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...


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