Thursday 28 December 2017

Into the Field.

Steve in the cottage at Fossil Bluff. It has quite "traditional" feel about it
A couple of weeks after the first planes arrived at Rothera in mid October, I had my first trip off Adelaide island since arriving at Rothera back in March. Myself and fellow wintering field guide Steve were sent out to open Fossil Bluff for the summer season. Fossil Bluff is a refueling station for BAS's four twin otters, which are used to support the science and logistics in the field. It is situated  on Alexander island and is about an hour and a half's flight South of Rothera. It consists of a small cottage which was build around 1960, a few sheds/out buildings, and a skiway (an unprepared snow runway). Although occupied during the during some winters in the 1960's and 70's, today it is a summer only station. However, the interior of the hut does not feel like it has changed much since people were wintering there, and staying there feels a bit like staying in a museum. 
Skiing above Fossil Bluff. Not a bad outlook. 
Myself and Steve were there for about ten days. Although we were quite busy dewinterising the cottage and preparing the skiway, we did manage to get out and about for a bit of skiing and mountaineering. Although the rock was quite shattered and the snow was a bit firm the situation made up for it. 
Julie having dinner outside the Pyramid tent at Castle depot with John the pilot and Adam the co-pilot.  
I was then recalled back to Rothera for a week or so in preparation for my next stint in the field. BAS has a number for fuel depots scattered around the British Antarctic Territory. Due to accumulations of new snow every year or two these need raised to the surface to prevent them from being buried. The plan was for myself and Julie (one of the other wintering field guides) to raise a couple of depots.

The first one of the list was Castle depot. Castle Depot is at almost 77 degrees South, and in view of the Ellseworth Mountains. Despite being over 1000 km from Rothera were were able to get there in a day due to consistently good weather conditions on route. 
Depot raising. There were about 50 aviation fuel in the hole in the snow that needed pulled out and stacked on the surface. Fortunately we had a skidoo to help. 
The next morning the plane headed off, back to Sky Blu (a deep field logistics centre which I spent a fair bit of time at during my first stint in Antarctica) leaving myself and Julie to start digging. It took us about a day and a half to raise the depot.  Fortunately during this time the weather was good with us. Unfortunately when it came time for us to be picked up the weather was not so good further North, and no planes were able to come out and pick us up. The following day the weather deteriorated with us, and we had about four days or so of lie up until a plane was able to get in to collect us. It was then back to Sky Blu for a few days. With the running of Sky Blu being someone else's responsibility it felt quite pleasant place to be, pottering around helping with a few jobs here and there. 
Good optical effects above the pyramid tent at Castle depot as the bad weather which had effected us for a few days cleared. 
By this point, it was getting relatively close to the time when I was suppose to be leaving Antarctica.  It was decided that it was too much of a risk to send me back out to get involved with raising any other depots in case I got stuck out, and missed my flight North. Therefore I headed back to Rothera on the next twin otter which was heading that way. 

Arriving back at Rothera I noticed an increase in both the number of people and wildlife on base. There were around 80 people, which although less than the peak numbers, was still much larger than the 22 of us who had wintered and so it felt quite busy. Wildlife wise the elephant seals had started arriving, and although there were not in full force yet, were starting to get in the way a bit. 
An elephant seal having a good scratch. The number of these guys around base had increased significantly just before I left. 
A few days later my bags were packed, most of my admin was sorted, and it was onto a BAS's Dash 7 to leave Rothera. As the plane took off and climbed away to the North I watched as Rothera, my home for the previous nine months, got smaller and smaller before finally disappearing into the distance. I pondered my feelings about leaving, about how a winter in Antarctica had effected me and whether/when would I be back. However, at that stage, only a few minutes away, it was too soon to answer any of those questions. 
The view from Rothera. How much would I miss it.  

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