Thursday, 12 November 2015

Second Winter Trip

 Second Winter Trip

A couple of weeks ago I was away on my “Winter Trip” with Dave and Ian. Working for BAS, you get two of these trips – one at the start of winter and one right at the end. We had decided to go to Windy Bay to see the emperor penguins and their chicks, but to also go and check out a place called the Rumples (a rugged area of raised ice and large crevasses).
But of course we couldn’t organise, nor predict, the weather and for the first three days of our week off we were stuck on base with strong winds and poor contrast. Not all together a terrible thing with some good lie-ins and movie watching to be done. By Wednesday afternoon the cabin fever was creeping in slowly though.
On Thursday we finally got a break and headed off. The route to Windy takes you past the old Halley 5 site, where we made a quick pit stop. There is an old blue “module” buried there with just the top visible on the surface of the snow so we had a quick look inside before continuing on. 

The wind really picked up and the blowing snow made visibility and contrast very poor so we crawled our way to the Windy Caboose. Once there, the weather was too rubbish to attempt any activity so we settled down, made ourselves cosy and chilled out with some whisky for the night.
The next day was a lot better and we got down to the penguin colony. Not a great contrast day, but good enough. A quick 30 meter abseil and you’re down to them. The chicks are just too cute! They vary in size with some still managing to hide in the pouch and on their parent’s feet, and others still trying (but with very little style! See photo!). 

 It’s so nice to slowly wonder about. You are not allowed to approach them, but if you sit for a bit they will just come and check you out themselves. It’s a real treat. Then to leave you have the small matter of jumaring up the rope – a good activity for getting you nice and warm!

The next day we were able to access the penguins a different way. Sometimes the ice shelf collapses in a way that creates ramps that run right from the sea ice up to the shelf. We had to abseil a very short distance, as the top was slightly unstable, but were then able to just walk right on down to the sea ice. A welcome party arrived and had a good look at us for a long while. I felt bad that we weren’t really that interesting! 

 We then had another good walk around and managed to get a little further out on the sea ice this time. And of course we sat around a lot looking at the little chicks running around. They are like fuzzy little wobbly skittles. I wanted to stuff my pockets full of them and do a runner, but refrained somehow! They’ve got a lot of work to do getting big and strong for when the ice breaks up later in the summer. I’m going to pretend to myself that they’ll all make it and live long and happy lives.

We returned to the caboose for the evening and just relaxed. The caboose is about 3 or 4 meters by 2 I think. It sleeps 4 people, so we had a bit of extra room with just the 3 of us. The reflex stove gets it lovely and warm and of course our sleeping systems (our bags and fleece liners, and sheep skins etc.) mean you are really pretty comfortable. Actually the bag was enough without anything else. While there you can feast on man-food – the dehydrated food supplied when out in the field. We’d brought frozen food too to treat ourselves. The biggest chores really whilst there are making sure you have snow melting in a pan all the time ready for when you need it. And then there’s refueling the stove, and keeping the door clear should snow build up. It’s pretty easy going and a great change of scenery from being at base all the time.
On our last day we headed back through base so Dave could pick up some crampons and we headed off to the Rumples. Originally we had planned to camp there too, but the bad weather earlier on in the week saw that idea off. But a day trip was possible and the weather was good. It was a bumpier ride there as you have to drive across the sastrugi (ripples in the snow), rather than with them, which we had been doing on our way back from Windy. So it’s a slower and joltier journey! But we got there fine and merrily roped ourselves together. In the Rumples, you get to hike up a bit slightly – such a novel thing living on an ice shelf where it’s pretty much flat as a pancake. And there are plenty of crevasses around, some visible, some hidden, so you rope up for safety. I managed to sink into a few hidden crevasses on my way up, but only up to my knee. It was great to see some different terrain and we even got a view back to Halley 6 from the top. 

And that was it. Another trip done and dusted and a good time had by all. Now it’s onwards into a super busy summer. There’s a lot to do before the ship arrives in December but numbers are going to creep up quite quickly before then too. A lot of work is condensed into a very short summer season. Busy, or busier, times ahead!

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