Monday, September 24, 2007

Sledge Golf - Part 1

Friday 14th - Packing

Traveling round Antarctica needs a lot of kit, but the system used has evolved well over 50 years and is pretty much unbeatable in its environment. Each tent pair has a main sledge (known as the Full Unit) containing enough fuel, food and spare parts to last two men four weeks. It weighs about 500kgs fully loaded. If that wasn't enough, we also take two extra sledges (Half Units), as back up, and to give the freedom to travel away from camp on day-trips.

A Fully Loaded Field Unit

Field Assistant Sune (an overly modest job title, if ever there was one. Try "mountain guide and man of international environmental knowledge" and you're getting closer) had worked hard through the winter overhauling the sledges, replacing runners and re-lashing legs. Sledges get a rough life, but are as well looked after as any vehicle. Each has a service history and mileage log by which maintenance is carried out, so the chance of fatigue-failure in the field is low. Much lower than tipping them over at least!

As they had been unloaded for the winter, we spent most of Friday packing boxes, filling jerry cans and finding frozen portions of "Ant Food" to keep us off the dehydrated "Man Food" for as long as possible. By sunset, the units sat outside the Laws, ready to go.

Saturday 15th - Riding and digging

A clear and bright start gave us a good get away, leaving late in the morning after downing as much Ribena as possible to try and stay hydrated. Remembering a cold face on my last outing, I'd found a full-face skidoo helmet with visor and was soon speeding along enjoying a warm nose.

We headed for The Rumples, an area of hillocks and crevasses formed where the Brunt iceshelf strikes an underwater ridge, forcing it to rise. When I first flew to Halley back in January, we crossed the area and were amazed by the maze of jagged ice. Buzzing along for 18km on the skidoo, I hoped it was going to be as much fun on the ground.

The Rumples with sea-ice beyond.
(Take from the air, back in January)

The ride took less than an hour. For most of the way we traveled un-linked, but as the crevassed region got closer we hitched the skidoo and sledge units into pairs, so should one fall into a crevasse, the other would break its fall and rescue the rider!

Sune and Tom pitching their tent

Arriving at our camping spot, we circled twice to check for holes and once satisfied, parked up and unpacked. Like everything else in Antarctica, setting up camp takes a long time. About three hours, but there was a lot to do. Tents were dug in about a foot below the snow with a big valance buried to keep them planted in a storm. The pyramid design is pretty much bombproof and good ones are know to have survived 100knt gusts. Skidoos needed re-fueling and covering in tarpaulin, the toilet tent pitching and the radio antenna pointing the right way. Only then could we have a brew and think about heading out to explore.

An evening walk

It was a good wander, up through the crevasse fields to a point above the campsite. We traveled in a rope of four with Sune at the front, finding a route and prodding any suspicious snow. The large crevasses were fairly obvious to spot, running perpendicular to the slope with their snow-bridges sagging beneath the line of the land. The smaller ones, however, were much harder to see. A fine surface crack only a few centimeters wide could easily reveal a slot wide enough to swallow a person! Thankfully the snow-bridges were quite strong and although a few of us put legs through up to the knee, no-one vanished completely!

Me,getting iced up

Although it was sunny, the temperature hovered around -30C with a bitter wind. I was wearing five layers, plus the massive Canada Goose down jacket when stopped, but the cold would still creep in so we didn't hang about and quickly turned back to warmth of the tents.

Phews, this has taken most of the afternoon - more tomorrow!

The the meantime, there's some more photos here.

Sledge Golf - The full album


Blogger Paul Capewell said...

Absolutely fascinating as always, and thank goodness for the pictures too. Love it. :)

5:34 pm GMT  

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