Monday, 17 November 2014

First Trip

Last Sunday turned out to be an amazing day! The incoming wintering team members who are here already were given the opportunity to go and see the Emperor penguin colony down at Windy Bay. The very same ones we had flown over less than a week before.  It was a slow and bumpy drive there along a flag line – heading off to what just seemed the middle of nowhere! Eventually we arrived at the small caboose that BAS has set up there – a small cabin with bunks and a heater/stove. We had our briefing in there with Ian, while Rich and Al went to set up the abseil. The penguins are down on the sea ice, and we are up on the ice shelf, so to see them we had to abseil 30 meters down the ice cliff. Quite a daunting task when it came down to it…but GREAT! Once down we were free to have a walk around.  Under the Antarctic Treaty you are not actually allowed to get too close to the penguins, but they don’t really stick to it and often come up really close to you to give you a good looking over. The penguin chicks were, of course, a real highlight too. To then get back up on to the ice shelf we had to dumar up the 30 meters. We had done 5 meters on our field course back in the UK and that had been a challenge, so we had all dreaded this a little.  However, it turned out to be fine! Of course it wasn’t easy but it was absolutely manageable and so we had great satisfaction when reaching the top. It took a while until everybody was back up, so it was nice to get back to the vehicle and have a slice of cake and a warm place to sit. After another bumpy journey we were back at Halley – slightly weary but having had a GREAT day!!

Long Journey to Halley

Finally… a moment to sit down and write what I’ve been up to in the last couple of weeks. After all the build up over the past months it was time to get my stuff together and go. With lots of help from my family I managed to sort my last bits out and get packed. They’ve had a lot to put up with me this year so I should just say a HUGE thank you here!! With the very difficult goodbyes done, I met up with some fellow BAS folk and we set off on our long journey. 
First it was Heathrow to Madrid with a few hours to wait there before catching our next flight to Santiago, Chile. From there we headed to Punta Arenas, briefly stopping at …… to offload some passengers and pick up some more. The journey to Punta came with some amazing views of the Andes and massive glaciers and fjords.  A night in Punta allowed us to go and get some good food (after the plane food muck!), a couple of Pisco sours, a visit to the sky bar and a little stretch of the legs, not to mention a good night’s sleep.
The next morning saw us heading straight back to the airport for our flight to Rothera. The weather was pretty good most of the way and we landed just time for dinner. It was good to catch up with some people from the field course who are either there for the full winter or just the summer season. We ended up having a full extra day due to weather disrupting our onward journey. To fill our time we went down a crevasse, snowboarded and went penguin spotting! Not bad!
And the next day we were off. I flew in the co-pilot seat for the first leg of the journey to Fossil Bluff. Here we had a fuel stop and a toilet break – consisting of a visit to the pee-pole…it is what it is.  This is how it’s done out in the field here. Consequently it was probably the nicest view from a “toilet” I’d ever seen (if you wanted to know). From there it was on to the Three Ronnies Depot for another refuel and pole visit, where it also suddenly felt a lot colder! And then it was back in the plane to head to Halley. We had a great view as we approached the ice shelf and flew directly over the Emperor Penguin colony at Windy Bay! What a treat! A short while later we finally viewed Halley for the first  time, - surrounded by miles and miles of ice.
A very long journey! We arrived pretty knackered and with heads spinning to a warm welcome from out colleagues here, and again – in time for dinner! We had the next day to settle in and explore the crazy place a bit before getting to work. I’ll stop there for now. Enough for one post I think.  The next one can tell you more about my time here so far and our first trip away from base!....