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.  

Friday 1 December 2017

The End of Winter.

Our camp at Myth. Unfortunately due to a combination of factors, I didn't get any routes done in this area. 

Firstly a wee apology for this post being a bit out of date. I had some technical problems which prevented me from updating my blog for a while. However, despite the delay I still felt it was worth writing about the end of the winter here at Rothera. 

After my winter trip with Zoe, discussed in a previous post, I had four more winter trips.  On the first two of these I managed to get through McCallum's Pass and over to the West side of Adelaide Island. The mountains there tend to be larger and more spectacular than on the Rothera side of the island. Unfortunately due to a combination of factors I was only able to look at these mountain, and was not able to climb them. Something to come back for perhaps?
Digging out windows of the accommodation building during Sepember. The snow is just about up to the roof,  and this is the less snowy side of the building.
During September the weather turned very stormy for a few weeks. Due to the weather didn't manage to get very far at all on my next winter trip. In fact most of it was spent digging out windows and doorways around base as the snow drifts reached roof level on a number of the buildings.

Towards the end of September the weather started to calm down. My final winter trip was a field guide trip with Bradders and Steve. With lots of daylight hours and two fit and keen companions I had I high hopes of getting some good climbing and skiing done. Unfortunately, the night before we were meant to head out the weather did something I had not seen before, it dumped about two feet of soft snow with very little wind. From a skiing point of view this might have been good. Unfortunately it was not very good for travelling. We tried really hard, but the skidoos kept getting bogged down in the deep soft snow, and after a number of frustrating attempts we failed to get more than a few miles fro base. Due to the snow and worsening weather through the week I only managed a couple of routes and a small amount of skiing all week. 
Steve driving through some deep snow. Unfortunalty the skidoos did not mamage very well in this snow, and we did not get very far.
However, when the weather and snow finally settled down in early october there was some good skiing to be had. 
After the field guides trip it was time to get the base into summer mode. This required some long hours, particularly from the mechanics who had to clear all the snow which had accumulated on the roads around base and the runway throughout the winter. After a few delays the planes finally arrived, slightly later than expected, on the 18th of October.
Watching the first plane coming in. Tom and Julie (seated) where on sea ice safety cover. Bradders (in red) and myself  just came out to watch.
The Dash 7, the first plane of the season, coming in to land. 
At the time I was slightly apprehensive of the regarding the arrival of new people, and the resultant change in the atmosphere. After all, there had been just 22 of us on base and we had not seen anybody else since the ship had left back in early April. Although there inevitably was a change when the planes arrived, this was not particular rapid or negative. Most of the people of the first few planes had spent a fair bit of time down here, and were people that I knew.  The first planes also brought a bag of fruit for each of the winterer's, which having not had any fresh fruit for about 6 months, tasted fantastic.

Although the arrival of the planes did mean that some of the freedoms of the winter were curtailed, it also meant the beginning of the field season began. For me this meant the opportunity to get into the field and see a bit of Antarctica, something which I will write about in my in my next post. 

The first fresh fruit for over 6 months, Amazing!