a good fifty metres wide!

gatekeeper crevasse

Above is the view to the right.

gatekeeper crevasse

And to the left!

 

The photos just don’t look that impressive compared to the real thing. This whole feature was stretching out for kilometres making it virtually impassable.

Late last year Al had been down with one of the previous years wintering crew and abseiled down in to Gatekeeper. They had thrown in eighty metres of rope and still not even been able to see any bottom!

So sadly the Hinge was not to be for John. The whole area will have to be looked at in the summer and a new route found to get to the hinge.

We turned around (very carefully!) and set off back down towards the coast. Time was moving on and we decided to get back down to the creeks area, set up a base camp and venture out from there to other destinations.

Setting up camp takes a few hours and this then left us a bit of time to once again venture out onto the sea ice.

antarctic sea ice

antarctic sea ice

antarctic sea ice

A small crevasse from the side (still big enough for a human to disappear and die in mind you).  Small cracks can quickly turn into something the size of a valley given the forces that are acting on the ice – moving along at a rate of four hundred metres a year, with trillions of tonnes pushing it.

 

antarctic sea ice

All this ice will of course break off when it reaches the calving face and any weakness or lines of stress in the ice will be right where it breaks. Sometimes this will lead to icebergs as big as small countries breaking off in one go – something that could well have left the old Halley V base floating away on a berg if a known fault line had actually split (this is one of the reasons BAS needed a new Halley). In other cases the ice might just get to the front and just break apart in small pieces and drop down on to the sea ice like a landslip or rockfall. Of course when I say small you have to bear in mind that some of the “little” blocks of ice that fall off will weigh thousands of tonnes!

antarctic sea ice

 

antarctic sea ice

The shelf ice breaking off in winter will fall down onto the sea ice. Some of the huge falls will then smash into the sea ice, either causing it to break and then reform or send out shock waves across it making huge cracks – like someone hitting safety glass with a hammer.

antarctic sea ice

These cracks can be pretty big too. They can pull apart and re-freeze like this. Or, the ice can be smashed back together again Leaving great chunks sticking up.

antarctic sea ice

 

Some of the ice though looks more like volcanic rock and seems to flow  rather than fall into the sea ice.

antarctic sea ice

DSC_0767

Some areas look like they’ve been whipped up like ice cream.

antarctic sea ice

or been chipped away an shaped with a giant chisel or adze.

antarctic sea ice

 

Then there’s the merangue-like over-hangs (overhangues?) Some of these are thirty metres tall – made of just blown snow and ice sticking together. Sticking out quite a way from the cliff tops these must end up weight huge amounts, some of them actually look impossible – like that are defying gravity. ALthough they look quite fluffly when your trying to get through one from below when climbing, or trying to break one from above looking for a place to abseil they actually seem more like concrete!

antarctic sea ice

antarctic sea ice

And lastly of course…. more of the locals.

antarctic sea ice

 

 

 

After a trip out eastwards on the sea ice we still had explore the west. And also fancied a trip to the Rumples!

That’s all coming up next in the winter trip sequel!!

 

Winter Trip. The Sequel. Part Two.

The second part of my recent excursion continues with a new partner on the trip – John, the Base Commander, with Doc staying home to keep an eye on his patient.

With reasonable weather (-30C  and 5 knt wind) we decided to pay a visit to Windy Bay, home of the enormous Emperor colony – which, by now, we hoped should have lots of penguin toddlers running round.

As I mentioned previously this post contains pictures that are unashamedly right off the cuteness scale. What can you do though – they’re baby penguins!

emperor penguin chicks

The chicks are now much bigger than they were when last I visited, and a great deal more mobile too. When I was last here all the young birds were safely tucked up under their parents and would have struggled to survive if fully exposed to the elements. Now they are roaming free across the ice, playing with their mates or trying alternately either to get away from or get back to either of their parents.

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

The chicks, depending on how old or brave they are can be seen staying quite close to their mum or dad, gathering in small crèches near to their parents or simply buggering off to explore.

emperor penguin chicks

The more adventurous groups were really wandering off out of it. Some of the chicks may well be left all on their own as both parents go out to fish at once – staggered rather than together but still bringing in more food for their increasingly hungry offspring. This means that whilst some of the chicks seem happy as Larry to wander round exploring till the folks get back, others, often the younger and smaller ones, seem to spend most of their time trying to find a parent. These young chicks will walk around introducing themselves to almost every adult they meet. They will chirp loudly for food or in a lot of cases just make a dive under the feet.

emperor penguin chicks

This is quite tiring when you only have little legs so you also see quite a lot who seem to have decided that the best thing to do is just to stay where you are and have a kip.

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

Apart from the quite high chance of dying of exposure the chicks are pretty safe from predation at this time of year. They do, however need to watch out for the occasional abduction. Parents of chicks that did not survive will often try to adopt other youngsters that cross their paths. Hopefully this has positive outcomes with abandoned or lost chicks surviving due to the help of an adoptive parent. This behaviour can also end up causing fights though- one of the very few even slightly aggressive displays I’ve seen is below.  The penguin on the right has grabbed the chick and is trying to stop it from running away. The penguin on the left is apparently the parent and is keen to get its young un back home.

A bit of a squabble ensues (yeah, squabble is about as violent as it gets – though they both seemed very determined) before lefty penguin wins out and the chick scampers back under its belly flap. The loser then shrugged his or her shoulders and wandered off – perhaps to find another chick.

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

Whilst the parents obviously protect, search for and find (an impressive feat in itself) their own young, the whole colony does seem to have quite a community vibe going on with large nurseries being watched over by a few adults, chicks swapping between different adults and a general looking out for each other kind of attitude (I know I’m anthropomorphising a little bit here but hey – I’m a Sparky not a Zoologist so I’m allowed to).  This isn’t really surprising I suppose for a creature that so often is dependent on the warmth and support of its neighbour in order to survive.

That’s not to say that it’s a little anarcho- socialist paradise. Danger of death is still ever-present. Testament to the harshness of the environment are the large areas of the colony that are littered with perfectly preserved frozen corpses. I’ll spare you the photos of those. There are lots and lots of eggs everywhere too.

emperor penguin eggs

The eggs are really quite big, between the size of an avocado and a mango with what feels like a very thick shell.

With no predators or scavengers able to really access this colony until later on in the year when seals or sea birds such as Skuas make it back and with no decomposition due to the low temperatures quite often  in some places there can be  a lot of dead chicks and eggs. The huddles tend to move around and the areas they leave can be a bit like graveyards. Nature is harsh and no more so than down here, even without anything trying to bite you.

Aside from the risk of either freezing or starving to death the sea ice and the ice shelf themselves can be a bit of a nightmare for the colony. Last year the sea ice broke out early leaving most, if not all of the chicks to die without their adult coats or sea ice to stand on. A few were left clinging to accessible areas of the shelf but not many. I did get a few pictures of those that were left last year when I arrived on the ship.

creek-12

Then you see things like this, the “over-hang of Damocles”. Perched above a large area of oblivious birds.

emperor penguin

Poor buggers!

You can’t be sad for too long about such things though – not sure who said it, and I’m paraphrasing here, but “you can’t stay angry or sad when looking at a penguin”  Can’t really argue with that can you?  So here’s a lot of photos of some chicks looking cute and staring at me funny.  If they weren’t so chilled out they could probably take over the internet from cats I reckon.

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

DSC_0078

emperor penguin chicks

emperor penguin chicks

Favourite photo – “what the hell are you lookin at?”

emperor penguin chicks

Again, I’m anthropomorphising but that little fella above wandering past John is definitely making aeroplane noises right?

Once more I’m left feeling lucky to see such things!

The climb back up the cliffs was, once again, emotional! Jumaring up a rope padded up with insulating down clothing (a number of layers) and huge gloves, sweating despite having freezing hands and fingers – it really takes it out of you. Still it felt quite a bit easier this time, regardless though, it’s always worth the pain getting back up to get down in the first place.

Windy Bay, being an area of scientific interest has its own caboose stationed about a kilometre away from the edge of the shelf. For those of you that don’t know a caboose down here (as opposed to a train caboose) is kind of a little shack or shipping container built on legs. They are dotted around the site at Halley, housing various science experiments away from the base and they can also be dragged further afield, mounted on a sledge, to provide a more permanent shelter than a tent. They can be dragged down to the sea ice at relief to provide a refuge or left at places of interest like Windy.

So we were saved the chore of erecting the tent for another night, instead electing to stay where we were and avail ourselves of the relative luxury of the caboose. The windy caboose is basically a container with two windows, some bunks and a kerosene fuelled burner. We had a pleasant evening playing cards, drinking tea and swapping stories. I was woken in the middle of the night drenched in sweat though – the caboose can get up to a balmy 20 odd degrees C with the heat on and the only kit we had such as sleeping bags were rated to -50. That’s a big old difference! Still, soak up the heat while you can.

Last photo of this post (lots more to come) of the mornings view looking back up towards base. Windy Bay is a around 40 kilometres away and under normal circumstances the base would be impossible to see – it would be below the curvature of the Earth. But with a bit of atmospheric magic you can see the base appear as a mirage on the horizon!

halley base

Pretty cool eh?

More to come soon, ice, ropes and even a few more penguins!

Winter Trip. The Sequel. Part One.

Last week it was my turn to head back out into the field on my winter trip. Winter trips are one of the great privileges of working for BAS. They provide valuable training in the techniques used whilst living, travelling and working out in the field and at the same time give us a chance to get away from base. From my point of view though, they are the chance to get out into the wild and see Antarctica in all its glory. It’s sometimes very easy to forget just where you are living. Often the weather can be so extreme that you are stuck inside or that busy with work that you focus entirely on it. Once out into the field though, travelling through the craziest landscapes on the planet, sleeping in a tent in temperatures about five times lower than that of your freezer back home and doing the sort of things you might see in an energy drink commercial then you start to realise, once again, just how few people get to see this place. Lots of people are now visiting the continent and its surrounding ocean, mainly on the peninsula, in the short summer months  but I think more people have been to the top of Mount Everest than have over wintered in Antarctica – and fewer still have the chance to be actually out in the wild in winter. Whilst travelling across the sea ice, which reached its maximum extent over the last few weeks, Al, the base field GA commented that the two of us could well be the most isolated people on the planet at that moment in time. This may or may not be true but I’d bet we were up there!

As with anything and everything down here excursions are subject to the whims of the weather. We head out in threes for a week or so at a time. The trips are planned so that those who go first on the first round of trips at the end of summer, when they have the best chance of nicest weather, will then go first again at the beginning of winter – when the chances are higher that they may have harsher conditions.  this hopefully spread out the chances of everyone getting a chance to get out over the year. Last time I managed to get away for almost a full week and had an amazing time – though it was incredibly cold (to the pre-winter me, I’m a bit hardier now, post winter). Those that went after me last time out were not so lucky, having either a truncated stay out or not really getting away at all. This time out Mike and Octavian went first and suffered a week sat in base with the wind howling around us, unable to get out. The next pair, Kev and Rich, did manage to get off base but were caboose bound for a good few days in bad weather. As my time approached I looked at the forecast with disappointment as heavy winds were predicted. The day before the trip though the forecast changed to a more positive one and James, the base Doc and I got ready to head out with Al. Things didn’t quite work out as straightforward as that though with James having to stay on base for medical reasons – someone else’s, not his.  So for the first day me and Al decided to have a short trip out down to creek three. The creeks are a feature down at the coast nearest Halley. The ice Shelf moves out onto the sea after flowing off the continent and is stretched, squashed and bent out of shape in various different places. One of those places is the Rumples – a sea mount on which the ice shelf is grounded – leaving the non-grounded ice to flow around it, this causes huge pressures and changes the flat ice shelf further down the coast into an undulating rollercoaster of peaks and troughs. These peaks and troughs will then become headlands and creeks as they break off at the ice edge.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

Because of this the creeks are often one of the best places to get down onto the sea ice and are often used for relief – depending on the thickness of the sea ice. The creek three area has been used for relief a number of times and this year again had a nice ramp down onto the sea ice, no climbing required – though we were fully roped up and very carefully across the transition for shelf to sea ice, watching out for tide cracks caused by the rising and falling of the sea ice against the heavier, more immovable shelf.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

Once down onto the ice you are surrounded by weirdness. Blue and white are the only colours to be seen and the landscape everywhere is of a grand scale, from the towering cliffs and headlands to the seemingly endless expanse of the sea ice itself.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

The sea ice itself is far from flat.  As it forms it breaks apart and then comes together again and reforms, pushing large pieces up into the air as the ice crushes back together with enough force to smash the hull of many a ship. These chunks of ice can weigh many tens of tonnes and form a large part fo the bizarre landscape we travelled across.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

 

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

The ice cliffs of the ice shelf jut out onto the sea ice, splintering and cracking and finally calving off small, large and monumental sized chunks of themselves into the sea – or on to it at this time of year.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

Other-worldly looking chunks of blue ice scatter the whole place, as they stand up above the sea ice the wind further adds to their strangeness, either adding tails and mounds nearby or scooping out channels or moats around them.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf, emporer penguin

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf, emporer penguin

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf, emporer penguin

A trip to the Antarctic seaside wouldn’t be complete without bumping into a few of these chaps. As ever they were inquisitive and wandered right over as soon as they saw us. Returning from a fishing expedition that may have been hundreds of kilometres away  to bring food home for the kids they seemed chuffed to bits to see us. We had to walk off and get away from them eventually before they forgot entirely that they had mouths to feed.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf, emporer penguin

This wind formation on one of the cliffs reminded me of the Simbas Dad in the Lion King.

antarctic sea ice and ice shelf

From the other side though it’s a bit more melted Homer Simpson.

 

After this all too brief wander out we headed back to base to see how things were. The bonus of this day trip in the field was a night in a nice warm bed and a kitchen cooked meal, luxuries we would forego over the next week.

Next up is Part 2 “The Return to Windy”.  I warn you though, the next post might just take youwell over your recommended amount of cuteness for the entire year!

 

Small Frosty Stuff

I won’t waffle too much, just post a few pictures of frost and snow flakes.  The frost here can be deeper than snow back home given a good length of time with low wind. As well as snow falling or blowing and adding to the mass of the ice, the shelf actually grow upwards itself – frost grows on every surface and is then covered by snow, blown away to land somewhere else or just keeps on building up.

Get up close and you can see the frosty, fractal-like Christmas trees twinkling in the light.

Anyway, I suppose this is me trying to be arty, just wish I had a proper macro lense!

 

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I was particularly chuffed to see perfect snow-flakes. We get plenty of snow in the North of England but it’s more likely to be like fluffy white cornflakes as opposed to the classic star-like snow flakes you see on Christmas cards. Some of the pics are frost that has then been snowed on – leaving little snowflakes wedged in like tiny little ninja stars have been thrown into it!

bit more Aurora…

The night sky is disappearing fast. Yesterday was the spring equinox, meaning we have officialy have twelve hours of Sun and twelve hours of night. In reality though; the light is there for quite a while before and after the Sun is above the horizon. This means my chances of getting out and getting great pictures of the night sky are dwindling fast – probably only this week left as the Sun relentlessly gets higher in the sky, on its way to being a permanent fixture in around a month and a half.
There was a big aurora last week – which I slept through! I did catch a few more later in the week though. Got a few pictures but the light show was quite small – just a vague bit of green with a hint of purple.

aurora over halley antarctica

Next a view looking straight up at the Southern Cross or Crux constellation. The second one is done with a faster exposure, you can see the four stars forming an upside down crucifix in the centre of the picture. There are two bright stars to the right of it, the one furthest right is our nearest steallar neighbour Alpha Centauri, around five light-years away from our solar system. (roughly I think – can’t check right now). It’s actually three stars together in one system. one larger, brighter star, one smaller and a third, more recently discovered dwarf star (again – I think! Go check this out and feel free to correct me – plus, its interesting!)

aurora over halley antarctica

aurora over halley antarctica

Next is a picture from a bit back – it’s a bit smudgy because it was quite windy out and hence the camera was wobbly but there’s a cool green goblin head up the sky.

A happy goblin, smiling away.

aurora over halley antarctica