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):
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.
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!
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.
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!