The Journey Home – Rothera.

Rothera. The tropical paradise so beloved by my fellow tech team-mate Nick. Nick had done two winters at Rothera and was often wont to wax lyrical about its beauty – especially when compared to Halley. Now although I was initially disappointed to leave Halley via a different route the silver lining was the fact that I got to spend a short amount of time in Rothera.

Way back in 2013, when I was a bright-eyed newbie getting ready to head south, I spent a bit of time with quite a few of the people heading off to winter there and I looked forward to saying hello as well as just wanting to see the place. Before getting the post at Halley I’d obsessed about all the BAS bases and I’d love to visit them all.

So first on that list – Rothera, what’s all the fuss about?

Well first off it is pretty much as beautiful as folk had said. Snow covered peaks surrounding a bay full of ice bergs and wildlife – what’s not to love about that?

Rothera

Rothera

As well as it being pretty scenic (bit of an understatement) it was really nice just to actually walk on solid ground after so long floating on ice.

Rothera

Rothera

Not a bad old view if you’re living at Rothera eh?

As well as some cracking views the place has its other attractions.My personal favourite has got to be the wildlife – you know stuff other than humans that are alive. This was something that, apart from the coolest animal on the planet – The Emperor Penguin, has been in short supply during my time south. On the whole I’ve been in a world where, apart from visiting skuas or petrels or seemingly lost and confused Adelie penguins there’s not so much as a bacterium. Rothera however, even during a bit of a quite spell, is full of all sorts of stuff flying, swimming, waddling or just sleeping.

antarctic fur seal

The gravel  and rock beaches surrounding the base have the appearance of some sort of after party with various seal party casualties sprawled all over the place.

antarctic fur seal

antarctic fur seal

antarctic fur seal

antarctic fur sealThe fur seals, especially, appear to be recovering from some sort of crazy weekend.

weddell sealGot to see a serene looking Weddell seal too.

The other seals lazing around everywhere are the Elephant seals. If you’ve heard anything about elephant seals then you’ll know that they are big. Really big. You still don’t get just how big though, until you’ve seen one. The bigger males seem to be roughly the size of a long wheelbase van.  The ones I saw were females and younger adult males – so none of the full size beach-master monsters unfortunately.

elephant seal

The smaller females (still pretty big by the way) are much more photogenic than the males and also seem to be better mannered.

elephant seal

elephant seal

elephant sealThe males seemed to be quite a bit less gentile. Growling, burping and farting pretty much constantly – you don’t need to get too close before you can smell them. Stench aside though they are fairly impressive animals. Hopefully one day I get to go see a full breeding colony of these giants, complete with the colossal mature males and their proboscis like noses and dramatic, violent disputes. I could live without smelling them again though…

imperial shag

They have other stuff in Rothera too. Birds. Lots of em.

Like the Imperial Shag shown above.

adelie penguinPlenty of pingus knocking about too. Lots of them moulting and looking none too dignified.

Antarctic birdNo idea what the young fella above is.

There you have it. Rothera is quite good. Alright it’s fairly spectacular. Obviously more classically scenic than the desolation of the Brunt ice shelf but still pretty good.

It was nice to see the contented look on Nicks face too!

next up: The RSS James Clark Ross

The Journey Home – the first flight out.

Towards the back-end of February it started to become a little touch and go as to whether the Shack would actually get in to Halley and pick us (summer staff and outgoing winterers) all up. The sea ice in the Weddell sea was really starting to form thicker and thicker and every day it was going to be harder and harder to get through.

So, as two ALCI baslers were due to fly through Halley on their way back to Canada BAS booked as many of us as they could to get on board and fly out to Rothera and my name came up on the list.

To be honest I wasn’t the happiest camper about this turn of events and I was wandering around base with a bit of a scowl on my face for a few days. First of all I’m still not overly enamoured with flying – and going out this way meant a lot of that! Secondly I felt really disappointed to miss out on going out in the traditional manner – on the deck of the Shack, waving goodbye to the 2015 winterers who would be waving us off on the ice shelf – the same way we did the previous year and I was keen to see out the whole experience with my fellow 2014 winter team – or the eight of us that were left with ten-day cruise through the sea ice and a visit to the Falklands.

As it turns out I was a little bit wrong! Wrong to be such a mardy-arse about the whole thing and wrong because I actually got the sweeter deal than those left behind. The twenty or so left at Halley ended up having to come out in a similar way to us, flying to Rothera and then going up to South America. So sorry to all those who had to put up with being grumpy!

First part of the trip involved getting into one of these beauties:

ACLI Basler DC3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACLI Basler DC3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALCI – or Antarctic Logistics Centre International run a number of planes down here in the summer months carrying goods and people around the continent from on base to another and then they spend the winter back home in Canada.

The two Basler planes are updated versions of the DC-3 which have been flying since 1936! The plane I flew out on saw service during WW2 and was involved in the Normandy landings! They really are cool looking aircraft, when talking about them to people back home I described them as “Indiana Jones” planes.

Despite having the chance to fly a Twin Otter earlier in the season I still had a residual bit of “flying freak out” going on (though this seems to now have gone thanks to the “immersion therapy” of the trip home) In spite of this I was still aware of just how amazingly cool it is to fly in one of these aircraft across the Weddell sea and some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet on my way to Rothera.

So I wouldn’t go as far as saying I enjoyed but it was pretty bloody amazing!

next up: Rothera – otherwise know as the promised land!

Home!

I never thought this day would come – especially about eight months ago in the dead of the Antarctic winter, but I’m back in the UK after a last-minute decision to get twenty of us flown out of Halley. Reason for the last-minute rush was the struggle the Shack was having getting back in to Halley to pick us all up.

So as I type this I’m sat inside with the rain beating against the window on a gorgeous March day in Yorkshire.

It’s great to be back, great to see all the people I’ve missed but…

It’s just all a bit weird!  Still not quite got my head around being back in the real world – though I’m getting there.

I’ve still got a few more stories to post before I wrap up, including the trip home and some posts about the science that goes on at Halley – now that I’ve got the ability to make a post without it taking three days to upload!