Friday, February 22, 2008


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.


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