Halley Diary — March 2005

31 March, 2005 Halley

Winter Trips


March is always an exciting time at Halley because after the ship has left, winterers begin their winter trips. It is our type of holiday down here and for most people the first time to get away from the station and experience the real Antarctica. As every activity during the trip is based on a buddy system (two people roped together for safety when walking or travelling on skidoos through a crevassed area, they also share their pyramid tent etc), usually 4 people go on the trip together. The field assistant for our wintering team Ian- is always one of the four, guiding the participants, teaching the appropriate techniques, and making sure that we all got back to the station safely (thanks Ian!).

The first party left soon after we had waved good-bye to the RSS Ernest Shackleton. The parties are named according to BAS tradition after the sledges, so the first party was sledge Alpha, the next ones Bravo, Charlie and Delta.

Linked travel (skidoo-short line-sledge-long line-skidoo- short line-sledge) requires a bit of experience and a lot of concentration, so we had a few little mishaps, especially during the start of the trips. When sledge Bravo left, someone nearly managed to pull down the Halley signpost with the last sledge (okay, okay, it was not someone, it was me….)

All trips went to the hinge zone. In this area the ice slides down from the Antarctic continent and forms many crevasses, making it a stunningly beautiful and interesting place to explore. The campsite was about 40 km away from the station. The camp consists of two pyramid tents. The front one on the photo has the radio antenna placed beside it. Once every day we call the station to let them know that we are ok. In the background to the left you can see the skidoos covered with a tarpaulin, so that they do not get snowed in, should the wind pick up. All the necessary equipment for the field party is held in wooden boxes, which are in front of the tent. They are made to fit onto the Nansen sledges (background right).

One of the most amazing things about camping out there is that, if the wind dies down for a moment, it is totally silent, a silence you will never be able to experience in our busy world back home.

Inside the pyramid tents it is not as cold as you would expect, especially not if you have your tilly lamp and the primus stove running. Ian proudly reported temperatures from + 35 degrees (about head height, which is where you place you boot liners to dry or warm up) to � 18 degrees Celsius (at night) in his tent. Craig found out that there is no need to open your wine bottles, because the corks were pushed out of the bottles by the freezing wine.

When you wake up in the morning you need quite a lot of willpower to get started, because your expedition sleeping bag is all warm and cosy and the tent is very cold. You have to put on the kettle, without moving too far out of you sleeping bag. (Or you wait for your tent buddy to do it!).

If the weather was all right we went out for walks in the Hinge Zone. Everyone had the opportunity to abseil down into a crevasse and have a look around. For me this was one of the most memorable moments of the trip, as I hade never been inside a crevasse before. The crevasse was covered in the most beautiful regular ice crystals and the light was blue and eerie. Again it was totally silent and only ice crystals falling to the ground made a little ringing sound.

Sledge delta at first could not get started because of the weather, so they had to spend several days on the base. Simon (our winter base commander) spent these days catching up with his paperwork.

Behind the scenes at Halley

Many people have asked me during the last months how we get our water, so I thought I explain it in the dairy, as it involves quite a lot of work. And although it is not as exciting as exploring crevasses it is part of our everyday life

The station is built on the ice shelf, which consists of frozen fresh water. For melting it we have a melt tank, which was once close to the ground. Due to the accumulation of snow on the surface, it is now deeply buried in the ice and connected to the surface by a long (and narrow) chute. Every morning 4 people set out to shovel snow into the opening of the chute. Usually once a week Gareth pushes up a big mound of snow around the opening with the bulldozer, so it is not all done by hand. Still it can by quite rough to dig snow in a 30-knot blow. If you are really unlucky, you can block the chute with snow, than you have to climb down to the melt tank and unblock it.

This month all the accumulated snow around the melt tank was cleared out, which was a good opportunity to take pictures down there.

Around the melt tanks one can see an impressive display of the force of the moving ice: it breaks wooden beams and bends the metal coverings of the walls.

We also try to save water (and do less digging) wherever we can, so showers have to be extremely short, washing machines fully loaded etc.

Birthdays in March

At Halley we have to provide our own entertainment and cannot just go to the movies or meet friend at a pub. Therefore birthdays are always a reason for a celebration.

In March we celebrated two birthdays: The first one was Mike’s, who got a big chocolate cake with the model of a field camp on it.

Frances birthday party was a kid’s party, complete with clown, piñata and lots of balloons. The clown even tried to make some balloon animals, but they were rubbish so I will not show them here.

Our dear readers may have wondered what the answer to Hoc’s question was (see January’s diary, Hoc of Halley, last sentence): The answer is (of course) YES.

Congratulations from everyone at Halley!

Lots of love to my family and friends at home