Monday, 5 June 2017

The Polar Night

Looking North at around midday, the sun no longer manages to break northern horizon.
When I arrived in Rothera back in early March it was light until about 9pm. Since then the days have been getting shorter, and the midday sun lower in the sky. In late May it got to the point that even at midday the sun failed to rise above the hills to the North. From then until sometime in mid to late July Rothera would see no direct sunlight. 
Fuchs house in the darkness. 18 or so hours of darkness a day just becomes normal. 
To mark the disappearance of the sun there is traditionally a little ceremony at Rothera. On Friday the 26th of May the flag that usually flutters on the hill above base was lowered. This is always done by the oldest person on base, which this year is Trev the chef. Around midday everybody gathered on the small hill behind base to where the flagpole stands. The wind was light  and the sky overcast and grey day, which added to the atmosphere of the occasion. The flag, by now pretty tattery after 10 months being battered by Antarctic storms and bleached by the intense UV of the summer sunshine, hung limply in the calm conditions.
Samways the station leader speaks.
Paul Samways, the station leader, said a few words about significance of the occasion and how privileged we are to be overwintering in Antarctica. Trev then stepped up, read a little poem that he had written about the occasion and then lowered the flag. This was followed by a shot of whiskey, a group photo and the rest off the day off. In six weeks of so, when the sun returns, the youngest person on base will raise a new flag. 
I am usually not really into flag ceremonies, they often feel a bit contrived to me. However, on this occasion, perhaps because it did represent something significant and also very apparent (the loss of direct sunlight), or perhaps just due to the dynamics of a small group on base, it did feel worthwhile. 
Trev the chef lowers the flag while everybody else looks on. 
The group photo after the flag lowering 
So far I have not found that 18 or so hours of darkness every day has had a negative effect on me. Rothera is only just South of the Antarctic circle, meaning that at even at mid winter there is a few hours of dusky daylight every day.  The fact there is some daylight each day combined with set work and meal times, certainly keeps my body happily ticking away with it's normal  24 hour cycle. The main downside of the darkness for myself is the fact that it limits opportunities to get out and do things at the weekend.
Weekend skiing and climbing is starting to get limited by the short daylight hours. Heading off on a skiing trip before dawn (I think this picture was taken around 10.30am)
The day after the flag down ceremony myself and Steve (one of the other field guides) had a day trip up one of  Stokes Peaks, which, with it's good views to the North was still just getting a little sunshine.  
One advantage of the darkness and lack of light pollution is the opportunity to see the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Winter trips

The Camp at Trident on my first winter trip. On the left is my pyramid tent, the skidoos and sledge off to the left and toilet tent to the right. The  pyramid tent to the right belongs to Zac and Tom who were also camping there that week. 
There are five field guides at Rothera this winter, and part of our duties are to take the other seventeen others who are based here out on winter trips. These seventeen each get two winter trips, one pre mid winter, and one post mid winter. A winter trip usually involves one field guide and one other heading off on skidoo and camping on the ice  for four or five days. When out people tend to go skiing or mountaineering, or exploring crevasses.

Mucky the Plumber who I took out on my first trip near the top of one of the local mountains Biff .
These trips allow people to get out base, explore the local area, and have a bit of a break from their work. It is also very good training for us field guides as the equipment and techniques used are very similar to those used during the summer when looking after scientist when out in the deep field (and doing science is Antarctica is what BAS is all about). 
Full moon rising over the camp. This picture was taken on my third trip when we were the only team there. On that particular trip the the only clear weather we got was at night.
I had three pre-midwinter trips. In all three cases I ended up camping at a place called Trident East. On the first trip the weather was pretty good, but was a bit more mixed on the second trip, and very Scottish on the 3rd trip. However, I did managed to get some good mountaineering done, and had a good explore of the Stokes peaks. Having got comfortable with the the whole set up I am keen to get further afield on my second set of winter trips which start towards the end of July. 

The camp at night with the pyramids glowing softly from the Tilly lamps which are used for heat and light. 

Some easy mountaineering on another of the local peaks; N2. The black dots in the background are the skidoos and sledge
On the first trip, the other two teams camping at Trident East popped round to out tent for whiskey fueled evening discussion. When they left they stole our cheese!

The Trident East campsite.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Start of Winter

The winters watch the Shak as she departs. 
In a practical sense the 10th of April marked the start of winter at Rothera this year. This was not due to significant change in the weather, or in daylight hours. It was due to the departure of the ship, the Ernest Shackleton. The Shack, as it is colloquially know, is one of the two ships operated by BAS. It had been at Rothera for a few days, unloading food and equipment, and loading cargo to be taken back to the U.K. It would also take with it about two thirds of the population of Rothera.
The departure of the ship is a significant moment in the Rothera calendar. On the morning of the 10th everybody gathered at the,wharf, and said their goodbyes. Those who were leaving slowly filed onto the ship, and those of us who were staying stood and watched. As the ship slowly eased away from the wharf and accelerated away. We stood and watched until the ship was lost from sight among the distant bergs. The moment of calm that followed. In one step the  number of people on base dropped from 65, to the 22 of us who are wintering here. It will now be October before we see any new people. For me at least it was quite a profound moment.
Bradders waves the ship off with a flare.
After a few jobs tidying up the wharf, we retired to the nearby  Bonner lab for a drink of champagne (champagne that was suppose to be to celebrate the Halley move, but events there meant it was not required there) and a chat about some of the events of the upcoming winter. There are going to be some interesting things going on this winter, including something that will be a first for British people in Antarctica. I will write about these events as they happen. 

Since the ship left the atmosphere on the station has changed significantly. Work hours have reduced, and everything seems a lot more calmer and more relaxed. There has also been a lot more time to be able to get out for recreation, as well as the opportunity to get out boating and getting some training from the doctor. However, more about that in future posts. 
Group Photo 1. I was in charge of taking a group photo. However, on this attempt, much to everybody's amusement I did not quite make it back to the group in time.

Group Photo 2, I made it this time. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Journey South

Not much snow, but a pleasant day for avalanche forecasting in Glen Coe
I am aware that I have not posted much on my blog for a while. The reason for this is that I have not been up to very much that I have felt inspired to write about. My main activity for the past six months seem to have been working and DIY. The winter was a poor one and I only managed one winter route, and that was back in November. However, the lack of snow during January and February did not bother me nearly as much as it once would have done. The weather was often quite settled, and I had some lovely days pottering about in the sunshine for work. 

However, recently things have changed and I am currently writing this post from Rothera. Rothera is the largest of the British Antarctic bases and is located at about 67 degrees South on  Adelaide island just off the Antarctic peninsular. I will also be my home for the next 8 months or so. This will be right right through the Antarctic winter. I sure this experience will provide me with plenty to write about as well as some good pictures.  
My flatmate Andy organised a bit of a leaving party, people came round to eat cake and drink beer, it was good. 
The journey South started in early March. On Friday the 3rd of March I closed the front door of my
house in Fort William, passed the key onto a friend who will be moving into my room, and started driving East. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the hills looked great in recent layer of snow. I stopped, took a photo, but did not feel the FOMO, I would be seeing plenty of winter where I was going. 
The view from the plane of the very Southern tip of South America. Visible is the famous beagle passage, and just out of shot to the right is Cape Horn. 
I spent the weekend with my parents in Aviemore, and on the Sunday evening took the sleeper from there to London. I had never traveled on the sleeper before, and was suitably impressed. After a good night's sleep, I got off at Euston station around 8am. From there I made my way out to Heathrow, where I met up with another couple of BAS people heading South. Unfortunately our flight to Madrid was cancelled, and the airline seemed to have issues with our tickets. This took about 2 hours to sort out, and due to this and the plane we were eventually booked onto being late, we missed our connection at Madrid to Santiago. This meant we had 24 hours to wait in Madrid, but this was not too much of a problem, it was a pleasant city to wander around for a day.

The next day we got our flight to Santiago, and from there onto Punta Areanas near the Southern tip of South America. The next day the weather was good, and so BAS were able to fly us from Punta to Rothera, my home for the next 8 months. It will be interesting to see what those eight months brings. 

A penguin having a good scratch. I took this just round the corner from Rothera, and although it is may is not much to do with this post, everybody loves a good penguin picture, so I thought I would put it in.