Thursday, March 29, 2007

Minus 32!

This morning brought our lowest temperature so far - minus 32C.

Richard, James and I started the day by digging a tonne of snow down the narrow shaft into the melt tank which provides all our water. Digging is done by rota. A month has flown by since I was last on and I wonder how much colder it will be when I'm on next.

One tonne of snow, down the hole must go

All that digging soon warmed me up, so I headed straight out to the CASLab to check the instruments I'm looking after while Neil's on his winter trip. CAS means Clean Air Sector - an exclusion zone of about 1km, up wind of the base, allowing studies of air/snow chemical interaction to be made. Never a great fan of chemistry, it's interesting seeing it in action.

The CASLab in action

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In the kitchen

The other day I was asked to expand on the daily life at Halley. With skies like last night, it seems odd to me that people want to know where I eat and sleep. But I guess it's the little details that make the bigger picture, so let's start in the kitchen.

Breakfast is cerial, or toast with fresh bread baked by the night watchman. It's self service with little conversation. Do you talk to your colleagues 5 minutes after waking up? I thought not.

Lunch is at 1pm. Compared with breakfast, the dining room is now far more lively and full of converstation. Antony, our full-time professional chef will have fresh soup, pizza and other such niceness ready and waiting. We eat, drink tea and read the truely appaling TeamTalk Sat News newspaper, which keeps us in touch with the UK at just below red-top level.

When we're back to work, Ant spends the afternoon singing along to 80's rock while preparing a big dinner comprising at least 2 dishes, plus a veggie option. Some days we have food, but more often than not, it's cuisine. Excellent carveries, fish in sauces and stunning veg mean we're all about half a stone up, despite the calory burning environment.

Any does get days off though! Thursdays and Sundays are taken care of by a cook's rota. This is me, doing my share...

Chef Evans at work

...Not Pasta Surprise, Ben! Sausage casserole (a la Delia) and veggie bean casserole in the making!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Big Sky Night

Last night we were treated to one of the most awesome sunsets on earth. It just so happend to be accompanied by a pleasant breeze.

We had a lot of fun.

Big Sky

Matt, tanking it

Kiters heading in

Click Here for the rest

Big thanks to Matt for the use of the quad, and everyone who flew past the lens "Just One More Time"...

Friday, March 23, 2007


It's not all 'Club 18-30 on ice' down here! No really!

For most the last week I've been baffled by sensors on the CASLab mast cutting out for no reason. It's over a kilometre away, so a good walk or ski. But as soon as I get back, the problem seems to return! After numerous trips, I've isolated the fault to a power supply and have made a temporary replacement while I build a permanent fix. More trips next week then, but the weather should improve which means excellent skiing!

A kilometre walk with an offending mast at the end

We've also been ticking off the annual checks on other instruments. This afternoon Tams and I climbed the met mast to calibrate up the Present Weather Detector, a cunning device to measure snowfall rate. Mast work is interesting and good fun. There's a lot of co-ordination and even more planning involved in doing fiddly jobs when dangling from a harness in -15C.

Calibrating the PWD

Kite + Snowboard = Fun

Yesterday was great.

After four days of wind and snow, the sun came out and I got to catch up on all the outdoor work that the weather delayed. As Kirsty was away and Tamsin cooking, I was running flat out all day.

After dinner, the wind picked up so I headed straight out with kite and board. I'd not tried boarding with the kite before, having stuck with the familiar skis, so I was a little apprehensive as the kite took off. At first I sat on the ground, strapped to the board with the kite above me, puzzled and going knowhere. Then it clicked - lots of power and an agressive tug on the lines pulled me up and away.

With only one other person out it felt like I had the whole iceshelf to learn on - and I needed it! The motion of the board suits kites better than skis, and in many ways it's easier although it'll take a while to become as natural as skis. Even the crashes were fun (in that perverse 'picking scabs in important meetings' kinda way that only mountain bikers will understand). Fantastic!

On a different note, here's a photo of the 80's party, courtesy of Mark.

80's Night

Back row, from left: She Ra (Kirsty), Karate Kid (Jules), New Romantic (Neil), Miame Vice (Pete), Optimus Prime (Me), Brian May (Mark), Striking Miner (Dean), Miame Vice (Tom), Kid From Fame (Sune)

Front row, from left: Crocodile Dundee (Jim), Dr Emmette Brown (Alex), A Yuppie (Richard), Mr-Spoon-with-spaceship-and-button-moon (Tamsin)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The photos are up!

Scroll down for winter trip report, now with pictures!

Or click here to see the full gallery.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Cheers for all the birthday messages. I'm dead chuffed and am deeply missing the usual get togther to drag bikes through knee deep snow and mud. Hopefully Bec's weekend will provide the necessary suffering/celebration.

A Post Work Drink in The Ice Bar

Anyway, being in Antarctica doesn't mean missing the party! Not at all.

On The Day itself, we happend to have dug a large hole to retieve a mirco-baragraph (highly sensitive barometer) for its annual raising back to the surface. It must have been a particularly snowy year, as the hole was over 2m deep by the time we found the thing. Not wanting to waste such a large excavation, we worked the shovels some more to create seating and a small bar. At least half the base turned up for an ice-cold post work beer with the icey setting and pumping techno creating a good apres-ski atmosphere. After a couple of drinks (with nibbles), we headed back to the platform where Ant had cooked a great lamb curry. Superb.

As Wednesday was a work night, the main partying was defered to Saturday. That evening we assembled in the bar to celebrate the decade that taste forgot - the 1980's. Yuppies, strikers, super-heros mingled with detectives and music lovers, setting the bar high for the first party of the season. Photos, as ever, to follow...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Field Trip - Part 3

Friday morning came cloudless and cold making reaching out from the warmth of my sleeping bag to light the tilley quite unpleasant. Not wanting to waste time on such a good day, we scoffed breakfast and pulled on our harnesses. While Alex and Tom spent the morning hydrating and filling flasks, Sune and I roped up and headed out to an interesting looking set of crevasses and pressure ridges a kilometre or so away.

Out on the ice

Early Antarctic authors talk a lot about the snow conditions as the state of the surface makes a big difference to the ease of travelling. Plodding through two days’ fresh snow was hard work as each step sank to knee depth, draining energy fast. Things got easier as we entered the crevassed region of blue-ice as now our crampons could grip a solid surface and we could walk normally again. We spent a good hour exploring the beautiful area of ridges and valleys before heading back, this time with me in the lead forcing my way up steep soft snow back to the tents. After lunch, while Alex, Tom and Sune headed out I sat on the top of Stoney Berg, taking photos and revelling in the feeling of being totally isolated.

Stoney Berg

We spent the final evening eating in the tent and swapping stories of where we’d been and what we’d seen. After much discussion (and a little port), we decided to name the principal valley ‘Desperation Gulch’! We also argued over the name of a particular 80’s pop song featuring a long and self-indulgent drum solo. Dean settled the matter at the evening radio schedule by playing Phil Collins ‘In the air tonight’ over the HF radio. As HF can cover vast distances, there could have been a few very puzzled radio hams listening on the air that night!

Alex and Sune play for big stakes...

Packing up camp took longer than expected due to the mounds of snow covering sledges, tents and boxes, but after three hours the skidoos were linked up and we set off. Riding back was straight forwards, except for the one steep slope that had caused problems on the way in causing trouble on the home leg too. Sune lead down the slope, accelerating so his sledge wouldn’t ram him. As we were travelling linked, I had to accelerate to keep up, so went over the blind brow faster still. Coming over the crest, the rope to Sune’s doo led straight across two large mounds, forcing me to throw my weight back and blast the throttle to make the doo jump as I wanted it too, rather than of its own accord. Amazed that the sledge had survived, I pulled up at the base of the slope to watch it tip, right at the last moment, on the flat!

From there on it was easy going and we arrived back just in time to wash off the stench of paraffin and sit down for dinner. As we unpacked, hung sleeping bags over doors to air and sorted racks of climbing kit on the floor, I smiled to myself as the base started looking very familiar. Much like an old student house in Bangor.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Field Trip - Part 2

As we were covering grond well, Sune decided we would pass by the usual campsite and continue through more technical terrain to camp at Stoney Berg. Stoney is covered in the first and last pieces of rock we’ll see this year, having scraped them off the surface of the continent sometime in its journey down the glacier.

The weather had closed in during our arrival leaving the bare pieces of rock being the only detail in an otherwise completely white world. Stoney Berg rose 30m to our south and I pictured a similar berg to our north, imagining our campsite in a small col. Pitching camp took about three hours leaving us all tired and dehydrated (it was 9pm and we’d last eaten at 11am!), so we piled into my tent and melted snow to make man-food and plenty of tea.

Tom practices with jumars

Wednesday morning brought more snow and poor contrast, so we stayed in, drinking more tea and filling flasks for the afternoon. It takes a lot of snow to fill a flask – solid compacted snow reduces by 3:1, fluffy new snow only 12:1. To save going in and out of the tent for each brew, we cut lumps and stacked them within arms reach of the door. By the afternoon the weather had lifted enough to venture out and practice crevasse rescue techniques. We abseiled off the back edge of Stoney, then jumarred back up the rope with our crampons keeping feet steady on the vertical ice wall. Once we were all happy with extracting ourselves, we ran though the set-up of a 5:1 Z-pulley, which we’d use for hauling a broken mate up if he couldn’t rescue himself. Rope-work in thick gloves isn’t the easiest of things, but we were all happy with the system thanks to Sune’s instruction. Sadly we didn’t get a chance to test it, as the wind picked up forcing us back into Tom and Alex’s tent for dinner.

Twice a day, at 9:00 and 21:00, we radioed back to base to let them know we’re all ok. In his small office on the Laws, Dean took down our co-ordinates and passed the weather forecast. It didn’t look good – heavy snow with winds peaking at 30 knots. For two days.

The weather kept it’s promise and blew a steady 25 knots for two days, keeping us in doors. As much as I hate to explode a myth that Antarctica is all harshness and heroes, it was actually not unpleasant. Compared with camping in the Lake District in the rain, sitting out an Antarctic blizzard is remarkably civilised. The tent is big (you can stand up), warm (the storm lamp belts out loads of heat) and conformable (four layers of bedding see to that!). The only problem might be boredom, but on Tamsin’s advice I’d packed loads of books. The day passed with chatting, reading, writing and that 21st century explorer’s essential – the Ipod. In the evenings we all piled into one tent for food, cards and a warming glass of port.

Pyramid tent at night

By Friday night the storm had blown itself out. After talking to Halley at 21:00, Sune stuck his head into the tent saying Rothera were asking for me on the HF. I called up “Rothera, Rothera, this is sledge bravo. How do you copy? Over” and Tristan’s Merchant Navy radio officer’s voice came back clearly. It was great to speak to Tris, Matt and Rob whom I’d trained with in Cambridge. They said Fantasy Island was closing down for winter and complained about the cold although it was only -5 over there. This lead to lots of in-jokes about ‘real’ Antarctic verses the ‘banana belt’ and good banter before I had to sign off to save power.

Heading back to the other tent, the wind had dropped and clouds lifted to reveal the most stunning campsite I'm ever likely to see...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Field Trip - Part 1

We've been out in the field for 6 days. T'was absolutely fantastic.

One of the key reasons for taking this job was the chance to get out and see proper Antarctica. BAS is unique among Antarctic operators in offering winter trips to all wintering staff, not just those with scientific projects in the field. There are two reasons why: 1. Winter trips are essentially survival training. Everyone operating away from base, even for a single day, must carry and know how to use survival equipment. This benefits scientific work as more trained personnel means more people available for off base work. 2. They’re great fun!

Loading the Nansen Sledge

With these two objectives in mind, Sledge Bravo (Sune, our guide, Tom, Alex and I) spent a glorious Monday packing our bags and lashing the kit boxes to our Nansen Sledge. The BAS field system appears beautifully Heath Robinson, but works exceptionally well having evolved over 50 years. It’s based on a number of colour-coded wooden boxes classed as “radio” (red, military spec HF field radio) “pots box” (blue, stove and lamp), “tent box” (yellow, plates etc), “inside food box” (white) and “man-food” (wooden). “Inside food” contains luxury items such as frozen helpings of Ant’s excellent food, nice tea bags and plenty of cake. “Man-food”, a box packed with army-esque dehydrated rations, was named so to avoid confusion with dog food when Huskies drew the sledges. Today six petrol cans take the space formerly occupied by dog food boxes, but the name remains. Rescue equipment was stowed beneath our skidoo seats and personal bags lashed to the load rack. By dinner time, we were ready.

The Antarctic weather is a fickle thing. Tuesday dawned with dense fog and sub-500m visibility. We moped about making final checks and drinking tea until the sun rose and the visibility lifted at around 11. Ready to go, we fired up the skidoos and headed east. We were all riding ‘field doos’, specially prepared Bombardier Alpine 3s with studded tracks, GPS navigation and a meaty 550cc two-stroke twin motor. The fiery motor initially proved difficult. Solid sastrugi (wind blown frozen snow) forced us to travel slowly to avoid damaging the doos, but as two stoke motors work better at high revs, progress was quite jerky.

Travelling with linked skidoos

After 20kms we linked the skidoos in pairs allowing one rider to rescue the other should he fall into a crevasse. With only 5km to go before reaching camp, we approached a steep ridge. Hitting it square-on at full power, Sune and I cleared the top with no problem. Alex and Tom weren’t so lucky, the steep slope and bumpy snow tipping both their sledges. Weighing in at 600kg each, it took all four of us to right them and a tow from Sune to get the unit re-started on the steep bank.

Setting up camp

Setting up camp took a good two hours as we wanted to make it absolutely bomb-proof. First the soft top-snow was dug away, then the icey surface levelled before the tent could be set. Inside the tent runs a central board holding the “pots”, “tent” and “inside food” boxes. Bedding of karri-mats, thermarests, sheepskins, down-sleeping bags and fireproof blankets are chucked down each side and only then can the kettle be put on.

Click here for more photos

Monday, March 12, 2007


Dirty Street Riding - Cardiff, March 06

I felt a lot colder this time last year. Waiting for the bus to take me from Paul and Janet’s to my interview at BAS HQ, I wondered how I’d cope with Halley if I felt this bad in Cambridge. As I was settling in South Wales I didn’t ‘need’ the BAS job, so entered the room relaxed and honest. A week later a letter said I had missed the mark for the second time. I didn’t bother phoning for feedback, as whatever BAS wanted, I clearly didn’t have. Or so I thought. Six weeks on I was executing ‘Plan B’, attending interviews to carry on up the corporate ladder, when an email came out of the blue: BAS had a vacancy and did I want it? Feeling a little anxious about an unknown future, but massive excitement, I jumped.
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A Cracking Website

For brilliant photographes of Britain's industrial decline, click below...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stunning Sunset

Tonight was simply stunning. Click the photo to see some more...
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Yesterday the blow stopped and the sun came out. The wind dropped to a perfect 15 knots so we got out flying for the afternoon. It was -20, but felt a whole lot warmer.

Sunlit Kite with Halo

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Friday, March 02, 2007

To answer your questions...

Cheers for all the questions. It feels like I've been giving more feedback than Spinal Tap's amps, but it's all good fun. Here's a few that might interest everyone.

Skinny Dave asked:

"Are there any contingencies against people getting lost other than the guidelines?"
Yep. A number of people in their second year on the base are trained in search and rescue practice. This involves searching the area by sweeping using a line attached to one of the buildings. After each sweep, the radius is increased until the whole area is searched.

"Do you carry radios or have to sign in or out?"
Both. There's a peg board to show where everyone is, a signing out book (with time due back) and we all carry VHF radios with a spare battery.

"What sort of clothing do you wear on your 'commute' to work?"
See below!

Neil (EA) asked:

"A boring question for you.What's the food like now you're established on the ice?"
Not a boring question at all! The food is simply fantastic. Antony, our chef, has worked all over Europe and used to manage a large fine-dining restraunt for a large international company. A Saturday night meal down here would cost no less than £30 if you were eating out in the UK.

I'll do a whole post on the food later.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Anarctic Attire

Back in the day, the top tailors of Saville Row were appointed to design clothing for Antarctic expeditions. We may not be sporting Burberry today, but there are still similarities between the pioneers’ kit and our own. The first is that all our kit is damn good stuff, similar to that found in both the outdoor leisure and Alaskan oil industry. Secondly, traditional fabrics are still used where they’re known to out-perform the more modern stuff. Ventile (windproof but breathable cotton) has been used since the 1940s and fur, well, since we were living in caves.

For working indoors, I’ll wear: ‘Moleskin’ trousers and thermal top; Mid weight fleece; Normal socks, pants and trainers.

But for travelling between buildings and working outside, I need to add:
Giant Orange Overall; Ventile Windproof smock; Fleece neck gaiter; Thermal undergloves and Thinsulate work gloves; Rabbit-fur and leather hat; Yellow-tint ski goggles; Mucluk steel-toecap 5 layer workboots. All in that order!

Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man - (ZZ-Top)

All outdoor clothes are kept in the well heated boot-room, making faffing about trying to find that final glove a most unpleasant experience. After a bout of over heating (boot-room-rage, in the lingo), stepping out into -15 is most welcome!

A Blow

Antarctic weather has a lot of its own definitions, unique to the region. For the last five days, we’ve experienced a ‘blow’. This blow has brought easterly winds of about 30 knots, whipping up so much snow that visibility is reduced to a few hundred meters. There is absolutely no contrast, which coupled with the constantly moving snowdrifts makes getting about difficult as what was an easy path on the way to work might be covered in invisible drifts on the way back. Such a rouge drift caught me out again today, landing me on my bum on the way back from checking the Stephenson screen!

The Laws Platform through the snow

In a blow there are no natural features, no definitions on the ground and not even a horizon. The only way I can think to describe it is by taking a sheet of clean A4 paper and holding it against your face whilst looking at a bright light. If you’re reading this on company time, go try it over by the printer! Go on. Do it…

Handlines leading to work

So we don’t get lost, hand-lines run from one building to the other. I wouldn’t fancy my chances of guessing my bearings without them.