Friday 27 July 2018

Flag Up

Looking South with the moon setting behind Jennie Island. 
The past month or so has felt like one of changing weather and light. The first few week after mid winter the weather was generally cold, settled and clear. The sun did not rise high enough to break the horizon. Through the day there were long periods of dawn/dusk which gave rise to skies characterised by soft pastel colours,  particularly when looking to the South. I don't remember such colours to the South last winter, then then again we did not have much settled weather last winter. 
The last time I had (just) seen in the sun. Climbing on Picts in early June. 
The last time I had actually seen the sun directly had been in early June. A few of us were climbing on the North side of a mountain called Picts. At around one o'clock the top of the sun disk just manged to scrape it's appear above the horizon to the North. I basked in it's weak pinkish glow for twenty minutes or so before it was gone.
The view out across the sea ice in early July.

Clouds catching the sunshine looking South just before the weather broke. 

The view from the skidoo parking pot the say we headed up Gwendolyn. We could tell it was going to be a good view on top. 
The next time I saw the sun was on the 14th of July, the same date as last year. A few of us went for a ski tour up one of the local peaks, Gwendolyn. Being slightly higher than the surrounding Stokes Peaks, and having a clear view to the North, it gets a lot of sunshine. Skinning up over the summit rise and into my first direct sunshine for about five weeks was an uplifting experience. Despite it being cold and windy on the summit, I stayed as long as  long as possible, and was the last one to head back down into the shadows.
Seeing the sun for the first time, on the summit of Gwendolyn
A couple of days after Gwendolyn the weather changed. The winds from the North strengthened, it got a lot milder (to the extent that it actually rained one day) and the skies become overcast, and stayed that way. It felt like someone had turned back the clock in terms of daylight, it seemed dark and ominous outside.

The flag-up ceremony was held during a break in the weather on the 21st of July. The Union Jack on the hill above Rothera is raised when the sun gets high enough above the horizon that Rothera would get some sunshine if it were clear. The flag is raised by the youngest person on base, who this year is Elgan the Chippie. He read out a poem, it was in Welsh so I didn't understand any of it, but it was nice all the same. It was another four or five days before it was actually clear enough for base to get some sunshine, and even then it was only for a few minutes. 
The 26 of us who are wintering at Rothera just after the flag had been raised.

Sunday 8 July 2018

Mid winter week

The Rothera mid winter greeting picture. Most of the Antarctic bases
send each other greeting pictures. We went for the retro look. 
In a tradition which goes back to the early Antarctic explores, midwinter is a time of celebration in Antarctica. Everybody on station gets the week off. In may ways it feels like the Christmas/New year period is in Britain, but (fortunately) without the commercialisation of Christmas.  There are some fun/festive activities as well as a fair bit of time for chilling out and enjoying the Antarctic winter.

The main celebration is on the Mid winter's day; the 21st of June. The day started with Jess the station leader offering to bring people tea or coffee to their rooms. I declined this offer, and went and did some stretching instead. At ten o'clock there was a champagne breakfast. After that everybody gathered in the bar for the opening of the mid winter gifts. 
One of the fun activity which traditionally organised by the field guides for
 mid winter week here at Rothera is the Winter Olympics.
Here the winning team of Jack and Stew pull Aurelia on the dog sledge race.
Another winter Olympic event was create stacking.
Aurelia on crate 11 before the tower collapsed.
 The winning team manged 13 crates. 
Part of the mid winter tradition is that people make gifts for each other. Back in April all the winterer's picked the name of another winterer from a hat to chose who your gift had to be for.  I was not at Rothera at the time, and this this was done on my behalf. I got Theresa the boating officer for my mid winter present recipient. Like myself Theresa had wintered  at Rothera last year, and I had been out on a couple of winter trips with her. I decided to make a photobook which contained about fifty images that I and other people had taken to sum up the winter's she had so far spent at Rothera. A few of the photos in my last blog post made it into the book.

Theresa had also traveled down on the ship with myself in early May. It was decided by the powers that be, that as neither of us would meet a number of the winter's until we arrived on the 10th of May, by which time people could have been working on their winter gifts for a while, that we would be fairest if we made winter gifts for each other. Of course neither of us new this until after the event. Theresa made me a couple of whiskey glasses which had originally started life as beer bottles and been cut, etched and polished; she knew that I like a wee dram from time to time.

Tom opening his winter present. It was not as hazardous as the box would suggest, it was a lovely folding chair made by Sam the chippy.  Sam's framed picture can be seen in the background. 

Kate Doc looks pleased with her gift while Tom looks on from his new chair/throne. 
People admire some of the winter gifts (those that would fit on the poo table at least). My whiskey glasses can be seen towards the back left side of the table. 
In  the afternoon we gathered in the dinning room for to begin an amazing seven course meal which  Lewis the Chef had been working on for days. At 6pm we adjourned to the communication tower to listen to the mid winter broadcast. The mid winter broadcast is half hour BBC radio program for the all BAS winterer's in Antarctica, and is presented by Cerys Mathews. A link to the program can be found at   After that it was a return to the dinning room for more food and drink.
Mid winter's meal. 
The weather in the days following mid winter was some of most settled winter weather I have seen here at Rothera. There was not a cloud in the sky, and very little wind. Rothera is only a few tens of miles South of the Antarctic circle. Although at this time of year we don't get any direct sunlight on base, some of the local mountains are high enough to cancel out the curve of the earth, and catch a little direct sunlight around midday. 
The view across Rhyder bay. The sun catches the summi of Mount Liotard on the 22nd of June. 

Out for a boating trip. The boats are actually breaking through very young sea in ice, which slowed progress and prevented us from getting very far. However, it was great weather to be out. 
With the settled weather during the days after mid winter, I managed a couple of trips out. On the 22nd joined boating team  and a few others for a recreational trip out into Ryder Bay. The sea was starting to freeze in the settled conditions, and we did not actually get very far due to the ice conditions. However, it was great to get out on the boats, and an unusual experience to be boating through very young thin sea ice. Since then the ice has continued to form and thicken, and we have recently started to do a bit of work on the sea ice. Lets hope it sticks around.
Heading out for an ascent of Orca peak in the pink light of another fine Antarctic morning in the days following mid winter.