Friday, May 09, 2008

Rehab, Postscript and Close

This is the final post. And honestly, I mean it this time.

I didn't feel like writing much when I left Halley and deliberately didn't post from South Africa as that was "Me Time", a wind-down and much needed breathing space after the intense summer season. Having heard so much about the high crime rate I first feared Cape Town, but in only a few days South Africa was pretty clear in my head: two cultures, Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac, co-existing in a still new but un-easy closeness that everyone I met really wanted to work.

South Africa: A Country of Hopes and Fears

South Africans love their sport, so it was a great country to catch some waves, ride a bike and watch the rugby. With friends from Halley, I explored the Cape then headed East along the wonderful open roads of the Garden Route. From Port Elizabeth onwards, I traveled alone calling at surf mecca of Jefferies and lesser known spots on the stunning Wilderness Coast, finally reaching Botswana for a few days mountain biking in the a game park.

White Lines. Running through my mind

Packin' heat in the bush

Returning to the UK was as depressing as I expected. Mechanised voices seemed to drone out safety notices at every opportunity, but I supprised myself by getting from London to Llandefalle (the top of a hill, in Wales) using public transport!

Since being home I've caught up with most old friends and other than a few marriages and children, it's like I never left. My fitness is slowly returning, helped by a big new mountainbike that needs big legs to power it!

Workwise, the interviews I lined up before leaving Halley proved worthwhile as the UK is not a place to try and live off savings. I'll be returning to a water industry consultancy in June.

Back in the Shire

So, on reflection, Antarctica was great, but it's good to be back. Will I go return to the South? Not this year, and probably not next. But, like Bond, I'll never say never....

Thanks for reading, for all the comments and email and in particular the random cards and other stuff through the post. If you've got something like this in mind - go do it - you'll be fine.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Radio 4 - Team Spirit

The Radio 4 programme we contributed to some months ago has been broadcast. I've not heard it yet, but others say it's good so here's the link. Click me.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cape Town

As with any Antarctic journey, our final trip started early and immediately the waiting game began. With the sun well and truly hidden, the temperature at 4:00am had dropped to -25C and the plane was iced up. It didn't look much, but as the pilot neatly put it - "it's enough to kill us". Frantic scrubbing with meths got the wings clean and an hour later we look off.

The first hop took us to the South Africa station "Sanu" for fuel. Already 2 weeks into their winter, the whole base turned out the greet us and chat while the Basla guzzled Avtur .

The Balsa, ready to leave Halley

Taking off again, we flew for another 3 hours before landing smoothly on the Russian Blue Ice Runway at Novo. Novo is the centre of Antarctic air operations. Think Heathrow on ice, and you're not far wrong. We had no time to look as we rushed straight onto a waiting Soviet era cargo plane. With no window, screeching engines and the feral stench of Antarctica (boots, thermals and canvas, all heated to 25C) the 6 hour journey made easyjet seem like heaven.

Ilyushin IL-76 on the deck, Cape Town (Link)

But we made it. Back on tarmac, back to reality.

The 12 Apostles. Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town's a far better place for rehab than the Falklands. In one day I walked up Table Mountain, ate perfect steak and danced the night away to cheesey live bands. It's kindalike Dar Es Salam meets Cardiff St Mary's street. And I'm off to enjoy it all.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

24 hours to go!

It's my last day!

All my personal possessions are boxed up ready for the shipping back to the UK, leaving me with the welcome simplicity of one rucsac and a camera to enjoy South Africa. We'll be leaving at 5am tomorrow, flying to Cape Town via South African and Russian stations en-route. Apparantly the Russian base (where we'll spend a few hours) has plenty of relics from the Soviet era dotted about. The camera is fully charged...

Back here, work is pretty much finish. The final module is complete and we popped over for a nose about. Very impressive. More space station than ice base.

The completed module

The interior is a classic modern design, familiar to anyone who's used student accomodation. Considerably more spacious than the current base, the rooms are also sound insulated to "good hotel standards" so sleep maye an option in future summers.

Inside a new bedroom

Although the summer's been long, leaving so late means I've got one more glimpse of the fantastic colours of the Halley evening. Bright orange under the sun, soft pastels behind and deep deep blue above. For a place with no features, it really is beautiful. Nights are now totally dark and there's only 10 weeks till the sun sets entirely for another year.

Destination: North

Time to give this computer back. See you in Cape Town...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Still Blowing...

Yesterday, the wind died down and we ventured out to assess the damage.

Massive deposition had left drifts up to the tops of the buildings, but the new Halley VI modules, and their tents, had survived. Out went our merry gang to dig everything out...

Can you tell what it is yet?

...and up came the wretched wind to fill everything back in again...

Clearing the drifts

It's meant to die off tomorrow, and remain calm for the week. Many fingers are crossed tightly in the hope this is true.

Still. What a great Wales score!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Futher Reading

For those of you want more from the frozen south, here's a brief selection of the many Polar books I've read over the year. I've picked one from each era to try and give a broad view of Antartic history. They all cover not just the expidition's aims, but the everyday happenings that bring character to any story.

The Heroic Era
The Voyage of the Endurance
Sir Ernest Shackleton
The ledgendary tale of the loss of his ship, and subsequent boat journey to South Georgia. A timeless classic

Back in the Day
A World of Men
Wally Herbert
ISBN 413 26280 4
A personal account of surveying Antarctica in the post-war "Golden Era" of dog sledging. Excellent writing from one of Britains last great Polar explorers. Herbert became a world authority on polar travel and lead the British Trans Arctic Expedition on the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean. His observations and humor make all his works a pleasure to read.

Of Dogs and Men. 50 Years in the Antarctic.
Kevon Walton and Rick Atkinson
ISBN1 897817 55 X
Awesome stories covering all 50 years of dogs sledging from 1954 to 1994. Stunning photographes and witty accounts lead the reader to discover the dogs' fate at the hands of the beaurocrats.

The Thatcher Era
On Antarctica
Len Airey
ISBN 0-9708699-0-8
Not all years go as well as our did. Airey had to contend with difficult colleagues and even Argentine invasion! Nevertheless, the lure of the South kept him returning as this gritty account reveals.

Present Day
I dont know about any recent books, but the excellent Z Fids website keeps links to blogs current and past. There are also great anecdotes from those who've lived and worked at Halley.
Cool Antarctica provides a similar service to a wider audience.


Snowed in for three days with all work cancelled, I started packing my bags and digging out summer clothes ready for the oven-like heat of Cape Town.

Preparing to hand back the base laptop, I browsed my photos as they saved to disk. And I’m so glad I did - What a year! Bad feelings from the last few weeks were replaced with fantastic memories: the rush of changing work and living out of my van for the first few weeks; colleagues becoming friends as we dashed round the country learning new skills; the excitement and anticipation of joining ship and the tug of leaving people behind.

Come swim with me!

This was so much more than a job. It was an adventure taking in three continents! Sunset barbeques in the tropics with dolphin playing in our wake, blasting through South Atlantic swells in speedboats and smashing through solid ice with Orcas cruising the edges. That was just the commute! Cracking little aircraft, giant tracked vehicles, seriously fast skidoos (and the naughtiness of finding this out) added to the schoolboy’s dream-come-true. Mix in an eclectic range of characters and my life was only one murder short of a Tintin story.


As winter set in, out little group scurried out on our trips, making the most of the remaining light and warmth before following the entire continent into hibernation. Mid winter was stunning. The peacefulness of a star-cover sky and the surreal beauty of the Aurora Australis will stay in my mind forever. By now we knew each other well and had no difficulty passing the long night with games, music and the occasional knees up. Regardless of wine, jokes and laughter flowed freely

The little moments of insanity kept us from going mad - Spike Milligan

In August the sun returned, firing up our lives like a shot of adrenaline. We bounded across the ice shelf like animals released from their winter quarters to lush green grass. Buoyed by this enthusiasm, the science projects swung into motion, gaining more critical data to determine man’s impact on the earth. But it wasn’t without challenges. The sun’s energy had also excited the weather systems and they too were out to play. I’ll remember the bitter, ceaseless winds of September and October for almost as long as the Aurora.

Cold fingers. Hot data

Despite its efforts, the weather didn’t stop us getting out into the field. Waking up in a tent at –35C tested the fingers, and the mountain of clothing round my neck rubbed like a collar on an unbroken beast. But just being out there made it all worthwhile. Decades-old hot chocolate tasted like pure bliss after a cold but glorious day skidoo-ing swiftly over fresh snow.

Evans attempts Attenbourgh

With summer came wildlife. Birds appeared in the sky and we followed the growth of penguins from eggs to adults. So too came people. First as friends, greeted with enthusiasm as each plane brought a few more links to the “real” world. But as the numbers increased, they became invaders and my home a prison as the walls closed in. Everything that goes on in the real world also happens in Antarctica. Only here, there are fewer escapes. Those escapes became more valuable as summer passed. Each trip to the cliffs or time on the kite gained greater importance and I slowly realised this was, in-fact, an important part of me readjusting to normality. The greatest escape of all comes on Wednesday. A flight to Cape Town.

2007. Somewhere on the wall between 1957 and 2057

Back at Halley things will rumble on in a similar manner to the last 50 years. The methods change, but the tasks remain the same. Scientists study the environment, tradesmen keep the base running, and everyone shovels snow. Halley is a testing place that not all leave smiling. The Shackleton’s crew delighted in describing the hollow shells of characters they’d hauled home in the past. They wont get that pleasure this year – we’re all leaving as keen and enthusiastic for the future as we were when we arrived.

It’s been bloody great.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ceaseless Wind...

The annexes get buried

As far as blizzard's go, this is a good 'un! And it's got another day to run...

Toucan Rool

Here's one that should've been on below - the band's Toucan sign. Shamelessly pinched from Guiness, he was joined by a Tommy Cooper-esque penguin in a fez.