Monday, October 23, 2006

Raising the 4K marker - 2nd Penguin Trip - Digging out Vehicles - Nights again

As I mentioned in the last entry, I went on my post winter trip. It was great to get off base and we had a few amazing days. The one thing that we didn't get to do was get to go and see the penguins at Windy cove (see map), this was because the weather was bad. There was also a thought that we had already all seen the penguins at least once so it wasn't a priority. Having got back from the trip we realised that we really hadn't seen the penguins since the chicks have been hatched. So for a couple of weeks I had been wanting to go on another penguin trip. Most of the time when we go off base we go with the Field GA, Simon. Now that the post winter trips are in full flow he spends most of his time off base. Because of this he nominated people to stand in his place. Its actually more complicated than that, he decided that there were some people who were good at the rope work and climbing up and down and that others were better at being responsible and deciding if it was ok to go down onto the sea ice. As long as a penguin trip has at least one of the rope experts and one responsible person you can go. I happened to be one of the rope experts.

Once again the weather proved to be a decisive factor and for nearly two weeks we waited. Then the next weekend looked good for a penguin trip. Bob, the genny mech, Liz, Kirsty and me got organised and started to get everything together for the sunday. The weather then took a turn for the worse and John the Winter BC decided that if we worked on the sunday raising the 4K marker we could go to the penguins on the monday.

The 4K marker before we pulled it out and repositioned it. The marker is 6 avtur drums welded together and is used by the planes to help them find the skiway. They can use their radar to find the drums and then take a magnetic bearing from there. The sledge behind is a glomaxs sledge with a Fasi crane on the back. We didn't actually need the sledge but took it just in case. Photo courtesy of Bob Posted by Picasa

From the base you can normally see the 4K marker unless the weather is bad, as we had to move the marker closer we decided to test our GPS skills and navigate to the marker using last years GPS reading. What was quite interesting was that using the GPS was fairly easy but that last years GPS reading was 450m out. We then remembered that of course we are on a floating ice shelf that is flowing so of course the old reading will be out. So it seems that since the last GPS reading of the marker, it and the whole base has moved about 450m. As you can see from the above photo the years accumulation is pretty large. You can also see the amount of snow that we shifted. It wasn't too bad and at one point we thought there were another set of drums lower down which would have made it very difficult. In the end we could push the drums ove, we then attached a sling to the top and dragged them out of the hole. We repositioned the marker so that it was exactly 4km from the Laws building. We then pushed it upright, dug holes and burried some dead men (lumps of wood to attach guys to) and attached some new guy ropes.

The 4K marker in its new position. Liz and I tighten up the stays while Bob took this picture with the sun halo behind. Photo courtesy of Bob Posted by Picasa

Me after finishing tidying up. As you can see the warmth advantages of having a moustach and beard are somewhat offset by having moustachticles and having your balaclava frozen to you hairs. It looks cool though. Photo courtesy of Bob. Posted by Picasa

The next day the weather had settled down and we set off for Windy cove for our penguin trip. The trip was pretty uneventful, but somehow more relaxed than previous trips, maybe because we had got everything ready the day before or maybe because we were on our own and could set our own pace.

The trip there was uneventful except for the fact it felt more like a holiday down to the coast instead of a fieldtrip to the zoo. Once again I think this was due to the fact that we were on our own. Once we got to windy we relaxed a while got our selves kitted out in the warmth of the snocat. We then roped up as usual and made our way down to the abseil point. Since we had last been down there the abseil point had changed quite a bit. The whole thing had sort of slumped. Of course as the rope expert I was leading the group and the most likely person to fall into a crevass is the person at the front.

We got to the abseil point and as we couldn't see over the edge we decided that I would abseil out on a short bit of rope (we were still roped up) and down a little bit to see if it was good. Of course there might be no nice ramp down to the ice and by abseiling out onto a cornice I was putting myself in danger. I abseiled out and realised that I didn't have enough rope and I still couldn't see if there was a drop into nothing or a nice bank of snow that would be easy to climb up. So in the end I climbed back up and we looked at the abseil point from the a promontary to the west. This is truely walking in an unmarked unexplored area and its very scary when you are not with a trained GA. We survived and got a good view of the abseil point which turned out to be perfect. We then made our way back and all of us quickly made it down to the sea ice.

On arriving at the sea ice some penguins immediately came and greeted us. It was amazing. We wandered past these and headed for the first big group. When we first came here all the penguins were all huddled in one group about 1 1/2 km away from the abseil point. The colony had now split apart into about three groups and had got bigger, probably because the mothers were back. Once we were fairly close the birds just came to us.

One of the first chicks that waddled over to us. Posted by Picasa

They really seemed to like Liz, and these two wandered right up to her until a couple of adults decided that the kids were getting too curious. Posted by Picasa

You get so carried away by how cute the chicks are that you forget how lovely the adults are as well. Posted by Picasa

Another cute chick sporting the cowboy saddle walking stance. Posted by Picasa

Another good looking adult. Posted by Picasa

This one wandered right up to me and was probably only 30cm from my boot when it decided to stop. I got a few photos off and then my battery died on the camera, which is typical. Instead I was just at one with the chick and I like to think we shared a moment. Posted by Picasa

Anyway we had a fantastic day down with the penguins and after a few hours down there we made our way back up. Once again it was a bit scary doing all this without an expert about. We got back after what seemed a perfect day.

A few days after the penguin trip I helped Anto the vehicle mechanic start the long defrosting and servicing that he has to perform on all the vehicles that have been laid up for the winter.

The winter vehicle line. All the vehicles were originally placed on mounds about 1.5m above the snow surface. After the winter there are no more mounds and most of the tracks of the vehicles are covered. Posted by Picasa

The first thing we did was replace the batteries. Once these were replaced we removed as much snow as we could from the engine and turned on the webasto engine preheaters. These run on avtur like the vehicles and heat up the coolant which in turn heats up the engine. Once this is done and the engine is heating we dug out the rest of the vehicle.

K21, as you can see the job of digging it out and getting it going is a bit more involved than getting the car out of the garage. Posted by Picasa

Once the engine has been heating for about an hour and there is no snow in delicate places like the radiator fan, we started them up and surprisingly they fired very easily. Not bad for a vehicle that has been frozen for 10 months. We then rocked them backwards and forward to free the tracks. It took us the whole afternoon to get two vehicles out. But it was very satisfying at the end of the day. With the vehicles returning the preparations for summer are starting.

The end result K16, the Fassi crane sledge and K21 in the normal summer sledge line. Posted by Picasa

The summer is returning and we have loads of work to do to get the place ready for the summer season. Its also scary that there are going to be all these new people arriving. We now know who is coming down and we have been sent photos of them from their conference in Cambridge.

One of the fantastic sunsets that we have enjoyed. It seems to happen when we have this particular type of cloud. Posted by Picasa

Next entry I hope to get some video of the penguins up.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Post Winter Trip - Sledge Flash - The Rumples and the Gin Bottle Creeks

Its been just about a month since I left on my post winter trip and as usual its taken me a bit of time to get this out. Since then another trip (sledge gladiolia/golf/gnome) has been out and returned and currently the third set of trippers is out on the ice shelf. Its a bit strange, on our first winter trip we all went to the Hinge zone which is the crevassed area about 40km to the south of Halley, where the Brunt Ice Shelf joins onto the antarctic continent proper. We went there because there it was a good training ground for everyone to learn how to travel on foot in crevassed areas, it was also really interesting. Our pre-winter trips were for 4 nights, these post winter trips are for 9 nights out and we were allowed to choose where we would go. So the strange thing is, is that with all this time available and no restrictions on where we can go every sledge wants to go and visit the Macdonald Ice Rumples (camping), the Gin Bottle Creeks (Creek 2 Caboose) and the penguins at Windy Cove (Windy Caboose) all of which are within 20km of Halley. So where has our spirit of adventure gone? Maybe it disappeared over the long winter. No I think the real reason is that people don't enjoy driving skidoos for days on end. The 3 hours to the Hinge zone was bad enough and the reason for this is the throttle design of the Alpine 3. I know I am putting a lot of blame on a bad bit of design. The throttle on skidoos is a paddle thing that you push with your right hand thumb. Essentially at the safe speeds that we travel at (20 km/h) you have only open the throttle partially, and this makes your thumb ache after a while. I have found out on the internet that you can fit a special cruising finger throttle but ours don't have them. Anyway this is the reason I think we all chose not to go somewhere more than 20km away.

For us (Kirsty, Liz, Simon and Me) our trip really started the day before we were due to get set and off. As the first post winter trip we had to dig out and make up our nansen sledges which had been stored down the container line. We then made up our half units and full units and got our all our equipment together. The next day (the 18th of September) we got our final belongings together, went and collected our skidoos. We had a leisurely lunch and then set off to the Macdonald Ice Rumples.

The Brunt Ice Shelf around Halley. This shows the location of the Creek 2 caboose and the Macdonald Ice Rumples. The ice flow is also shown and can be seen by the striations which are perpendicular to the ice flow. The ice shelf flows off the continent, sweeping around at the top it hits a sea mount and the ice is thrust up forming the MacDonald Ice Rumples. This sea mount slows the ice up, pinning it back at the rumples. Because of this the ice along the coast is constantly being stretched which causes the Gin Bottle creeks to form. Posted by Picasa

The MacDonald Ice Rumples from the air. As you can see the ice flows and is rucked up, by hitting the sea mount, into a number of concentric rumples in the ice. Under the wing you can see the Gin Bottle creeks. I've been told that Halley is only where it is because the Gin Bottle creeks provide good access for the ship to relieve the base, the creeks are formed because of the rumples. So we have to thank the Rumples for Halley. As you can imagine when the ice gets rucked up like this it forms lots of crevasses. This is what makes them interesting. I found this photo on 75 degrees south Posted by Picasa

On our way to the Rumples, or as we have been learning in Spanish Los Rumples. We stopped to rope the skidoos together as we were entering the crevassed area. Posted by Picasa

Me on my alpine 3 skidoo at the back of the group as usual. The whole winter trip I seemed to be at the back. You can see that the front of my skidoo is attached by a thick rope to the nansen sledge infront. Posted by Picasa

Just outside our camp site we stopped while Simon checked for crevasses. Posted by Picasa

This photo shows Liz and Kirsty on their skidoos in front of the second wave of the Rumples. If you look closely at the bumpy areas you can see massive bridged crevasses.
Posted by Picasa

Setting up camp. It takes about 2-3 hours to set camp, pitching tents (pyramids and loo tent), tarp the skidoos and organise everything. It all seems like a lot of effort but at least the doos will start and the tents won't blow away. Posted by Picasa

Having set up tent we settled down to some quality tent time. For some reason being in a tent out in antarctica is really fun. It can be a bit cold at times but maybe because we have been cooped up with 15 other people for ages its nice to only be cooped up with one other person. Its just nice and relaxing and an opportunity to relax. Maybe the carbon monoxide poisoning also helps you relax. The next day the weather was bad with rising winds and no contrast which meant that we could go out and wander about in the rumples. The day after that the weather got even worse. Instead of just sitting and reading in our tents we got out and practiced a few crevass rescues and then as the wind really got up. The next day there was a major blow with a peak wind speed at Halley reaching 63 knots (the instrument may have been broken). Being tent bound was quite nice I read a complete book and relaxed. Its also nice to get out and the day after the blow it was a fantastic day.

We roped up and started to explore the rumples. It was a bit strange getting all roped up and I had forgotten how heavy everything felt especially your feet once you have your crampons attached. The rumples is so crevassed that all four people roped up to a single rope can be standing at four different crevasses. Its therefore pretty dangerous and a bit frustrating because you get to dead ends with too many crevasses quite a bit. To begin with we just tried to get to a high point in order to get a view of the whole place. After a few wrong turns we got to a place where we could look down on nearly the whole ice shelf.

The view of our campsite and Halley in the background from the first high point in the rumples. Its amazing how far you can see on a flat ice shelf when you are slightly elevated (50 ft). We are not used to it. Posted by Picasa

We also happened to reach this high point at about 12:30 GMT which luckily coincided with the annular solar eclipse on that day. I knew about it and had brought some welding goggles. We all say the eclipse (partial for us) and its pretty amazing, it a sure thing that not many people have seen a solar eclipse from some ice rumples in antarctica. After looking around a bit we then explored the rumples a bit more and abseiled into and jumarred out of a smallish crevass. All in all it was a fantastic day out. We returned knacked to the camp.

Kirsty trying to keep warm in the tent. As you can see we have our primus stove on low. Our other heat source is the tilley lamp which is hanging down on the left of the photo. Posted by Picasa

The tilley and all our stuff hanging up at the top of the tent. This is the warmest place and so you put all your gear up there to dry out and get warm. You can also hang up your frozen food so that it defrosts. Posted by Picasa

We spent one more night in the tents and then upped sticks and headed to the Creek 2 caboose. Moving to a caboose after getting used to a tent was difficult. For a start a caboose takes ages to warm up. I guess this is because it is larger that a tent but also because there is a lot of material in a caboose that needs to warm up as well. Cabooses have fantastic refleks stoves which do a good job of heating so good that once you have heated a caboose you have to have them set very low. The problem is it still takes about 4 hours to warm a caboose to bearable temperatures. You also seem to have less room in a caboose. After arriving we had a quick check down at the creek to see if there was easy access to the ice. We couldn't find any and the weather started to turn bad.

We had another bad weather day stuck in the caboose, the wind howling outside and covering all our boxes and belongings in snow. The day after that was fantastic, probably the clearest and sunniest day since winter. We had a little dig to find all our stuff in the snow but we got roped up and headed out onto the ice shelf.

Another fantastic day walking along the Gin bottle creeks of the Brunt Ice Shelf. This heading from creek two to creek 6. Posted by Picasa

Kirsty and Liz with Simon behind them. Antarctic explorers. Posted by Picasa

We walked along the ice shelf until creek 6 and then found that there was a very gentle ramp down onto the sea-ice.

Kirsty abseils down onto the sea-ice at creek 6. Simon looks on from the bottom. It was a very gentle slope down to the sea-ice and you can see why these creeks are used for the relief of Halley, if they have formed and there is sea-ice when the ship arrives. Posted by Picasa

Liz attached herself to her abseil device on her way down, while Kirsty and Simon wait down below. Posted by Picasa

We got down to the sea ice and then went exploring, heading further and further toward the rumples. Walking on the sea ice is one of those things that doesn't seem that exciting but when you realise that you were last pretty much in that position off the same coast in the RRS Ernest Shackleton on the way down in December last year its very odd. The other thing we saw is penguin tracks. These must be Emperor penguin tracks from birds heading to or returning from the Windy cove colony, Simon the GA thinks that there must be a polynya or a lead in the ice where the penguins are coming from as they need access to the sea to feed. The have been known to walk hundreds of miles to get to the sea. We didn't actually see any of the birds (oh except an antarctic petrel) but we did follow the freshest tracks and they just lead to one of the creeks and then turned back. The penguin must have been confused.

The view of creek 7 from the sea-ice. Posted by Picasa

Looking back along the Brunt Ice Shelf. Posted by Picasa

Kirsty poses beside a nice bit of the ice shelf. Posted by Picasa

We turned back at about 4pm in order to get back to the caboose in good time. We had walked all the way to the entrance of creek 9 I think.

Having made our way back up we take a last look at creek 6 before walking back to creek 2. Posted by Picasa

Kirsty stops while I take a photo of the creek 2 caboose and our tarped up skidoos. Posted by Picasa

Me posing with the Coleman's mustard while Liz watches the syphoning of the parafin. Having just started to read about Scott in Ranolph Fiennes book, we were trying to recreate photos that Scott's expedition had to take to satisfy their sponsors. As you can see the inside of a caboose is pretty nice. Posted by Picasa

We had another night and were trying to head over to Windy for the two final days of our holiday but bad weather prevented us. Instead we headed back along the drumline (which you can travel along even in poor weather) to Halley, refreshed and ready to get back to work. The pre and post winter trips are great and are our holidays giving us a taste of what the antarctic was like and is like for the real explorers. I am already looking forward to next years holidays.