May – The first month of winter

30 May, 2007

Hello and welcome to our first proper month of winter here at Rothera. By winter proper I don’t mean that its all that much colder (we don’t get the really low temperatures until after midwinter), but this has been our first full month without any ships or planes, just the twenty-two of us on base, as it will be for the next five or so months.

The month of May has brought us much shorter days; in fact the sun disappeared behind a mountain a couple of weeks back and hasn’t been seen since! We do still see some amazing skies as the sun approaches the horizon behind the mountains, with the clouds blazing like they are on fire and the mountains of the peninsula in the distance turning a blood red.

During the winter months the whole team mucks in to keep the base running, there is cleaning to be done, Sunday cook (so Cyril gets a day off), and nightwatch, which we take turns at doing a week of each, to check the base for fires and to make sure the science programmes keep running while everyone else is asleep. My week of nightwatch was in the middle of May – it’s not to everyone’s tastes, being out of sync with the rest of base, but it does give you a chance to do all those little jobs that build up, like sorting through the thousands of pictures that you take. And it was a good opportunity to get on with my winter present, ready for midwinters week next month.

Throughout the whole of the month our resident band has been working hard, writing, recording, and rehearsing for the Live Earth concert to be aired to the world (or at least 2 billion of you) on 7 July. They are called Nunatak and you can see them playing alongside the Foo Fighters, Snoop Dog, and Lionel Richie, they even did a concert here at Rothera for Marks Birthday!. Now we can say ‘I saw them first!’

May has also seen the last of the winter trips return to base, and I can tell you that compared to last year the weather has been a lot better this time around. Everyone managed to get out camping if they wanted to, although by May there was so little daylight in which to travel and set up camp that the last trippers couldn’t stray too far, and so camped about fifteen kilometres from Rothera at the base of a mountain called Trident, where they managed some good climbs despite the short days, but they did suffer a few days of lie-up (enforced tent dwelling) due to bad weather.

Towards the end of the month, with everyone back on base, Liz came up with the idea of a Halloween fancy dress night. As always, nobody could think of what to come as, and left it till the last minute (me especially), but on the night, some amazing costumes were on display. We had a three-man pumpkin (still with a hint of wet paint), Freddie Krugger, Beetlejuice, and the Devil himself. Our base commander did show a disturbing need to dress up in as a woman yet again! He appears to have found his calling as a dizzy blond girl – all be it a bit broad across the shoulders and with rather a lot of stubble.

The morning before the fancy dress party held its own excitement in the form of a huge Leopard seal, which was seen in north cove having caught a Fur Seal. Most of the base was soon arranged on the beach with an impressive array of cameras, camcorders, binoculars, etc like the paparazzi, ready to record every movement of the Leopard seal. For most peoples cameras all the action was a bit too far away to capture, so no doubt Jessops will be receiving a flurry of orders for the latest Ultra Mega Zoom Super Lens, for delivery in December – well we need something to spend our money on down here don’t we?

A final adventure happened on the last Sunday in May, when on his way back to base from Stork Bowl, Rob had one of his skis fall off. Not a point worthy of note on most occasions I know, but in this instance the ski continued on its way out of the flag line and towards some fairly large ice cliffs and the sea. Rob was, as you can imagine quite annoyed at the loss of his skis, especially so early in the winter. All appeared lost when up stepped a couple of courageous GA’s (well Pete and Liz) to spearhead a daring search and rescue mission. Roped, Harnessed, and Jingly Janglied up to the hilt, the intrepid duo set off along the track left by the ski, across frozen and crevassed wastes they searched but without success, that is until they reached the ice cliffs and were about to give up when teetering on the edge they spotted it – the ski within just feet of oblivion had stopped. Forging ahead, Liz retrieved the lone ski and returned triumphant to base where it was returned to its very grateful owner.

Well that’s about it from me, I hope it has proved an interesting month to read about as well as to experience for us.

Love to all my friends and family back in the UK and further afield, not forgetting all last years’ winterers, and even the Tomahawks.

Richard Hall

Terrestrial Assistant