Halley Diary — August 2011

31 August, 2011

By far the most important event that occurred in August was the appearance of the sun above the horizon for the first time in over three months signalling the beginning of the end to the long dark cold winter nights. The Antarctic weather was still in control as the ceremony had to be delayed due to high winds and low visibility indicating that there was still a little more time to go before we got the taste of the long bright days of summer. The ceremony carries on from way back in May where the oldest person of the wintering team (Ian MacNabb) lowered the flag from the day the sun would not rise above the horizon for many months. When it does make it above again in early August the youngest person of the team (Rory Fleet) lifts the flag high above Halley station where it will stay flying until the sun disappears again. A couple of days later the weather did allow us out onto the platform at the front of the Laws building for Rory to climb the ladder, attach the flag and raise it high, we then raised our glasses and toasted the suns return. To the winterers it is a sign that the summer is on its way and we are a little closer to seeing friends and loved ones back home.

The days lengthen rapidly allowing some of the outdoor jobs to be completed. One of the first being a trip out to evaluate the snow deposition and various other checks at the new Halley six base, but as always if two jobs can be done they are and it was also time to raise the drum line. Once the evaluation and pictures have been taken we start the long journey back lifting all the drums to their new position. The drum lines are made up of empty 205 litre barrels which indicate to the driver the route to major points around base. With the snow and wind of the winter these drums slowly disappear. We did have some luck in that many of the drums weren’t too buried and could be pushed over and then lifted out of their wind scoop and placed back on the surface with a little snow piled up on the prevailing wind sideto prevent them from being blown away. Of course this is Antarctica and things don’t ever go too smoothly as a few of the drums were frozen in and required pulling out with the Sno-cat! These tasks although physically challenging are a good opportunity to spend a little time away from base and see some of the stunning scenery around the Brunt Ice shelf.

Another of the jobs that required tackling was repair of the HF aerials. This was of great importance as it could mean limiting travel off base for winter trips, HF radio is the main method of communication in the field. The connections that needed attention happened to be around 30 feet up in the air so some mechanical assistance was needed. All the vehicles not needed during the winter are parked up on a six foot mound and ‘winterised’ until the following summer. This involves a full inspection, parking, removal of the battery and all intake and exhaust vents taping up to stop ingress of snow, also to note is the fact that the rubber tracks don’t really want to go around the sprockets below −30°C. A suitable weather window had to be found in which to carry out the de-ice of the vehicle and then another window in which to carry out the repairs. Luckily the weather held and we were able to get the crane into the garage for a few days, carry out all the relevant checks, attach the man basket and get out to remove the damaged aerials. All this was carried out and tested by Comms and Tech Services and found to work well.

Another task on the to do list for its new home at the Halley VI site was to refurbish the memorial sledge which pays tribute to people who have lost their lives out on the Brunt ice shelf. The memorial was brought into the garage and stripped right down to evaluate and start the repairs. Once stripped the bent pieces of the sledge were cut out and replaced with new along with new metal skis, the whole metal sledge was fully rubbed down, undercoated and then sprayed black. The upper section plaques were removed and re varnished and all the masonry was given a few coats of PVA to help it survive the harsh wind and cold. The memorial was taken back out and placed on a newly made mound.

Of course it can’t be all work and no play even down here. August, with the return of the sun, signals the start of summer to the wildlife of Antarctica and Halley happens to be very close to a colony of Emperor penguins. In order to see them there is a little matter of the 50ft ice cliffs so Ian our Field assistant started the task of refreshing our rope skills. The garage was taken over for a few sessions using the overhead gantry to attach ropes and practise using different methods to climb a vertical rope. Just as we thought that we had reached the top, Ian let us down a few feet and we had to keep going! All the practise was worth it as sitting amongst a few thousand Emperor penguins was a once in a life time experience. Watching them in their natural environment just a few metres away. A lot of the penguins had chicks at this stage although they were very small they could be heard under the parent’s feathers. They tucked away in the warmth only occasionally popping their heads out to see the view or to eat some regurgitated squid. These birds are beautiful and it is so fascinating to watch their interactions with each other and their newly hatched young. The cold again is the determining factor as to how long you can stay. With a gentle breeze blowing, sitting down with them for a few hours, even with all the modern clothing, you still get cold. Always in the back of your mind is the big climb out. Once hitched to the rope by the means of two jumars the climb out begins. Once at the top most people found themselves with ‘hot aches’ where the blood starts returning to your hands causing them to feel as if you have placed then in boiling water and hit with hammers simultaneously. The thought of where you have just come from as you look over the cliff to the colony makes the pain a little easier to deal with.

As all our birthday celebrations had taken place early on in the year events were held at the weekend to bring everyone together. One night organised by Chris Walton and Emma Philpott was a day at the races where we donned our hats, various animal races were shown on the projector and fake money was bet with the bookie (Chris the chef).

With August bank holiday being our last time off as a group before the summer, we celebrated ‘fake Christmas’. The 25th December falls when relief starts, and we largely miss the celebrations and so it was decided that we were to have our own. We celebrated with all the decorations and a full Christmas meal along with a full four days of Christmas (2010) TV.

As the sun returns at a tremendous rate we are all gearing up for the return of the summer staff and oncoming season.

Brett Walton
Halley Mobile Plant Technician.