Halley Diary — April 2013

30 April, 2013 Halley

The month of April really brings home the prospect of the upcoming 100 days in which we will not see the sun at all. The nights draw in ever more quickly, and you find yourself wondering whether you will be able to get any work done outside before lunchtime. Everybody gathers at breakfast whilst it still very dark outside, and as you sit there eating your cereal you always get the impression that we’ve all got up particularly early to go on a fishing trip.

April saw the last of series of winter trips to the Hinge zone, where the floating ice shelf that Halley is sited on meets the edge of the Antarctic continent. This was the trip I was on, and I had been worried that a wrist injury I suffered at the beginning of March was going to hamper me. Camping in the Antarctic is entirely as much of a hands-on experience as you would imagine, and then some. The weather was perfect going out, and we set up and enjoyed a stroll around the campsite and thought of which bits of the geographically tortured landscape to explore in the next few days.

However, the following morning saw the weather change for the worse and we were tent-bound for the day. The radio reports from base warned of worsening conditions to come so we took advantage of a clear spell in the next morning and came back to base. That evening, we saw the start of a ‘blow’ which lasted for 3 days and consisted of 50mph winds bringing all the snow that it could carry. Our trip was cut short, but we were very glad to have been viewing the storm through reassuringly thick glazing rather than hearing and feeling it from within the confines of a tent.

This single blow piled up about 12ft of snow around the front of the station, meaning that the stairs leading from the front door, which bottomed out onto a flat snow surface only a few days before, now lead onto a 45 degree slope which you have to clamber up or down.

The Winterers had been left together for a month by the time April began, so we were already quite accustomed to having nothing but each other for company. April saw us all build on that familiarity and settle into our routines. With the diminishing amount of daylight with each passing day and with no guarantee of good weather on any given day, the opportunities to work outside were dwindling and the pressure to get the station ready for the winter was ever present and growing.

As you might expect snow and ice build up can cause problems, and dealing with it can sometimes dominate our working day. Two examples from, but not exclusive to, April were digging out skidoos from their snowy grave and removing the build up of hoarfrost from the MF Radar, using a technique of running a rope across the radar which is known as ‘flossing’.

The weather instruments with give us realtime wind and temperature conditions are also prone to frosting up, and a quick shimmy up the tower was required to brush them clean.

For my part, as Communications Manager, a great deal of the workload had been lifted with the end of the Antarctic summer. There were no planes to keep tabs on, no vehicles going to and from the coast for relief, and a vastly reduced number of people on station making radio calls. Throughout March I was keeping regular contact with the people out on their winter trips, and with those out of the way by the beginning of April I was largely left to my own devices to carry out my tasks, much like everyone else on station. Self-determination is a big component of the attitude required to winter at an Antarctic station, both professionally and personally.

A fair number of special Saturday evenings were had in April. With the completion of the Workshop we then swiftly turned it into a nightclub for the evening.

A Crazy Golf evening was had using some inventive course designs made up from bits & pieces from around the station.

When we heard that the internet connection would be down for maintenance for the weekend we thought we would occasion this descent into the Dark ages by holding a medieval night. As it turned out, the connection didn’t disappear but we went ahead regardless. We all dressed up in medieval fancy dress and enjoyed a proper banquet thanks to the tireless efforts of Andy the Chef, Jon the Electrician, Mark the Generator Mechanic and others.

As April progressed the sunsets came earlier and earlier. It’s an odd thing to finish lunch and then immediately head out to take a photo of the sunset.

The sun disappeared below the horizon for the final time on April the 30th, and as is customary the oldest member of the wintering team lowered the Union flag. Ian, our Field Assistant, had the honour this year and after the flag was down he gave a speech which drew on his previous wintering experience to caution us on the coming months of darkness, and to say how much he was looking forward to it all. We listened whilst toasting each other, and the Antarctic winter, with our quickly-freezing glasses of champagne.

With that we moved into May, knowing that the sun would not return until August.

Paul Thomas
Wintering Communications Manager 2013