Halley Diary — February 2008

28 February, 2008 Halley

What a busy month! With so many people on Halley, I suppose it’s no surprise but it’s difficult to know where to start: Halley Lifetime studies, Halley VI construction, panels and tents, Halley’s first Folk Night, three Winter Trips, the sponsored Ski to the Pole, climbing trips or the Basler departures?

My February certainly started with a rush. I flew out of here. Not that leaving Halley is a good thing, but it’s always nice to get to see what is going on around about. We flew out over the Brunt, low over our neighbours, the Argentineans at Belgrano Station, and on to the Filchner Ice Shelf to move a remote ozone sensor closer to the shelf edge. At the shelf edge it was bitterly cold with a fierce southerly wind sculpting barchans out of the drifting snow. Fortunately Andy R, the scientist in charge, is phenomenally well organised and the job was soon complete and we were airborne again.

Mark, our pilot, in his usual calculated way, killed two birds with one flight and had us lifting the Theron fuel depot on the way home. The pictures show what a pleasant spot the Theron Mountains make for lunch, although the fuel drums do have a tricky tendency of being iced in up to their waists. The depot itself is one of the few crevasse free spots, a safe haven surrounded by slots, much like Belgrano.

The 3rd of Feb is the day after my brother’s birthday. Here it was one of those still, endlessly clear crisp days and a Sunday. It’s been pretty steady hard work this season and so Sundays are an important day off – if you can get them. Kirk and Toddy made the most of the weather by whisking a big team down to the coastal cliffs for a spot of ice climbing while I was off with Ryan, the Halley Lifetime scientist, to go and investigate the MacDonald Ice Rumples, an intriguing feature that wrinkles the horizon seen from the dining room windows. Up close it’s a mass of broken ice where an underwater lump plays havoc with the ice shelf creating an impressive bulge surrounded by perilous stretch marks. Ryan was busy trying to measure just how the crevasses are stretching but was also keen for us to make a GPS transect of the area to help with one of BAS’s mapping projects.

Back on base the action hadn’t stopped. The next few days saw the cladding start to go onto the first Halley VI module transforming it from a giant dinosaur skeleton into something remarkably close to the computer generated images we saw a year ago. Simultaneously, more of Halley V was being shut down. The CASLAB, where many of the properties of unpolluted air are studied, had its power turned off and its equipment packed away ready for its eventual move to the new site at Halley VI.

The next sign of the impending winter was the imminent arrival of the Ernest Shackleton. Dean and I flew off with Mark to check out the sea ice conditions. We found her cheerfully ploughing her way through a thin skin of grease ice only a day away with the good network of leads, like wide canals, offering her rapid passage through the ice floes. Then she was here. This relief was much calmer than the previous one, a small team to offload more fuel drums and backload the sorted waste. The winterers had their dental check up with Penny – ably assisted by Hannah and Lance our wintering doc and vehicle operator (aka the dental assistant). In return for such excellent treatment Penny got taken for a climb up the ridge of tilting berg, at three pitches, it must have been the longest route on the Brunt Ice Shelf.

While the remaining Halley VI modules had their enormous tents put on the first set of winter trips got ready to depart. Paddy and Les were selected to be the first out and we departed, Toddy leading the way, for the Hinge Zone on the southern edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf. These winter trips are a tricky mixture of field training, adventure and holiday.

Sledge Alpha was lucky. The weather was cold but clear and we got out every day, a heady cocktail of linked skidoo driving, ice climbing, crevasse caving and the joys of Antarctic camping. Travelling the skidoos and sledges are all tied in a line for safety in case of crevasses. This makes for a bit of a long caravan to wind its way around the weird scoops, peaks and hollows of the Chasms, the part of the ice shelf that fractured many years ago leaving wide valleys of snowed in sea ice, with marooned ice bergs, surrounded by crevassed walls.

Sledge Bravo wasn’t so lucky. The weather turned wild and confined us and everyone else to base. The winds howled outside at up to 40 knots, although the Shackleton had it worse, hove to with gusts of up to 75 knots and the sea ice from Precious Bay bumping past her. Leaving the Laws Platform meant entering a maelstrom. The snow gets everywhere. Your goggles mist and then freeze up. The wind jabs any exposed skin with a vengeance and the raging world is all an unnerving white. The wind tails soon build up, so rapidly that the extra summer accommodation outside the Drewry Building was shut for safety reasons for fear of the doors being snowed in thus turning the Laws Platform into a refugee sanctuary for a few nights.

Sledge Charlie headed out straight after the big blow; the world, once again, transformed into a cold clear paradise. We camped next to Aladdin’s cave and from there ventured out in all directions exploring many of the landmarks of this bizarre land. It is quite an art to ensure that as much as possible is crammed into the good weather without the team coming back exhausted. There appear to be two secrets: variety and hot puddings. It was great to be out with a group who would get back from a five hour ski tour have a cup of tea and then jump on the skidoos to drive down for an evening’s climbing on the North Face of the Matterhorn (a particularly pointy berg). Hats off to Dean, Hannah and Ags for being such an enthusiastic and positive team throughout the trip.

In between all that activity Halley celebrated a weekend of culture and sport with the first Halley Folk Night and the first Halley Sponsored Ski to the Pole. Kirk did an excellent job organising people and putting together his outtakes film, Jim dressed in a dinner jacket – while others were hugging their down jackets – was a fine compère and Lenny and the Band were on fine form.

It was certainly a surprise that quite so many people managed to get up the next day to participate in the Race to the Pole the next day. The alleged aim was to see if we could, as a base, ski, walk, run or kite the equivalent the distance from Halley to the South Pole in laps round the perimeter: 1602km or 320 laps. Stars of the day were Nicola for organising the whole event and putting in ten laps (50km) herself, Andy R for an astonishing eighteen lap run (at 90km is this the longest run in Antarctic history?) and the kiters Jules and Simon who kept speeding past the rest of us as they clocked up laps. The total number of laps: 214 or 1070km. A little shy of the Pole but the real aim: getting as many people outside as possible so the sixty participants from ship, Halley V and the construction team certainly made the event a success and so far we have raised at least £4200 for the RNLI.

February also saw the first Basler load of the summer crew depart, the Polar 5 Basler pass through, a mammoth snow hole digging mission and several birthdays, including Joe’s our youngest winterer. Summer’s certainly drawing to a close, the light changing from the steady brittle white of high summer to the golden glow of the Antarctic Autumn the temperature slowly dropping with it.

Thanks also to Dave Stephenson, Dean Evans, Andy Cheadles and an anonymous donor for the pictures.

Rich Burt
Wintering Field Assistant and Deputy Winter BC