15 April, 2003 Rothera
One of the best things about being posted down south is the Winter Field Training Trip. These superb trips offer the opportunity for base members to go out with a field assistant and spend a week learning how to survive in a pyramid tent, drive linked skidoos and hopefully do some Antarctic travelling. The trips therefore provide important breadth of experience within the base and also give the wintering field assistants an opportunity to get out and further broaden their skills in readiness for the following field season.
We head out as independent pairs, each person with their own field assistant, and although many sledge parties stick together some head off on their own. Needless to say, as with anything in the Antarctic, winter trips are extremely dependent on both weather and snow conditions.
Sledge Alpha were first out, the two ‘Old Men of the Antarctic’ and general all round Antarctic Heros, Dave Routledge (Field Assistant) and Chris Jacobs (Vehicle Mech) high-tailed it, in an organised blur, out of Rothera before the rest of us had barely managed to get out of our beds. There was much disappointment on base when we heard that the weather had ‘crapped out’ and they were left stranded in thick cloud. However they had successfully braved McCallum’s Pass and the Shambles Glacier and made it to P-Buttress – the Gateway to Adelaide West. The dynamic duo finally made it back to Rothera having coped with six days of rain that any Scottish cloud would be proud to inflict.
Sledge Charlie didn’t take too long to follow but with poor forecasts sensibly opted to stay on this side and dug in deep just south of Trident, on this side of McCallum’s. As it turned out Adam (Met Man) and Jon B (Field Assistant) played their cards well: they survived nine days of wild weather, had a worthwhile jaunt up Trident’s south ridge and returned triumphant and intact having done a lot of reading and some gourmet camp cooking by all accounts.
Matt however had wintered before and wisely decided that because he had done the ‘surviving in a pyramid tent through an Antarctic storm’ thing before he didn’t really need to run through it again. Consequently Matt (Chippy) and Neil (Field Assistant) tried to play it canny and half unit out on day trips to collect routes. Luck was not entirely on their side. The snow on the ramp had been washed off and so Neil’s ropeskills were primarily tested rescuing a skidoo stranded after it slid off the start of the Traverse. However, they did manage to grasp some of their good days and conquered Stokes Peaks and got along the north end of our local Reptile Ridge.
Finally the weather improved. It had been so bad that, to be honest, it had to and Sledge Echo managed to get out in superb conditions. Someone was clearly on their side, though Rich B (Field Assistant) had had to manhaul all their kit up the ramp. On the first day they made it through McCallum’s and the Shambles and continued north to set up camp below Snake Ridge as it twists it way down from the summit of the mighty Bouvier. Not content with this they pushed on that afternoon and claimed the top of The Wall. Their next day dawned clear and so Rich F (Met Man) and Rich B headed north round the end of Bond Nunatak and threaded their way up through gaping crevasse fields to Reeves-Bouvier Col with its wild views of the Antarctic Peninsula to the east and the endless sweep on the berg strewn southern ocean to the west. They even pressed on, on foot, onto Reeves’s broad shoulder before heading back for the tent through a tentative ice haze.
That’s where their luck ended. Lenticular tongues had been lashing the high peaks so the inevitable winds descended once more. Fortunately a break in the weather the next day allowed Rich and Rich to strike camp so they scurried back across the Piedmont and returned through the Shambles. The weather on the East side of the island proved their undoing and they were forced to pitch up just south of Trident, at the favourite spot. They finally limped back to base with a ropey doo having got it going with the help of the vehicle mechs over the radio.
Meanwhile, Graeme (LIDAR scientist) and Neil had also taken advantage of the fine weather and had broken through the Shambles to become the first sledge party to make it south. They camped below the Myth but they too were hit by the bad weather and ended up tent bound for two days. When the weather finally cleared on them they cut their losses and headed south to spend a few days exploring down at Carvajal.
Student Grant (known as Jon S. back at home), our electronics engineer, and Jon B. were soon to follow and had a great trip down around the Myth area. They climbed Point 762 and had a good shot at the right-hand ridge of the Myth itself. After several cracking days they beat their way back north and climbed through McCallum’s to discover that once again the weather on this side was quite different.
Jane (Doc.) and Ed got out the morning the Dash flew. They were doing something different. Ed’s renowned dislike of skidoos had driven him over the edge and he and Jane had decided to go manhauling. I leave Jane to tell the tale but they had a great trip and got to almost all the places they had set out to reach.
Sledges Hotel and Juliet headed off more-or-less together. Both intended, once again, to head south to the Myth-Carvajal area. The weather closed in after they had scraped through the Shambles and after an hour of stop start driving they camped together to the north of Lincoln Nunatak. After a day of lying up the weather brightened and both teams made a push south. Kirsty (Marine Bio) and Dave pitched camp below the Myth and drove up the Sloman Glacier for the views down to Jenny Island, while Andy M. (Marine Assistant) and Rich B. climbed Point 762 and headed south to join them below the Myth. Evening socialising between the tents moved from Pancake nights to more complex puddings and Kirsty’s Tantrix game kept everyone challenged, although I’m not sure anyone really worked out how to play it. After a day of lie up both teams got out. Kirsty and Dave climbed Point 762 and visited the Pinnacle; Andy and Rich headed south and skied Snow Ditte in the morning before visiting Carvajal in the afternoon. A couple more days reading and cooking followed before a break in the weather allowed both field parties to get back to Rothera.
Oh, and lastly, in case you are wondering about Sledge Delta, well that was Andy B., our esteemed winter base commander. However, he spent April with his wrist in plaster so will be off on two winter trips after Mid-Winter.
Richard Burt – Field Assistant
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