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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Weather's Finalee

Summer's officially over, at least from the weather's point of view.

Antarctic storm looming over Halley

Last night a spectacular low span off the penisular into the Weddell sea. They usually head north and loose power, but this one circled inwards getting more and more fierce. This morning the wind was steady at 48knts and gusting into the mid 50's. With visibility under 10m, all work was cancelled and people only left the buildings to make essential checks. I've had a great day, catching up with an important item that's been on my todo list for weeks - "Do Nothing". And top fun it was too!

Down at the coast, the Shackleton slipped her lines and headed west to shettler in Precious Bay. Dodging icebergs using only the RADAR can't have been much fun. Hopefully the sea-ice at the bay will remain intact for her return.

The forecast promisses another few days at 30knts, then easing. This is great news as calms tend to follow storms, meaning we should (fingers crossed) get nice weather for the flight out next week.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Folk Night and Charity Ski

Star-Bug gets its nose

Last week went pretty well. The final module received its outer cladding, including the delicate nose-cone in excellent weather. Standing close up, it looks mighty impressive. Not so much a base, more an alien landing craft - a cross between something from Starwars and Red Dwarf's StarBug. Pretty futuristic, for sure.

I spent most of the week preparing for Saturday's entertainment - Folk Night. Not just music, but poems, acts and film, it was to be a night for everyone from everyone. A venue was booked, then changed as temperatures dropped and a small space would be easier to heat. Acts singed up and practiced in secret (an achievement in itself at Halley). Taking the description "Folk Night" literally, the band found a mandalin and started practicing some trad songs, when Kirk explain that "Folk Night" is infact a Rothera-ism for variety show, and any music was welcome. That clearer up, we put away the fiddle, shaved off our beards and went back to what we do best - soft rock.

Following the well-proven formula of big tent, big sound system and bigger pile of beer, a small gang of volunteers attacked the skidoo tent and produced the venue. The tent already had a stage, so we added some wings, lighting, a bar and tables in the form of empty fuel drums. Heading back in for a bite to eat, it looked good.

Folk Night

The acts were plentiful and hilarious. They included a team of construction workers singing "Welcome to Hotel Halley 6 Site"; a "Bloopers" film by Kirk; Various bawdy acts and songs; Poetry readings; a couple of accoustic songs by Mat; a play staring Dave S, twice, using the video screen; and finally, the girls with a superb spoof of Grease, with a wild dance routine and a pimped up quad-bike.

Grease is the Word! *

The evening concluded with our new band, Toucan Rool and the TickSheets coming back on with some boot shaking country numbers, complete with special guests on the mic and drums.

Special guests Manii (L) and Marlin (Drums) join us for Country Roads*

Vicky (the Boss!) joins us for a Waifs number *
(L to R) Andy, Mark, Vicky, Dean, Me!

After playing for about an hour, my fingers and throat were raw. Mark and Andy still had more to give and were joined by keen singers to blasted out a few last numbers while I sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. It was a top night, enjoyed by all, especially the contributors. Definately one of the highlights of the season.

Charity Ski

Sunday dawned cleared headed thanks to construction types hoarding all the beer and refusing to share, so I joined Jules and Simon with my kite to crank out some Charity laps. There wasn't quite enough wind for my snowboard, but on skis I was flying. Kite-powered and leg powered skiers raced like hare and tortoise - the kiter speeding away down-wind, but then having to make slow tacks to get back up for the return leg. On the slick groomed snow, 3.5 laps came up easily before my fingers froze and it was time to go in. In total, we managed 218 laps - a massive achievement with some incredable personal bests. Andy RAN 18laps. A mighty 90km. On snow. Wow!

The end is nigh

There's only a week to go, and I'm glad to be leaving. Winter was great, but I would be lying if I said the summer has been an entirely happy time. Psycologists will be dissapointed to learn that those of us who wintered together are not, in fact, at each other's throats. We've had a great time and still get on fine. However, the personality tests for contract workers don't seem so tight. There are some great individuals on the crew, but as a group they are spoiled by the selfish actions of some. Communal living requires consideration and empathy. Things like not one of them helping clear up after Saturday night; cigarette butts on the floor; using the new cordless phone at the urinal (yes, really), and generally being all take and no give; all add up and have made a number of us seeth. But that's just part of coming back to reality, I suppose.

Hopefully when the blizzard dies I'll get some more great kiting and skiing with my mates, so I can leave with fresh memories of why this has been, in the vast majority, an amazing year.

(Cheers to Pete for the stared photos)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Charity Sponcored Ski

This Sunday at Halley we are attempting to walk, ski and possibly kite the distance to the south pole! The total journey is 1600km and we'll try and achieve it by completing laps around the perimeter. Assuming everyone takes part, we'll each need to cover around 16km. No skidoos are allowed! I've pledged different numbers of laps depending on whether I'm on foot, ski or kite (although I'm hoping the wind will help and and can zoom round clocking up the miles with ease)

Training for the event

The charity we're collecting for is the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. For overseas readers (and British Landlubbers): The RNLI is the charity that provides a 24-hour lifesaving service around the UK and Republic of Ireland. Covering beaches, inshore and coastal waters, the volunteer crews brave trecherous conditions to save lives at sea. Having travelled through some pretty rough seas to get here, I can apprechiate the dangerous conditions the lifeboat crews have to face. Hopefully our efforts will add to their funds and allow them to buy the best kit possible.

For more on the RNLI, click here:

To sponcor us, or send a message of support, click here:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ups and Downs

It's been another week of contrast.

On the ups, we've had the last few tent going on, some cracking progress on the venue for Saturday night's party and a good end-of-contract appraisal. A small gang of us have been tunnelling like we mean it, building access tunnels to allow the modules to be inspected over winter. The best one even featured a trap-door entrance!

Module tent being craned into place

As some things go up, others go down. The 24 whiteness that defines the Halley summer is no more, replaced by a dipping sun and fantastic evening pastel shades that brings people outside to photograph, ski or simply just watch.

The first sunset in 3 months!

A pleasant evening for a ski

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Skijuring at sunset!


The Shack's back, bringing with it my Christmas box full of essential goodies like new clothes, books and the local paper. But there's no gain without pain and a quick dental check-up soon had Penny waving her drill at my teeth and fixing up the result of a high-sugar and low-fluride year. One filling's not too bad for a year down South, so I'm told...

Sunsets are making a welcome return, bringing with them perfect light for playing with my new camera lens.

Heading out to play

Passing the Simpson in the mist

Me, upright for once! (Cheers Jules)

Jules working it

Inspired by skateboard and mountain bike photography, I've been wanting to try and emulate that style with the kiteboarding at Halley. I doubt two weeks will be enough, but I learned a lot in one night. One thing's for sure - it's going to be fun trying...

In other news, the giant tent to cover other Halley VI modules have arrived. Working over the weekend to make the most of good weather, we craned them into place and padded out the beams to stop the material getting damaged by chaffing in high winds.

Padding the beams inside a module

Friday, February 08, 2008

Eat cake and kite to coast

Yesterday was an important first step towards a normal life. Planning, desire, pain and the warm glow of satisfaction - feelings encountered most weekends back home - came flooding back. I didn't take a camera, so I'll have to try and describe it all in good old fashioned words. Here we go...

We've had this little plan for a while: Kiting due north along fresh, groomed tracks to Creek 4, the pleasant bay where the Shack docked. Three attempts have been aborted due to poor wind, but at afternoon tea break it was blowing an enthusiastic 15knts and all looked good. So we booked a Snowcat back-up team and stocked up on cake...

So many cakes, such little time...

After dinner, the wind told a different story - now 9knts at most. Most Halley plans revolve around waiting the wind to stop. Actually wanting it to blow is rare situation to be in, but, guessing there would be more speed higher up, we headed out all the same.

Launching in the low wind was tricky. Maybe I'd overdone the cake, but the kite was struggling to pull me up. First impressions suggested another failure, but on edging out of the building's wind shaddow the breeze picked up enough to convince us to give it a shot.

Running along the smooth, groomed track to the skiway convinced us to give it a go. Jules' GPS hit 44km/h and there was plenty of go to be had, if you worked the kite enough to get it. Kites are different to all other sails as they can generate more pull as they move through the sky. A-level vector equations could put a number on it, but put simply, the more the kite moves, the faster you go.

Regrouping, we set off along the drumline flying in close formation: Yellow, blue, yellow, blue. Adjusting the trimmer, I sat back in the harness holding course with only a slightest touch on the bar. Kilometer markers flew by and we were gaining on the Snowcat. Splitting like the Red-Wing in attack formation, we passed the cat on both sides and powerd on towards the coast.

After a few stops to relax and regroup, we arrived at the caboose and parked up. Warm Ribena passed round and hero photos taken, Dean was keen to feel some gravity again so we launched down the ramp onto the sea ice. It was damn steep, but soft. Plenty of falls reminded me that it'll take some time to convert kite-boarding skills to "real" snow.

Heading home, this time riding switch (wrong foot forwards) and edging hard against the much stronger wind, my legs started to burn. Where the journey out was slow and steady, this was fast and furious - blasting only a 1km or so at a time, then stopping to wave my legs in the air and to try and recover. Contrast was now zero so my eyes couldn't tell my knees what to expect and they were taking the punishment blind. Eventually we rejoined the groomed track and could finally relax for the last few k's to base.

By the time we got in it was midnight and the bar was closed, but the ribena and laughs still flowed. We had flown just under 40km on (what we believe to be) the first official kite journey in Halley history. Legs barely moving, I limped off to bed very, very happy.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

January revisitted!

Dean's managed to recover the final few missing photos from my laptop, so here's a little round-up of some comings and goings from the last few weeks.

Taking down the mast

Simon and I pulled the loggers out the ground, then he and Dean headed up to retrive the instruments. The snake-like wiring loom was quite a battle!

Delivery driving

All the goodies pulled from the lab were transfered to containers or sledges ready to head back to the ship and on to new sites. Here's my current ride with some cargo on board.

Crane driving

After initial differences (like which way a lever should move for Up and Down), the crane and I have finally clicked. Together we've plucked cargo from rooves, pulled boxes from holes and lowered crates into containers. On a good day it's almost Jedi - I don't need look at the controls and the boxes move as if by mind power alone. Which is handy, as I noticed some of the CASLab stuff costs £60k per box!

Finding relics from the past

While sorting the emergency containers we found a gallon of "medicinal" brandy under a bunch of feral sleeping bags. Just what the doctor ordered!

Other than that, I'm still running the recycling, experimenting with the incinerator and planning the end of season party. The 68h week is taking it's toll and each day is ridden out on a wave of caffine. Compared with last year I'm finding it harder to socialise, as by 10pm I'm ready to collapse and try to grab 8 precisious hour before it all starts again.

That said, the ship's due tomorrow bringing my Christmas goodies, some petrol and a change of routine. All good stuff.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A day down the coast

What a top weekend!

Saturday had Wales' glorious victory (and some well justified banter), followed by the tightest band practice to date. We've settled on a set-list, a name - "Toucan Rule" (from two-can rule, the summer beer restriction) and a date, although the venue is still under negotiation.

Plans to kite-board to the coast are still on hold as the ceaseless wind has, well, ceased. I think there have been two kiting days in the past three weeks, perhaps an all-time low. However, Sunday was still and sunny so we headed down to the creeks for a spot of iceclimbing.

Walking in past a frozen Cenotaph Corner

Although the termometer said -10C, the still air and reflected light from the icecliffs made us incredably hot.

Down by the sea

Last weekend there were orcas and penguins swimming along the edge, but nothing today.

Ice-foot underwater

The ice was solid enough to get right up to the edge. The lower section is frozen sea, the upper snow packed down on top of it.

"Greasey Sea

Being totally still, the sea had a strange, half frozen greasy appearance. Futher out, ice bergs appeared and disapeared looming above the horizon. Very bizarre light!

Playing on the icecliffs

This is what we'd come for. Good, solid ice, about 25m high and amazingly warm. Running up the easy lines and chatting at the bottom reminded me of easy days on the Peak Gritstone. Construction staff as well as the base crew came along, so we had plenty of tips for Cape Town from the locals.

Me on the crux

Later on we chucked a rope down the difficult corner Toddy and I had explored during relief. Better light made it a easier to see the good ice, but no-less steep! With a few falls and lots of grunting, I dragged myself to the top. Others followed with a variety of styles from delicate technique to pure arm power! It was a great laugh.

Today work trudges on, but morale is high thanks to aching arms reminding us of a top weekend.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What's tidier than tidy...?

A 26-19 Wales win at Twickenham, that's what!!!

There just might be three Evans's singing in the bar later...

Looking at BBC with 1 minute to go