Friday, 30 December 2011

Dawn in Grytviken

With the prospect of a clear night I decided to take some star trail photos over in Grytviken. It’s a long time since I’ve been out at Grytviken at night, and I’d almost forgotten how incredible it is.

20111209-trails_v3 Albatross and Diaz, old sealer boats, moonlit mountains and star trails

Knowing the area well is definitely a bonus, as is knowing where the rotational point will be. I had wanted the pivot point to be nearer the corner of the photo, but that would have meant loosing the mountains in the background. With such short summer nights I set the camera going at about 11:30pm, and went back to pick it up shortly after 3:00am, even at that early hour it was light, and only a couple of hours of trails are possible.

20111210-DSC_1530 The remains of the old jetty make interesting silhouettes

20111210-DSC_1543 Sunrise

On my way back round the track I stopped for a while with “Track pup”. Track pup is the first pup born on the track this year, to male and female Fur Seals that are unfazed by people walking closely past on the track. Pups are very curious, and sitting at the edge of the track quietly they will often come and investigate. It’s nice to have such a calm family to admire whilst walking the track.

20111210-DSC_1564 Male Fur Seal strikes a typical pose overlooking King Edward Cove

20111210-DSC_1587 Handsome male Furrie

20111210-DSC_1609 Female Furrie sleeps quietly on the beach

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Glacier training

James our new base commander has been a Field assistant with BAS in the past, usually we aren’t allowed onto glaciers, but with his expert guidance we were allowed to do some glacier travel training. For this Tommy, James and I headed over to the Nordenskjold glacier on the jet boat, heading ashore in dotty the little tender, Matt boat and Katie drove the jet boat.

20111222-P1010600_pano Nordenskjold glacier

After upturning dotty and putting some rocks on to weigh her down we got kitted out and walked up the moraine through a tern colony in search for a suitable place to get onto the glacier. Crampons, ice axe, harness, helmet, rope, backpack, rack: consisting of ice screws, slings, prussic, pulleys, jumars, abseiling stuff, all jangling around our waists.

20111222-P1010605Tommy, James and me on the glacier

20111222-P1010608James and Tommy abseiling into a crevasse

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Here is the crevasse that I abseiled into! It was pretty incredible, you couldn’t really see the bottom of it where it disappeared to down into the ice either. Fortunately the glacier was ‘dry’ which means there isn’t snow covering the crevasses, so you can see where they are and therefore walk around them. It did mean lots of weaving around though finding places to cross between crevasses.

20111222-P1010620The previous day we had some training in ropework. This included abseiling, using jumars to ascend the rope, and constructing a pulley for rescuing someone. Once we were on the glacier we were able to do some more training, and the first thing was to learn how to place ice screws to form a secure anchor. These anchors are what we then used to abseil into the crevasse. It’s a slightly strange feeling to have two people dangling off three screws stuck in the ice!

20111222-P1010617While we were venturing into the crevasses it started to rain, so we put on our waterproofs, full length leg zips were definitely a bonus. We explored a bit further, but decided that the rain was probably in for the rest of the day so started heading back to the edge of the glacier. There were a couple of tricky sections that James belayed us for. Traversing a small ice ridge gave a good demonstration of how effective crampons are, Tommy had not used them much before and was pretty pleased.

Once we had made it back to Dotty we changed into our boatsuits. They are perfect in cold, wet weather, totally waterproof and well insulated. We moved all our stuff down to the shore by which time Katie and Matt had reappeared in the Jet boat to pick us up, and I did the ferry runs in Dotty. A short blast back to base and we were done for the day. Great fun and a brilliant experience. I can’t wait to do it again, maybe cross the Nordenskjold?

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Monday, 26 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Woke up on Christmas eve to find it had been snowing, I had woken up just before 3am to see if I could see Comet Lovejoy, but it was cloudy, and there was no snow. Fortunately that was early enough to go back to sleep. Then when I woke up just before 8am I found a classic winter scene! I had to take some photos one of which I have been using as my Christmas greeting.

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It didn’t snow for long, but left a few centimetres. The down side of snow, slightly ironically for an Antarctic base is that it nocks out our internet and main communications satellite link! That did make for a peaceful morning though, and when it all came back on later in the day I was able to phone home to wish mum a happy birthday.

All the Antarctic bases send each other eChristmas cards, here is our base photo, taken on the 20th it was much nicer weather as you can see!

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On Christmas eve we went over to Grytviken Church for a service of carols and readings. The church was lit by candles and looked really pretty. There was also mulled wine, always a bonus on a chilly evening. It felt particularly Christmassy being cold with snow on the ground. Afterwards, back on base, we exchanged our secret santa presents relaxing in the lounge. Matt mech had welded me the most enormous mug out of a piece of steel pipe, I reckon it holds a couple of litres, brilliant :-) !

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On Christmas day I had to go over to Maiviken to count the Fur Seals in the study plots. Before that though, our new base commander, James, had made croissants, and a cooked breakfast, so I left feeling well fed. It was a chilly and peaceful walk, and quite nice to get off base for a few hours.

20111225-DSC_2359 Light-mantled Sooty Albatross in Maiviken

On Christmas day we all keep off the internet and have time slots each so that we can ‘skype’ friends and family, this way it works reasonably well and you can usually get one way video too. It was great to call home and chat with my parents, sister, niece and brother-in-law.

Dinner in the evening was the full trimmings, canap├ęs, prawn starter, 6 cooked chickens and a rack of beef, roast potatoes (which a cruise ship kindly gave us), veg, yorkshire puds, stuffing, gravy… Desert was even better, trifle, gin and tonic sorbet, raspberry sorbet, lemon tart, delicious! Then it was Irish coffee and a fruit cake (all the way from New Zealand) to finish off the evening.

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Well, that’s it' for the moment, it’s snowing again, but the internet has just started working again, so I’ll get this uploaded quick while everyone else is still in bed, I’m on earlies today. Leftovers for dinner, easy :-)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Whaling stations and Prion Island

At the start of October we were visited by the Governor of South Georgia, who is also the Commissioner of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. While he was on base we took him out to see various local places of interest, culminating in a sail by of several of the abandoned whaling stations (Leith, Stromness and Husvik), and a visit to Prion Island in the Bay of Isles. This fitted in well with the Albatross monitoring work that I have been doing this year to monitor the breeding success of the the Wandering Albatrosses on Prion.

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Managers villa, restored but plagued by Asbestos so out of bounds

20111010-DSC_8182Many of the buildings are remarkably intact

For the Albatross monitoring work I needed an assistant, Katie was coming to do plankton trawls in the Bay of Isles as part of her long term monitoring work, so came to Prion too. As we are allowed to have three personnel off base at a time I asked permission from the government to bring an extra assistant. This was granted so a draw was taken to see who out of people that are in their last year of working here would be the lucky Prion assistant! Out of a hat came the name of Matt Holmes (mechanic).

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Wandering Albatross chick loosing it’s down Albatross footprints are big!

October is towards the end of winter, and the chicks have started loosing their down. They spend the winter alone at their nests with parents visiting to feed them. Sometimes the harsh winter weather is their undoing, but this year all 25 chicks that were counted in April survived. There was still plenty of snow around at our visit, and we would occasionally fall into a soft patch, and sometimes get stuck too (usually that was Katie ;-).

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Getting the chance to see these incredible birds at this time of year is a rare privilege. Cruise ships visit during the summer months, but have to stay on a wooden boardwalk to protect the island from trampling feet. Being able to visit each nest, recording the presence of a chick, adults, snow depth, tussac condition, seal activity etc. while the chick sits completely undisturbed by your quiet presence is an incredible feeling. To think that all being well, and if they manage to avoid the hooks of longline fishing boats, these birds could reach 50 to 60 years of age! Locally they should do well at least, the long line fishery here in South Georgia is exceptionally well managed and regulated to preserve fish stocks and prevent seabird bycatch. Other areas of the oceans where these birds wander however are unfortunately a different story altogether. The Save the Albatross campaign by the RSPB and BirdLife is trying to change things for the better so give their page a read.

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20111010-DSC_8433Matt, Katie and myself with one of the Wanderer chicks

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Winter travel

Over the winter we were fortunate enough to have some good downfalls of snow. This causes a few issues in getting around, as we have to take snow shoes, skis, avalanche transceivers, avalanche probes, snow shovels, warm clothing… getting around in the snow is also hard work, but it makes the scenery even more beautiful, and going down hill can be more fun too!

20110820-DSC_3489One beautiful day we decided to head off out skiing towards pinnacle pass. Tommy, Ashley, Rob, Pat, Sarah and myself headed up past Gull lake and into the lower stretch of the pass, on to some of the nicer slopes. Being a beginner Rob gave me a few pointers and I tried to sty mostly upright. I have to say I did a rather impressive face plant, but by the end of the day I had got to grips with turning left. Turning right still alludes me somewhat!

pinnacle_pass360 degree panorama from just below pinnacle pass
(click on the text to visit an interactive 360x180 panorama)

20110809-DSC_2674Travelling over to Maiviken to collect seal scats during the winter  is quite hard work in deep snow. Snow shoes or skis were order of the day and making it an over night trip provided some welcome time away from base. Skiing over in time to walk up Spencer Ridge, watching the Gentoo penguins come in to roost, and collecting scats before camping the night. Conditions were pretty much ideal on the first day, but the way home was mild, damp and the snow was like cement sticking to skins.

20110809-DSC_2738_Panorama360 panorama from Spencer Ridge

Tommy requested an expedition to stay in the sealers cave at Maiviken, so off we went on a lads winter sports expedition. Well, when I say sports, Tommy is a bit of a wiz on his snowboard so was doing most of the ‘sporting’ and I did my best to avoid falling over!

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At the top of deadmans pass (Lewis pass)

20110827-DSC_4271One of the gullies on the way had a nice steep snow slope, a cliffy section and some loose powder, so Tommy decided to have a play while I had a go at my snow sport photography. For a first attempt I was pretty pleased with the results, you can even read the make of the board. It was a stunning day, so spending some time playing around on the snow was definitely worth while.

 

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20110827-DSC_4397We picked up some gear from Maiviken hut, and some scrap wood too for a campfire in the cave. Because of the cold temperature and frozen wood it took a bit of time to get the fire going, spare wood was stacked around the fire warming and drying it ready to be burnt. While we cooked up dinner and drank port Tommy discovered his spoon was missing, so as anyone in the wilds would do we each whittled one out of some of the firewood. I was pleasantly surprised how well my spoon came out, Tommy’s snapped so I presented him with the one I made. He then went on to carve it a propper handle too. Tommy had made his customary tussac bed to insulate himself from the ground and smooth out any bumps. I opted to sleep on the wooden platform inside the cave, and had a very comfortable thermarest.

20110828-P1010278Almost whiteout on deadmans pass

The next morning we headed back to base, although the conditions were pretty atrocious. Driving snow and low contrast made it almost impossible to ski, so we donned snow shoes to head down the hill and back to a toasty warm base.