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!

 

 

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 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!

 

The Beginning. Girton College. For another set of ice lovers.

2013-09-16 13.02.33

 

It’s a year ago since I began my contract with BAS, going down to Girton College in Cambridge and being like an excited 9 year old, learning more about where I was off to and who with, wandering around staring at peoples badges and seeing who’s who, where they are off to and whether they are summer or winter crew.

2013-09-15 14.54.06

 

If any of this year’s folk are reading I hope you have a great time – especially the Halley winterers obviously!

Enjoy the Ceilidh – go on have a dance! Don’t get anything sensitive caught in your climbing harness and remember your ABC’s.

Hope it’s nice and sunny for the field training too!

 

People falling past my window.

No Photographs in that last post so here we go with a short post and some pictures from a while back.
On base we try to be ready for anything and everything, so training is a regular thing. We plan for many eventualities, amongst them are fuel and oil spill response – got to keep this wilderness pristine. Search and rescue, fire training with the breathing apparatus, alien-nazi invasion scenarios and emergency evacuation.
I forgot to take any pictures for most of them – during a lot I was struggling to drag on fire/oil/alien-nazi proof trousers but the emergency evac one was going on right outside my office window, after I’d done my escape. So we have some pictures of people hanging out of the A-module gym emergency escape hatch in a big yellow nappy.

emergency evac

going…

emergency evac

going…

emergency evac

going…

emergency evac

still going, couldnt see the landing.

And a last picture. On Midwinters day I won the raffle for the base flag, so here it is when it was still doing it’s job:

Union Flag Halley base

In a few more weeks the Sun will rise once more and Silver the Mechanic, as the youngest member of our team, will hoist a new un up the pole.

Alien-Nazis. Whenever I used to look on YouTube back home getting info about this place there would always be videos claiming to show spaceships or pyramids or hidden Nazi bases down here in the ice. There was one sent to me by a friend a while back of The German station Neumayer “shrouded in a dome of light!” which was actually just some lights switching on and over-exposing the night cam. The comments were nuts – “German base invaded by aliens” being about the best, what with it being YouTube. Unfortunately though, it was the work of a light switch and not aliens, whether of the shape-shifting, human-eating, non-corporeal or sexy variety not a one of em has popped in for a brew. The kettle’s always on too. Seriously, I know I’ve not seen the whole place but there really doesn’t seem to be any of them alien nazis down here. Sorry to kill any alien-nazi dreams there, whatever an alien nazi dream is.

Always pays to be prepared though I suppose.

Aw man, had a google for a picture of Neumayer and the top youtube post is “NIBIRU seen from Antacrtcia”! and “strange things happening in the sky at German base”. If any of you folks with reasonable net speeds out there find any good Halley alien stuff I’d be interested in seeing it! Bloody Germans having all the fun.

neumayer

Sorry for the lack of posts- bin busy!

As the title says apologies for the lack of blog action lately. It has been incredibly busy down here at Halley for a number of reasons. Firstly work has been pretty full on with tonnes of stuff to do around base. Sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes not – and right now it’s not so I’ve been grafting away like a good un. Then, there is the Race Across Antarctica that I’m glad to say is going well. Going well, but involving doing the equivalent of a marathon everyday for the last 3 weeks! Spending 4 hours in the gym or trotting around on the ice can get a bit exhausting to say the least but it seems to be paying off:

Race Across Antarctica

Race Across Antarctica

Team Halley are well in front as we reach the half way mark and I’m doing pretty good  individually too but there’s a long way to go.

 

T’other thing keeping me busy at the moment is winter gift making. The big celebration of the year at bases all over the continent is Midwinter, given that for most of us Christmas is too busy to really enjoy. One of the traditions is making a gift for someone chosen Secret Santa style. These are generally pretty impressive with a lot of work put in by people, so you can walk round base right now and hear people fettling, filing and sawing away. I’ll post more about this later but right now it’s secret!

 

Plenty of fun stuff gone on lately too with various training exercises and the sun buggering off so I’ll be back posting shortly with some nice pictures and writing and all that!

Race Across Antarctica

Race across Antarctica is a little competition that BAS is running, with teams from the bases and staff back in Cambridge competing. Over 10 weeks, teams of up to 6 people can attempt to cycle, run, walk, swim (yeah, we’ll not be doing much of that at Halley), ski or row along three different course: a 6,000km route across the continent from hope Bay to Cape Adare, a 12,000km “grand tour” route that takes in many of the research stations or a 2,840km route that follows Scott’s Terra Nova expedition from Cape Evans to the Pole and back again.

This year there are 26 teams and 140 people with 16 going for the 6,000km, 8 going for the 2,840 and 2 teams going for the full 12,000km. We, the hardcore boys at Halley, are going for the full monty and doing the 12,000. I’m the team captain and I’m hoping to lead Halley to a storming victory. To complete the distance in the 10 week time each team member needs to cover around 30k a day, a few days into the competition and we are flying with various team members racking up 70k a day. It’s a fairly gruelling schedule and time is now valuable, as we come up to mid-winter we are all trying to get our midwinter gifts made (more on that later), spend time on the race and do our actual jobs. Learning the guitar has taken a bit of a back seat for me amongst other things but it will be worth it when team Halley- the team name is actually “The Night’s Watch” (Yup, Game of Thrones reference – men, all alone in the icy wilderness) reigns victorious.

 

I’ll post some updates about our teams performance as we go.