Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Windy Weekend and Final Sun-pillars

I don't really want to appologise again for taking so long writing this entry, but once again I find myself doing so. Its been about two weeks since I posted the photos from this little trip and it took me two weeks to post the photos. It takes me ages to post and I think it is taking longer and longer maybe its the lack of light. We also have just come out of a comms black out so we haven't had the internet for three days. There was nothing wrong with the system here, but they were upgrading some equipment in Cambridge back in the UK. Our comms is routed through a satelite and then connected to the world in Cambridge. If anything happens there then we are affected too although we still have the iridium phones and HF radio. Anyway time to tell you what it was like at Windy.

Windy caboose is a very small caravan on skis about 30 km to the north-west (I think) close to the sea at Windy Creek. Its a place where you can go for the weekend and get off base. It does involve a load of organising though as you have to travel with enough equipment to keep you alive for 20 days if you get stuck on the way (thats a half unit see halfway down here for what a half unit is). Kirsty and I decided to try and go ages and ages ago but only got the opportunity that weekend. So on the thursday we started to get everything together. First of all we had to dig out a skidoo that was completely buried and then start it, and drive it into the garage where it defrosted over night. The second skidoo was already snow free and being stored in a container on the container line. All we had to do with that one was get it out on the next morning. Thursday night was also the night to get all the food together and pack our personal stuff. Friday arrived and the first bit of the morning was spent getting everything together and getting the sledges and skidoos to the laws building. The last few items included our P-bags (massive bags of bedding including a sheep skin, thermo rest, insulating mat, a really warm sleeping bag, a fluffy sleeping bag liner a canvass sleeping bag outer and an emergency two man bivvy bag) and rescue sacks (these have the ropes and climbing equipment for rescues, wandering about in crevassed areas, and abseiling down to the sea ice etc...). At about 11 am we were just about ready and we went to back to check on the scientific equipment on our platforms. We had lunch and then packed the sledges. Packing takes ages and we only got going at about 3pm this was only one hour late. It was important to leave early because sundown was officially at 4.30 in the afternoon.

Bob shot of Kirsty and I before we set off for Windy caboose. Posted by Picasa

So we set off at a good pace with me leading, the temperature was about -30 degrees centigrade and dropping and driving in these temperatures is pretty bad. We were driving Alpine 2 skidoos made by Bombardier and the most comfortable way to ride them was to kneel on the seat or just stand up, unfortunately this means you are more exposed to the wind and get tired. Luckily the grips and thumb throttle are heated so your hands don't completely fall off. The snow was lovely and fluffy so it wasn't too bumpy but it slowed down the sledges.

We stopped when we were nearly at the caboose to take a few pictures. The dots on the left of the skidoo are drums, as the whole route to Windy is along a drum line. The big dot straight ahead of the skidoo is the caboose itself. My skidoo is pulling the half-unit Nansen sledge. Posted by Picasa

As you can see we were driving Alpine 2 skidoos which have a bad reputation. Kirsty was pulling a box sledge with all our stuff in with her skidoo. These skidoos were not as comfortable or as fast as the Alpine 3 skidoos we used on the winter trips but they did the job and started easily below -30 degree C. Posted by Picasa

We got to the caboose and immediately lit the "Refleks" stove (this is an amazing stove that runs on paraffin) which heats the caboose very efficiently. We then unpacked the sledges and tarped up the doos, this took another hour and by this time is was very cold and dark. We lit the tilley and primus and proceeded to cook dinner. Getting the stoves going at these temperatures is difficult as the meths which you use to heat preheat doesn't really want to light. Once the caboose started warming up it was easy. I think the first night we ate soup followed by instant "man food", I had bean cassarole and kirsty had her usual chill con carne. The man food rehydrated food is pretty good. We went to sleep early and slept for hours, amazing. Once the stove had heated up the caboose we had to turn it right down to pilot otherwise we would have been roasted, even then you had to occasionally open the door to let in the cold and cool the place down. The loo at the caboose is a red flag to the west of the caboose (the prevailing wind here is from the east). That night it was fantastic you could just see a faint aurora to the south and you could also hear this amazing cackling sound. Like geese or some alien birds. It very unnerving whilst you are trying to have a pee without getting too much too cold.

The next day we woke up at about 11 in the morning, there was the usual arguement as to who should get up and light the stoves and get some hot water going. We had a leisurely lunch and then noticed it was getting late. We went out and got the rescue sacks out and got the ropes and harnesses so that we could rope up and get a look at the penguins.

So we roped up as an alpine pair for the first time on our own. Normally we have someone who knows what they are doing telling us what to do. Kirsty stands beside the caboose all ready to head out. Posted by Picasa

Having roped up, Kirsty was still pretty scared of forgetting what to do if I fell in a crevass (to be honest I was a little bit worried about her as well) so we practiced the z-pulley rescue. This involves stopping the person falling, putting in some snow stakes and constucting a pulley system from four pulleys and your jumars so that you can easily haul them out of a crevass. Once we had done this we set off towards the coast.

With the sun setting we set out off drum line following a flagged line towards the wierd cackling sound towards the coast. Posted by Picasa

After a while we reach the cliff edge. The sea-ice has formed properly and we can see the source of the sound. A massive brown mass of penguins. Posted by Picasa

Zooming in a bit you can start to see the different huddles that have formed. Some loners still stand about on their own. Posted by Picasa

Zooming right in. Its pretty amazing to see this and something you only get to experience by wintering at somewhere like Halley. Posted by Picasa

It is normally possible to abseil down to the sea ice and get right up the penguins. Apparently you don't have to try to get close to them, all you do is stay still and they waddle up to you because they are very curious. We couldn't do this because the our field guide Simon hadn't yet checked the old abseil point or the sea-ice. Hopefully after sun-up we will get another trip to windy and will see the baby emperor penguins close up. Of course once you have abseiled down to the sea-ice you have to climb back up, which might be tricky.

As you can see it wasn't the clearest day with poor visability, the sun was also disappearing fast so we reluctantly returned. It was also really cold and when we got back to Halley we found out that it had reached about -37 degrees that afternoon.

Who needs mascara. After the trip to penguins my eyelashes were like this. Posted by Picasa

That evening after deroping and enjoying another rehydrated meal. We watched "The day after tomorrow" on my laptop.

We also experimented with baking in the caboose. We took croissant mixture with us and made croissants. We then made an oven out of two pots and some bits of metal and a lid. It took about 20 mins to bake two croissants on the primus. Absolutely fantastic straight away with butter and golden syrup. Yum. Posted by Picasa

The next morning it was really cold inside the caboose. The refleks had run out of fuel during the night and it was horrible. I am sorry to say but I was too much of a girl to get out of bed. Kirsty actually got out, lit the stoves and refueled the refleks while I cowered in bed. We had a good breakfast/lunch of left over croissants and sausages. It was a fantastically clear day and we had hoped to get back to the penguins but we quickly realised that we wouldn't have time. Everything in Antarctica takes ages. I then unwrapped the doos, started them up which was a lot easier than expected (we had heard some horror stories about the year before when they couldn't start some of the doos miles from home and had to be rescued). I then went on a little trip to retreive some jerry cans of paraffin a few miles back towards Halley. Kirsty was packing up the caboose. I then refuelled the doos (I had to mix in 2 stroke oil into jerrys of neat petrol except at below -30 the oil was like toothpaste) and we packed up the sledges. By 3pm (only two hours late) we were ready to leave, sun down that day was predicted to be at 3:45pm so it was important to be getting back with sunlight. We drove back faster than we had travelled out. The beautiful weather also produced some crazy mirages as we travelled back. Once we were back on base we had to put everything back and so we didn't really stop unloading, refueling etc... until 6:30 and we joined the rest of the base for dinner.

The next weekend was "sundown", this is when the sun officially sets and doesn't rise the next day or the day after or the day after, in fact it next rises around August the 10th. It still gets light its just that you don't see the sun. You get a sort of dawn that turns immediately into a dusk around lunchtime. The sun was disappearing faster for the next week so every opportunity was taken to get out and about x-country skiing or kiting. You also appreciate the sun and the lovely sunset colours you get.

The sun is disappearing, this was taken at about 3pm. Kirsty demonstrates how to x country ski. Rime deposited on the masts and stays makes them stand out. Posted by Picasa

Sun pillar taken from the Piggott platform. Liz the chippy drags a polk sledge and bumps into Dave the Comms manager, as he comes from the tunnels, in the foreground. The buildings from left to right are: the Laws building, Bart the balloon launching hut and on the right the Simpson platform. Posted by Picasa


Anonymous said...

Gorgeous picks. What is rime?

Anonymous said...

Amazing eyelashes!

Am very jealous about your penguin spotting.

Can you bring me back a pee funnel?

A x

Chuck Darwin said...

the frost on the eye lashes are a bit extreme.

Nazli Hardy said...

"Miss Julie" :-) the croissants look delish!

Anonymous said...

quite an adventure aye. and the pic with the frost on your lashes is pretty neat :-)

Anonymous said...

Your blog is amazing! The photos are beautiful - keep them coming!

Vincenzo said...

beautyful pics! very very beautyful ....

dino said...

Having read thru your entire blog, I notice some subtle changes in your writing style as well as the general direction of your blogs. Is living in the Antarctic causing any noticiable mental strain and how does your team deal with it??? Is that the reason for all the parties???

Great Pictures and good luck


San Francisco Photos said...

Man it must have been COLD!

seven said...

Sorry for making such a sudden comment.
It's a really interesting blog.
It's great to read your blog here!
I'll be back to for updates.

Anonymous said...

What is the sun pillar? when does it happens?

amazing blog by the way, very exotic stuff, makes canadian winter look like a bliss! thanks.

Thoughts and Other Ramblings of Jaye said...

Utterly amazing... quite brilliant! I am in awe! Thank you for sharing with the rest of us!

Rogue World said...

Some really fun pics...though the funnel has me worried.

chuck said...

I can almost hear the dry "crunch...crunch" of the snow..and seem to understand the natural propensity "to penguin huddle" amidst the wide expanse of Antarctic Winter.
Thanks for sharing some of the experience!

Frances said...

The pee-funnels are easy to use.

An essential part of a girl's Antarctic lifestyle.

Jammu said...

Great photos. Super stuff!

Jen said...

Warm greetings from even warmer Florida. Don't know how I stumbled upon your blog, but am fascinated by the whole cold thing...why are you there? (Wondering why anyone would choose ice on their eyes...)I will be back to read more..stay safe!

Seguridad de Redes said...

Very beatiful your photos and amazing your adventure. Writting from Madrid, incredible your images suffering -37 C. Fantastic the sunset images. Will follow your blog. Thanks.

Gregor said...

These pictures make me envious! Looks like a great expidition!

Looking forward to future adenture pics :)

Regards Gregor