Halley Diary — December 2008

31 December, 2008 Halley

Hello from the new boy. December was a great month for me, my first full month on the station. This of course meant as the incoming Field GA, lots of training, learning and new experiences. It was reassuring to spend time with the 2008 winterers. Their immediate friendship and welcome was warming. I look forward to my winter.

With the Ernest Shackleton due at the end of the month everybody was busy getting ready for relief and the start of summer season. The Drewry summer accommodation module was moved and then had to be started up. The Technical Services team got busy fitting generators, hooking up the electrics, starting up the melt tank and reconnecting the plumbing. Once everything was working the whole place was scrubbed out by us all.

There was plenty to do around the garage, getting vehicles off the mounds and up and running. Lance was being kept busy dozing wind tails flat and grooming the site to enable safe travel round the base in flat, no-contrast light conditions. Drums were raised, containers moved and out-going cargo packed and labelled for shipping.

As Field assistants, Rich and I got out and about, restocking cabooses. We visited GPS survey stations, switching them on, raising them above the snow line again and helping colleagues in Cambridge re-establish contact with them. A new GPS survey station was established in the MacDonald Rumples and due to the tricky terrain everything had to be man-hauled over the last few kilometres. The heavy batteries proved to be the hardest and it all made for hard but satisfying work.

With the arrival of the Shackleton looming, thoughts turned to finding a relief site.

The traditional Creeks site was located and found to have around 4km of sea ice from the shelf edge. This ice was mostly too thin for the heavy sno-cats to travel across especially when towing cargo and yet too thick for the ship to easily break through to reach a more workable surface. The more distant and less preferred N9 site looked equally problematic. We had to hope for a storm before the arrival of the ship to break the ice and wash some of it away.

Not everything was hard work though. Time was made for a trip to the penguin colony by Joe, Dean, Rich, Ags, Paddy and me. This was the first trip in a while due to the weather. It was great to see a large healthy colony with lots of large chicks and adults, probably numbering close to 10,000 birds. The winterers noted the change from the tight huddle during the winter months to the huge expanse of ice now covered. This being my first visit, I reflected on how lucky I am to be in such a wonderful environment.

Recreational trips were also made by Hannah, Rich and myself down to the Creeks. The steep walls of the ice shelf and sea-ice proved to a beautiful setting to spend an evening’s ice climbing. Separately, Joe, Dean, Les and Bryan could be found out on their snowboards being towed by Skidoos (skijoring) and kites could also be seen in the sky.

Christmas also provided a chance for us to relax, with most having Christmas Day and Boxing Day as days off. I say “most”, as the base still had to be run. Jobs such as night watches, fuelling the generators and weather observation were all maintained. Paddy cooked a superb traditional meal; no mean feat considering the lack of fresh ingredients. Other traditions such as drinking mulled wine and watching Bond movies whilst over-stuffed were followed!

Stormy weather had set in over the Christmas week keeping us all indoors but for the briefest of jobs. Large wind tails were again building all over the base and we were all eager to know what difference it had made to the sea-ice. As the sun came out on the 28th Scott, Ben, Rich, and myself took the chance to head back to the creeks. Getting there on the Skidoos was hard going as the storm had left a deeply uneven sastrugi surface. But on arrival we pleased to find Creek 4 to have around 500m of thick multi year ice with a good clean edge; an almost perfect mooring site. Work started on re-grooming and setting up cargo lines within the base, transporting vehicles and plant to the relief site, dozing ramps on to the sea-ice, flagging routes and marking hazards.

At around 4pm on New Years Eve Ags, Ben, Rich and myself were at Creek 4 watching the Ernest Shackleton sail over the horizon towards us and by 7pm hoards of enthusiastic summer staff, new winterers and ship’s crew had swarmed off the ship and were busy dig mooring anchors. It was great to greet everybody I had last met in Cambridge at the conference back in September.

The winter is over. Summer season has started.

Happy New Year!