Halley Diary — November 2005

30 November, 2005

First visitors

It feels strange to recall the end of the winter now that summer is in full swing! During November we went on the last of the post winter trips. While Frances, Ian Jamie and myself were out camping in the Rumples (as Frances mentioned in the October diary) a strange incident happened. I was inside the tent when I heard an unfamiliar noise, which I could not quite place. At first I thought something was wrong with the Tilley lamp but than I realized that it was coming from outside. Frances was outside and shouted quite excitedly that she had seen a plane. We all scrambled out of the tents and searched for binoculars but by the time we had found these plane had gone. Assuming that no aircraft could pass without the station knowing of it, we radioed them, but they denied any knowledge, no-they certainly had not seen or heard of an airplane anywhere near, the plane surely must be a product of our imagination!

They stuck to this version till we got back to base a few days later and saw the photos of the plane on various computers. The plane had been the Basler flight coming through on the way to Novo and various other bases. This time they stopped only briefly both for refuelling the plane and eat a few sandwiches. Before takeoff our fellow winterers had asked them to fly by our camp. So these were the first visitors to Halley after nine months of isolation and we missed them!

Another group went out to stay in the caboose at Creek 2. These were Ian and Matt plus a third person. As Steve could not go on his trip after his brave encounter with a polar bear (see October diary) somebody else had to make the sacrifice and step in for him- this lucky person was I.

We did long walks on the sea ice, enjoying the brilliant weather and meeting the odd penguin. There were ice caves to explore, which open towards the sea ice and could be accessed from there. These caves are filled with curtains of ice crystals, which when you touch them fall down with a little tingling sound and are illuminated with icy blue light.

Unfortunately the weather did not hold and brilliant sunshine was followed by a five-day blow, during which the only voyages outside were from the door of the caboose to the P- flag and back.

The question most people ask now is: How did you keep yourself occupied? Well- You sleep (a lot), you eat (also a lot). We also found a few games in the caboose and had brought some books.

We also planned an expedition to the South Pole on camels. We asked the base during the daily radio sched (we call in once a day so that the base knows we are ok) to find out about the workload of a camel and its food requirements. I think by than they had their doubts about our sanity, which were of course totally unjustified. (Needless to say the environmental protocol of the Antarctic Treaty would no allow the introduction of camels to the Antarctic, but that is just a minor flaw in the plan).

After our return another party was due to go out, affectionately labelled ‘Sledge Geriatric’ because our senior base members formed that group (Mike, Jeff and Craig) They needed to prove to all the young lads that they had more energy left than anyone expected and went on a man-hauling trip in best Antarctic explorer tradition.

But November was not just play, for most people it was actually hard work, because the base needed to be prepared for the arrival the summer visitors. In the Drewry summer accommodation, where all the summer visitors live over the summer, Matt had to start the generators and Jamie made sure that there would be water and heating. Everyone joined in to do the general cleaning.

Speaking of cleaning: we also do a few big scrub out sessions on the Laws platform, the main accommodation to get everything nice and shiny for the summer.

Another major task due before the beginning of the summer was the cleaning of the melt tank for the Laws platform. For a day we had the luxury of long showers to empty the tank. Once it was empty there were no showers at all allowed for while giving us a taste (or the smell) what it must have been like in earlier times.

We found an interesting collection of things down the tank (several shovels, two pairs of sunglasses, a radio, chocolate wrappers, chewing gum, penguin feathers and a thick layer of dirt, which we wondered how it got there). In case someone is worried now whether the water is safe to drink: It gets filtered and UVied before consumption.

Filling the melt tank again took longer than expected but after a few days we were able to enjoy showers again.

Writing this diary (sorry for being so late!) gives me the opportunity to look back on a year at Halley from some distance (because by now I am actually on the RRS Ernest Shackleton). It was privilege and a unique experience (not always easy, but I did not expect it to be) and there will be many things-, which make Halley a special place- I know I will miss back in what we tend to call down here the real world: -To just walk a short distance from the main building and hear nothing except for the wind, – the clear bright light on a sunny day, – Auroral displays, – snow formations formed by the wind and taking a different shape every day, – the sky, which appears so much wider than at home and a thousand other little things.

I learned to appreciate the importance of many normal things, which I took for granted at home, like eating a simple fresh salad (or even strawberries!), visiting friends or taking a bath, but water feels so much more precious now.

(Also, having been responsible for the waste management, I will probably never just put my waste out of the house again without thinking of all the people who have to deal with it afterwards.)

Love to friends and family- see you soon!

Petra Schmidt