Saturday, 23 July 2011

Winter Holiday (part 1)

Well it’s been a few weeks now, and I’ve only just got round to writing about my holiday! Even though winter is supposed to be my quiet time of year, with no breeding seals or penguins, I always seem to be as busy as ever, boating, counting birds, collecting seal poo, looking at plankton… Finding time to blog about my activities seems to be some way down my list, but I am trying!
Our campsite hidden in the tussacFortunately though I’ve had a chance to go on holiday for a few days to recharge the batteries. Sam (the doctor) was keen on getting away too, so we decided to head over to the Greene peninsula for a few days exploring. We were dropped off near the Harker and Hamburg glaciers by boat, and then made our campsite. A flat area sheltered between tussac lumps just above the beach was chosen, so we shovelled it clear in the knee deep snow. Stamping it down with snow shoes and then digging out chunks seemed to work well and I’m guessing had it not been for the calm weather and sunshine this part of the trip may have been slightly more arduous than it was! The ground was frozen, and stony, so getting the pegs in was a bit of a nightmare. With a bit of ingenious use of the tussac lumps, long guys and some snow walling we had a secure pitch, and could go for our first explore.
We headed up the beach towards the Harker Glacier, a walk of just over 1km. Progress wasn’t particularly swift, having to move through boulders of ice from the glacier that were beached on the shore (picture right), or wade through the deep snow above the beach. It was lovely to be out and about exploring somewhere new and beautiful in the snow. After a while taking photos of the glacier we headed back towards camp. We took a bit of a detour to try and get some height to look over the glacier and down the fjord, but with such deep snow it was incredibly hard work to get even a few hundred metres, even with large snow shoes you still sank at least to the knee!
20110608-DSC_9432Back at the tent I got the stove going eventually, first having to contend with a leaking fuel bottle seal which sprayed my sallopettes with paraffin. Fortunately there was a new one in the spares kit so we were still able to have hot drinks and watch the evening sky change through it’s pastel colours. Being almost the middle of winter it was getting dark quite early, so we got into out sleeping bags to stay warm until dinner time, by this point it was already -7degC. Sam had sensibly prepared some real food which we could reheat, a much better option than the usual ration packs.
20110608-DSC_9468With such a clear night it would have been rude not to take some photos, so wrapped up like a pair of Michelin men we tromped around taking photos in the bright moonlight. This did limit us slightly by drowning out the Milky way, but did light up the scenery beautifully, and didn’t get in the way of a nice time lapse of the camp, glaciers and mountains. Leaving the cameras firing away every 30sec we retired to the relative warmth of the tents having filled our nalgene bottles with hot water. Two hours later I nipped out to collect them, boy was it brass monkeys, it was freezing! The temperature recorded at base had dropped a further 3 degrees since the evening, so I don’t think –10degC would be far off the mark.
20110608-DSC_9469Posing for a photo outside the tent
Travel was almost impossible in the deep snow, so we decided to head for the end of the Greene peninsula and see if the conditions were any better. Sam carried her rucksack, and I packed a pulk and rucksack. Skinning along made progress a little easier in the snow, although I was still sinking in quite deeply. The pulk did it’s best to make life difficult too, acting like a snow plough or tipping over whenever possible. After some experimenting I got the weight balance better, carrying the large rucksack, and dragging the smaller one. The weather deteriorated during the day, with more snow falling. The 6km to the hut took several hours to cover, and by the time we arrived we were thoroughly worn out. We agreed that there wasn’t much point in staying cold and damp without the possibility of going walking so we asked for an early pickup the next day should the weather not have improved; it didn’t, so we headed back to base. It was a shame that we cut short the holiday, but at least we had one spectacular night camping, something I shall always remember.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Mid winter festivities

Ever since people have been visiting Antarctica it has been a tradition to celebrate mid winter. In the Northern hemisphere Christmas and new year celebrations brighten up the winter, but they fall in the middle of our summer here in the Southern hemisphere, so we turn to midwinter to mark the solstice and for those further south the start of the return of the sun, and a good excuse for a party.


One tradition in BAS is that winterers make one other person on base a mid winter present (MWP). We picked names out of a hat months ago, and have had time to plan, design and create. As time passed little signs appeared all over the place, MWP stuff keep out, MWP in progress keep out, on boxes, cupboards, doors and dust sheets. Everyone has been getting quite excited about who had who, and what everyone had been creating. Everyone has put a lot of time, thought and effort into their gifts, and the results were all amazing.



Wooden map of South Georgia with turned wooden tankard created by Katie for Rob. Trinket box created by Matt boat for Ruth. Turned whisky flask and measures created by Matt mech for Robert. Wooden photo album created by me for Sam. Fudge made by Maureen for base. Scale half hull display model of one of the harbour launches created by Keiron for Ashley. Candle holders and box created by Matt mech for Maureen. Sculpture of a Marlin created by Tommy for Katie.
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Picture of Maiviken with inset pictures by base members created by Ruth for me. Ukelele created by Rob for Tommy. Journal of pictures and events created by Sam for Matt boat. All the presents together. Missed in the other photos: Games board and pieces by Robert for Matt mech. Reclining deckchair and a yacht wind scoop (red thing left) created by Ashley for Keiron.

These photos don’t do the gifts justice, they are quite stunning. Many, many hours of careful work, blood, sweat and tears (all literally) have gone into them, and they will all be treasured.

Following the exchange of gifts we had our traditional mid winter swim. Everyone (apart from Robert the Gov Officer) was pretty daunted by the prospect of jumping into freezing water, although the worst part had to be walking across the sheet ice between the sauna and the sea. Ah the sauna, I don’t know how well humans work as heat batteries, but we were going to try anything to reduce the pain! After a few minutes heating up we slipped and slid our way down to the beach, posed for a group photo then ran into the sea for a very brief swim. Unsurprisingly we didn’t stay in for long, and were soon making our way back to the sauna, but not before a few of us rolled around in the snow. This wasn’t the best idea, the melted and refrozen snow being something like abrasive sandpaper, I guess we’re well and truly exfoliated now. A beer and some mulled wine in the sauna warmed us through again so we could start preparing our evenings feast.


Dinner was a grand team effort with everyone doing their bit to make sure it was a suitably splendid feast. Matt boat and I were in charge of decorating the dining room, making the menu and setting the table. I also had to make Yorkshire puddings. Well, in the heat of the decorating I clean forgot the Yorkshires, a sprint to the food store and Aunt Bessie saved my day! Having had a look at the design of the menu used on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition I followed their style in creating our menu, and some of our food took inspiration came from their meal too. Roast Lamb, beef, pork and turkey, roast potatoes, roast vegetables, stuffing, lots of wine, champagne, liqueurs and a baked Antarctica were just some of the delights of the feast.


20110621-DSC_0762 Having eaten our fill we headed over to the communications room to listen to the BBC World Service mid winter broadcast. With customary Champagne in hand we listened to the HF radio crackling away with messages from family, tunes that we had picked, and messages from guests and celebrities. This is a long standing tradition with BAS and the BBC, and is great to be a part of it. After leaving the comms room we headed back to the lounge for more drinks, snacks and to listen to the broadcast over the internet minus the crackles!

20110621-DSC_0774Putting the Government officers and their partners to work!

The rest of the evening was spent drinking, eating and chatting away the hours. We even called Rothera and Bird Island who were both having as good a time as us, although Katie managed to forget speaking to Rothera the instant the receiver was put down! It was a great way to finish to a truly memorable day. Cheers everyone!


Friday, 1 July 2011

Around Grytviken at night

Having taken quite a few night time photos from base of the Milky Way I decided it was time to venture over to Grytviken. Without the moon the stars seemed brighter than ever, and with a bright 1 million candle power torch I could even light up objects from a distance.

20110524-DSC_8053 Last photo of the night of base

Heading over to Grytviken there are plenty of opportunities that catch attention. The shipwrecks, the machinery, the church, whalebones all cry out for something to be done with them. I thought that the milky way looked a bit like smoke rising up into the sky, so tried to incorporate this idea into some photos.

20110523-DSC_7993Whaler ‘Petrel’

The red and green navigational leading lights caused some interesting lighting effects. I tried not to let them become too strong though using the cool LED light from my headtorch. Exposures were 30sec and the iso was set quite high, so not much light was needed.



I ventured a short distance up the Gull Lake track to look over Grytviken and back towards vase. It was a good vantage point, and I could use my powerful torch to light up the buildings. Some of the photos looked like the base was being beamed up to a space ship.


20110524-DSC_8043-mergedAlbatross and Diaz, old sealer boats

Something I have started to have a play with is large panoramic images. At night these are particularly tricky as joining up the multitude of stars accurately is a bit of a nightmare, and that’s before distorting and blending all the files too, this image was composed of 14 individual frames. Some software helps a little, although I still had to manually input control points. I think the result was pretty good though, it would look great projected onto the inside of a planetarium.

20110524-circular panorama