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.

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