After the Shack

30 March, 2004

After the Shack

written by Tim Burton

After the ship had left and winter life had begun, the atmosphere considerably changed on base – more relaxed, informal, friendly and positive; more like a big family than a large office.

One of the things that happen at the start of winter is the departure of the first Winter Trips. Each of the 23 winterers gets two 6 day trips spent travelling around the mountains and glaciers of Adelaide Island, or sometimes spent in the huts on Lagoon or Leonie Island. Each trip involves a member of base staff and a Field Assistant, several tons of food and equipment and a lot of good books, as quite often the weather is a bit “pants”. The first round was a little like this, but they managed to get out and about and do some interesting things.

John Withers (Diver) went out to the Leonie Island “fattening farm” with Dougal Ranford (Field Assistant) in order to eat, drink and relax – of which they did a lot! Leonie is a bit of a wildlife haven, and they stayed in a small hut surrounded by Fur, Elephant and Weddell seals, being constantly dive-bombed by Skuas. They explored the island and spent a lot of time trying to talk to the animals. For exercise they enjoyed climbing a couple of new routes, and lifting their knife and fork laden with copious amounts of food.

Finbar O’Sullivan (Doctor) and I (Field Assistant) went out on skidoos aiming to do some mountaineering and ski touring on the north end of Adelaide Island. However, the weather didn’t play ball and we spent two nights camping by a small peak called N2, and then went through the pass to the other side where we were stuck for three nights as the weather turned again. We managed to ski some fresh powder during a brief blue sky moment, and enjoyed 40 knot winds on the other side for 2 days before the weather cleared, just in time for us to return to base! We were lucky enough to ski up and see the sunset from Lincoln Nunatak on the last evening, and on our last day we climbed Mount Gwendolyn and skied back down to the skidoos just before the weather arrived, which chased us all the way back to base.

A few days after the trips returned and the next round went out, we had a visitor – the Argentinian Naval Research Ship Almarante Irizar. They make an annual visit to the base whilst re-supplying their Antarctic bases. It was an interesting break from our expectations of not seeing anyone for 7 months. We all made our way down to the runway where their helicopter landed with 10 members of their crew to visit Rothera, and in turn 10 of us were able to fly back to the ship. We were off the ground and half way there before we knew it, like a bunch of excited children on a fairground ride. We had a tour of the ship and ended up with beer and nibbles with the Captain in his lounge. They all seemed very interested in what we do for a living in Antarctica, and quite amazed at how long some of us will spend down here. By the time we had finished chatting, the wind had picked up too much to fly, so we travelled back to Rothera by boat. The Argentineans enjoyed a tour of Rothera and some of Cyril’s cookies, leaving a few presents and Argentinean beer.

March is always a special month for the staff at Rothera, with big changes to everyone’s lives. Those leaving have to turn their backs on this amazing place, some never to return. Those of us that are staying are left here for 7 months to run the base in isolation, and in what will soon be harsh, Antarctic winter conditions. To us, however, those leaving have the more difficult and emotional task, as this is an awesome and inspirational place, and one we realise we are very privileged to call our home.