August – An active August

30 August, 2006 Rothera

An active August

People back home often ask us how we spend our time during the winter – I think some people imagine us huddled around the stove in a little wooden hut, afraid to go outside into the darkness and wild weather.

In fact, we’ve had a run of unusually good weather – bright, cold days with clear skies and little or no wind – and we’re now getting around 10 hours of daylight.

The fine weather has given us excellent sea-ice conditions – the ice near to Rothera is now around 50cm thick – and so we’ve been given permission to travel across the ice to the islands in Ryder Bay, which are normally only accessible by boat. It’s quite strange to get on a skidoo or strap on some cross-country skis and travel for kilometres across the sea without getting wet! Lagoon Island is 6km from Rothera and besides being an interesting site for scientific work it’s also a popular destination for a day out – there’s a comfortable and well-appointed hut there that makes a good lunch stop. Agnieszka, Jamie, Mark S and I skied out there on the coldest day we’ve had so far (-30 C) in glorious sunshine. We weren’t cold until we went in the hut – skiing in the sunshine keeps you warm – but at such low temperatures your breath will freeze on your balaclava, hair and beard, so we all looked quite comical by the time we got back to base!

The sea ice also allowed us to do the Ammo Col Ski Tour for the first time this year – this is a circular route where you ski uphill (with furry skins on your skis to make them grip) from Rothera to Ammo Col – where you can then ski off the crest of Reptile Ridge and down the slope to the seashore. Ammo Col gets its name because explosives were stored there back in days of yore.

Having skied down the slope to the bottom, we then returned to Rothera across the sea ice. Many thanks to Tom Spreyer and Tom Marshall (who was supposed to have been on gash!) for taking a group of us on this interesting trip.

A little later in the month the sea ice situation improved sufficiently that Cambridge gave us permission to travel to and climb Leonie Island – a very prominent local landmark which makes for an exciting climb. Leonie is 9km from Rothera, and groups of us travelled out on skidoos and sledges to the base of the island, where we climbed up the snowy gully known as “Gateway to Antarctica” to the summit. Some people found it more challenging than others, but the view from the top is stunning.

Those of a more intrepid persuasion (Tom S, Kirk, Soup and Riet) also climbed the somewhat trickier “Gateway to Destruction” route and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Of course it’s not all just fun and games out on the sea-ice – there’s world-class scientific work to be done! Helen’s been making up for lost time due to bad weather earlier in the winter, and managed to do three CTD casts this month, two of which were right out in the deepest part of Ryder Bay. Helen explained what the CTD measures in last month’s diary so I’ll just say that she’s been happy to get plenty of data this month. She’s also been out on the ice closer to the base trying out a trap for catching brittlestars, although most of the catches so far have been other kinds of starfish. Oh well – better luck next month…

The CTD holes have also been colonised by Ryder Bay’s population of seals, who tend to hang around near to them and take great interest in the science!

Of course, many of us have also travelled further afield this month as the winter training trips have begun again. After most trippers returned from the last round of trips in April and May having seen nothing but blowing snow and in the inside of a tent, many people were concerned about repeating the experience. As it happens, I was on the first round of trips with Tom Marshall and fully expected bad weather, but in fact we spent three days doing day-trips from base (climbing Gwendoline and Stork and skiing on the sea ice) followed by a quick dash through McCallum’s Pass and up to Bond Nunatak where we set out the following day to climb Mount Reeves, which at 2100m is one of the higher mountains on Adelaide Island. Climbing Reeves largely consisted of a long slow plod up steepish snowy slopes brooding on the futility of existence and questioning why you ever started, followed by shorter more exciting sections traversing steep icy slopes and then climbing up to a flattish summit with a totally excellent view that made it all worthwhile. A quick descent back to where we’d left our skis then led to some rather nervous snowplough skiing (from me) and a confident smooth descent (from Tom) back to where we’d left the skidoos.

Tom V, Bruce, Kai and Tom S also climbed Reeves the following week, whereas Jade and Soup chose to stay on the east side of the island and do lots of climbing and skiing instead. Lowri and Kirk win this month’s prize for Extreme Travel, having driven from Rothera to Carvajal in one day, spent the following day climbing Snow Ditte in temperatures of -30 and significant amounts of windchill and then driving back to Rothera the day after, stopping en-route to climb The Myth (which is roughly the same height as Ben Nevis) by way of a bit of light relief!

Agnieszka and Soup also did a flying visit to Carvajal and returned to some more local climbing on Orca and N2. Richard Logan and Tom Marshall had a more leisurely trip close to base, skiing and walking.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, life hasn’t been dull either. The bar’s been redecorated by Mark S, Bernard and Richard L, and is now a pleasingly warm shade of peach rather than the rather sterile magnolia it was before. Everyone likes the colour, but after eight months or more wearing orange jackets, orange fleeces and orange boiler-suits I think our stylistic judgements may have altered somewhat!

The bar is also slightly better stocked than it has been, thanks to some expert diplomacy on the part of Tim the Winter Base Commander in getting permission to raid a little bit of the summer stock for the last couple of months of winter.

The base has also been struck by a sudden attack of public speaking – it began with Kirk showing us his slides (on a rather cantankerous projector) of his previous job as a farm manager in East Africa. Then it was the turn of our two marine scientists to spend an evening explaining exactly what they do all day, why it’s important and why Jade finds sponges quite so fascinating. Even the more cynical members of the base (there’s a vicious rumour that all the beakers do is drink tea and surf the web) were impressed with the range of scientific work conducted in the Bonner Lab.

Further slide-shows followed – we had Mat’s pictures of his overland journeys in Africa and Asia; Lowri’s photos of her trips to Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and Tom Marshall’s slides of his time running a game-hunting camp in Kenya.

Everyone has to take a turn to do a week on night watch duty, and this month one of those people was Riet, which meant a week of enthusiastic amateur cookery! In fact, it meant a week of puddings, as one chef after another produced a dessert. We had lemon meringue pie, apple crumble, jelly-and-ice-cream and even baked Alaska, which were all greeted with great enthusiasm and devoured with gusto.

There were several other culinary extravaganzas this month – we began with Chinese Night, where we were treated to a full-on all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet thanks to the incredibly hard work of about half the base under the supervision of Ags and Kirk.

Mark Maltby and Tom Marshall turned the kitchen into a pizza shop one Sunday evening, producing pizzas to order in a choice of three sizes (Small, Medium and Fat Ba***rd!) and delivering them in cardboard boxes. Most people (especially those who ordered Fat Ba***rd size) could barely move afterwards!

On the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend, Lowri and Helen (with considerable assistance from Tom V) organised a barbecue on the veranda of Admirals’ House – and much to all our surprise we got good weather for it, standing around in a positively tropical -6 and enjoying the fine sunset.

Admirals’ veranda had in fact only been recently rediscovered – the whole of the western side of the building was buried up to the eaves in snow, blocking the windows (which also serve as emergency exits) and so a major dig-out was organised for a Friday afternoon. With virtually the whole base setting to with shovels, and Mat clearing the worst of it with the Sno-Cat we managed to get it all cleared out in about an hour or so and we’re now enjoying natural light in our bedrooms again.

A final silly themed evening for the month was the return of the Rothera Crazy Golf Challenge – in which various groups of people set up a “hole” in somewhere in Bransfield and challenged the rest of the base to play it. Many people dressed in suitable golfing attire! After some exciting play Lowri was crowned as the winner, largely due to having scored two holes-in-one.

One final thing – the following strange meteorological phenomenon was spotted by the ever sharp-eyed Agnieszka outside Bransfield House. They’re hollow globes of ice, ranging from 3 to 10 centimetres in diameter. If anyone knows what causes them, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Answers on a postcard please!

That’s more or less all for this month apart from a couple of personal messages. Bernard would like to say that his thoughts are with his family on the anniversary of the death of his brother Felix.

I’d like to send my love and best wishes to Mum, Dad, Dave, Gill and all my friends back in the UK.

Mike Prior-Jones

Communications Manager