Just a quick one to let y’all know that the photos below are bigger now so you can see aircrafts, me and my base bigger and better than ever. Yes, you didn’t realise my Yorkshire tea bag was that big now did you?
Another momentous moment in the Halley year today. Last week the Shack left us taking nearly all the summer staff back home. The last week has been an unusually busy one in terms of aircraft activity – today the last plane left Halley, which is, incidentally the last thing to leave, or come into Halley until at least November!
So winter is finally upon us and we are now alone at the bottom of the world!
Places as isolated as Halley have limited access for obvious reasons, in summer the ships can get up close to the ice shelf and aeroplanes can come and go. These planes can be carrying goods or passengers and will be from various different polar organisations and countries. Given the size of Antarctica planes often have to make several stops on the way between different places. BAS has its own international airport in Rothera – because of its gravel runway and location on the peninsula is a hub for air traffic going off to more remote stations and locations and also coming in from South America. BAS also has staging areas with fuel supplies and ice runways in more deep field locations such as Fossil Bluff and Skyblu. At Halley we have our own ski-way runway.
This summer we had a number of planes coming and going from the Halley ski-way. Nothing as busy as Rothera but over the last few days we’ve had quite a number for us, bringing 2 winterers, taking 2 of last year’s out and bringing spares and fresh food. This has meant a full airport with 3 planes parked up and a temporarily busy base again, after a week of it feeling a bit of a ghost town. Back to sharing rooms for a night or two as the base once again has accents from different parts of the world and a full(er) dining room. Last night I took a trip up to the ski-way to get a shot of the planes parked up – two Twin Otters, one of them BAS and one Kenn Borek Air and also an ACLI Basler aircraft – that’s the one that looks like it belongs in an Indiana Jones film.
The planes that fly down here do so in pretty extreme conditions and the pilots really know how to fly. Watching them come in in bad contrast and poor visibility you can’t tell when the plane stops being in the air and is on the ground. You’ve got to admire the skill of the pilots and the design of the aircraft that have to take-off and land in bad light, freezing conditions and short, snow runways.
So, Planes. Loads of em. Everyone love planes don’t they. Especially ones with skis on em…
Oh yeah, and I might very well be flying one of these later this year. Yeah, not flying in it. FLYING IT.
Edited to add: Just been out refueling one of two BAS twin otters that are in tonight and when I’d done I set off on my ski-doo along side the plane as it was taxi-ing. It was a bit like that scene in Top Gun with Maverick on his bike alongside the fighter plane. Only with more ice. But less Val Kilmer, obviously.
Excuse the Game of Thrones reference but winter is really coming for us here at Halley. (Actually it’s here now but as ever I’m posting stuff that happened a week or more ago)
This morning we went down to the mooring point at the coast to wave the RSS Ernest Shackleton off, along with its passengers – the folk we have spent the summer season with, working and living together. It was a strange moment. Waving goodbye to the friends you have made. Some of whom you may not see again, others you will see next season. It’s sad – there’s quite a few of them I’m going to really miss, but at the same time it’s also exciting (not to mention worrying) to know that you are now left alone with your winter team, to live and work together for the next year, isolated on the Brunt ice shelf at Halley 6.
Photos by Kevin Hallam.
We drove down at 6am in a snow-cat for the 3 hour drive to the coast, managed to get a few goodbye hugs and then watched, waved and let off some flares as the ship pulled away and sailed off into the distance. I hope that everyone on board has a great journey back to the Falklands and finally the U.K, U.S. and other home destinations. About half an hour later and we began another bouncy and uncomfortable drive back up to base to begin getting ready for the long winter. Closing down the summer accommodation, scrubbing out the modules and generally cleaning the house before the weather turns colder.
There are a few more planes due to come and go from Halley over the next few weeks but watching the Shack disappear was a big moment. Well worth the 6 hour drive!
This post is for my Mum, who wants to see what my home down here is like. Here are some pics of my room and the base – the photos were taken as I approached the base for the first time after I left the ship, it’s pretty weird seeing your new home from about 15km away, and it gets more and more impressive (and weird) as you get closer. I was starting to lose the plot after two and a half hours into the journey from the ship so the weirdness was maybe worse for me. After packing our bags onto the sledge everyone got into the snow cat for the ride up, I’d heard someone say how we had it easy and they had to ride up on the sledge. So, challenge accepted. I did the 3 and a bit hour trip on the back of a sledge. Started off okay but by the third hour I was hurting. It’s cold you know, in Antarctica.
Anyway, some pictures of me house:
My Photo Wall – looking sparse at the moment. If you have some nice pictures of home email em in! Nice pictures of moors and trees. Or anything else you think I might be missing. Need to make this house a home!
Got some more pictures to post up shortly but as ever it’s a nightmare uploading pictures.
All in all it’s a pretty cool place to live!
Again, excuse the out of kilter posting, I know this was over a week ago but couldn’t post it then! I’ll hopefully be able to post up a few things over the next week, some older some newer. Tonight (February 13th/14th) was the first sunset for around 3 months. Since arriving at Halley it’s been nothing but daylight, morning to midnight. We’re not talking dusky twilight here either. Full on bright burn your eyes daylight, all of the time. If you are on night duty or otherwise up in the early hours it doesn’t feel right that the sun is still up in the sky at 1 in the morning. Most people I’ve spoken to about my trip down here presume that the 3 months of darkness in winter will be the hard thing to cope with but I actually think the light is worse. I’ve not had too much trouble sleeping or anything but it all feels a bit wrong! I feel like I need a bit of darkness to separate the days. Which is why I was really looking forward to the sunset. Me, Robyn and Sophie stayed up till 1.45 and went up to the observation deck, wrapped up warm with our cameras at the ready to bring in the end of the summer sun. The sun, because of it’s really shallow angle of descent took what seem hours to finally dip below the horizon, with the last few minutes with the sun appearing like a line of flames in the distance, like an isolated grass fire out across the ice. When it finally disappeared it was only gone for a few minutes before beginning its steady rise back up into the Antarctic sky, it’s golden halo never actually disappearing and the light dimming only slightly. So, not exactly the darkness I’d been craving but a nice moment nevertheless. And a nice moment to share with friends too! We rounded off the evening with hot chocolate and kit-kats. Rock and roll!
This post might be edited a lot over the next few days as I try and get the text and pictures to match, till then it’ll be all over the place.
More from the Journey down below:
This afternoon I was blown away by the place. Since learning about BAS and applying for this job I’ve become obsessed by this and watched every video and read everything I can about it; from the islands around the continent to the pole itself. I’ve been blown away by things like the BBC’s frozen planet, as I’m sure many people have been. Still, there’s nothing that can really prepare you for the reality. It takes your breath away, it is just so different from anywhere else in the world you just have nothing to compare it to, and just when you think you are as amazed and awe-struck as you can be something will come into view and make you think again.
Staring out onto this brilliant white desert you can’t help but think you are on another planet. Mile upon mile of windswept ice dotted with bizarre shapes and huge ice structures with their blue glow emanating from inside. Huge monoliths caused by the ice rupturing are then left to be weathered by the wind and snow. In the back ground are bergs the size of towns and cities (and sometimes small countries!) and in the foreground streams and rivers of ocean wind their way across the landscape. You see it and struggle to take in just how awesome it is. And then the sun comes out and it all becomes so beautiful you think you might just burst into tears. There really is no way to explain what this is like, with words or with pictures. The sheer scale of the place makes you feel insignificant and at the same time a part of it all. I was running from one side of the ship to the other for days in some sort of religious ecstasy, with wild eyes trying to take in the scenery, getting cold and exhausted but not even coming close to being tired of the things around me. As I said, just when you think you couldn’t be more impressed something will come along and disabuse you of that notion. Late last night a berg came into view that from the front was impressive. I have pictures but they don’t really convey the size of these floating islands. We were heading for it and would pass quite close. What followed has left me feeling amazing. The berg got closer to the ship and I noticed a cluster of penguins about a hundred feet up, on a slope high above one of its cliff like sides. Then, as we began to pass it my attention switched to the growing slice of blue that was coming into view. More and more of this glow became visible as we passed, eventually giving way to daylight as we saw the huge archway in the centre of the berg. The hollow inside of the ice was brilliant blue with the ocean visible on the other side. The curved ceiling of the cavern was hundreds of feet tall with cracks in its walls, each crack shining out against the white ice. Encircling the berg was a shoreline sloping off down into the water, the underwater ice like the turquoise looking sand in some tropical lagoon.
For quite a while after I was a bit dumbstruck. Not only have I just witnessed one of the most amazing things on the planet but given the temporary nature of icebergs I might be, along with the couple of other folk on the deck, the only person to ever see that glowing palace of ice. The ice itself may be hundreds of thousands of years old, beginning its life high on the Antarctic plateau before sliding down onto an ice shelf and then breaking off into the sea. Even larger then, it might have spent decades being weathered by the sea and wind, turning over and over in the ocean as its weight shifted, slowly being moulded into the fairy tale, once in a lifetime, spectacle that I was lucky enough to witness. Now in the last stage of its life, it will carry on into the short summer and slowly disintegrate in the southern ocean. If by some chance it is glimpsed by anyone else it will have already changed completely.
Get ready for me not shutting up about my perfect berg when I get back!
We got a bit stuck getting through some particularly thick and tough sea ice today. The ship managed to get out after a few hours though. Breaking through the sea ice is a skill that the bridge staff gain over many seasons sailing at the polar regions, knowing which areas of the sea ice are weak and which are strong, sometimes seemingly circling around and around to find the route through.
Interestingly even though the ship was not going anywhere we were actually travelling around 1 nautical mile an hour as the mass of sea ice as far as the eye could see was slowly drifting with the current. It’s strange being on the sea ice. It looks so much like land, stretching from horizon to horizon with little rivers and channels criss-crossing all around that you forget you’re not actually on land. The little pools of water and the streams are so still that they look like shallow ponds and creeks. instead they are just windows into the freezing darkness below and everything you can see, apart from the ice bergs, is only a few metres thick. Travelling through it are seals and penguins resting on the ice between, hunting for squid, fish and krill. In the small pools and channels you can see whales coming up for air.
As we get further and further into the Antarctic circle the ice bergs begin to get bigger and bigger, changing from the sculptured irregular shaped ones like my perfect berg into huge flat topped monsters, much younger than the ones further north, some miles across. These are young ice-bergs, yet to begin rolling around, breaking up and assuming different shapes. The sea ice has almost gone now too, giving way to open ocean. The previous winters sea ice has broken off from the Antarctic coast and drifted north, melting as it goes. We are now beyond the back edge of the main pieces, though every now and again straggling patches come along. Lots more seals are to be seen now, Crabeaters for the most part, lounging around on the ice.
We arrived at the Antarctic coastline this morning, as we were getting nearer and nearer the bergs became larger and larger and had their original shapes, the same as when they broke free from the ice shelves – long flat-topped floating islands with hundred metre tall cliffs. As they go further out they will gradually break up and roll, assuming more irregular shapes such as the perfect berg I saw. I was on the phone in my cabin when I had to stop mid sentence as I looked out of the porthole. Passing by us was something so huge I couldn’t take it all in. This berg must have been a kilometre long and as its middle passed the window I could not see the edges. Hard to describe to the person I was talking to exactly what I was looking at it; it was so vast. Then, as before when you think you have seen something spectacular in Antarctica you are confronted with the next step up – this time it was the brunt ice shelf, my home for the next year and the frozen white coastline of this bit of Antarctica.
We then cruised along between the ice shelf and the sea ice in a channel left by the sea ice heading out into the ocean. Sea ice was beginning to re-form, starting off with the silky smooth water as a skin begins to form on the surface, followed by thicker pieces and then pancake ice- floating sections of ice that bump into each other causing the edges to rise up, looking like white water lilies. This then joins together and thickens to eventually form the metres thick sea ice that we had passed through. The stuff that was forming now would probably not get that far as the temperatures warm up for summer but the process would begin in earnest when the winter starts and Antarctica doubles in size.
Chunks of ice were still floating around in the channel and many of them were occupied by seals and penguins, often looking surprised as the big red ship disturbs them from their slumber. The captain was kind enough to pull up to a few of these floating rest stops to let us see the wildlife close up. Along the shores of the ice shelf were small collections of emperor penguins, both adults and chicks, some of the more nervous ones were quick to jump into the water whilst the braver ones among them simply watched us with curiosity.