September


By Jon Seddon (Electronic Engineer),
Duncan Cameron (Field Assistant)
and Mark Ryan (Communications Manager)

September has seen the start of the post-Midwinter field trips. Everyone spending the winter at Halley gets to go on two field trips during the winter. The first is for around seven days in March or April. The second is generally for ten days and is in September or October. Jon, Kevan and Ben were away on the first trip with Duncan. Duncan is employed as Field Assistant or GA (Field General Assistant). He is an experienced mountaineer and makes sure that our trips are safe. His experience also allows us to get the most out of our trips. Some of the areas around Halley are quite dangerous with crevasses and ice cliffs so our chances to get away from base are limited, especially coupled with the sometimes inclement weather. Field trips are therefore hugely important and looked forward to by everyone.

A map of the Brunt Ice Shelf Duncan's diary from the first trip is below. Over the years, people working in the Antarctic with BAS have developed their own words for some of the things that we do. Some of these words come from BAS' naval beginnings, but others are more obscure. We've put together a glossary of some of these terms.


Post-Midwinter Trip Diary

Date:

Friday 13th September - Sunday 22nd September

Sledge Name:

Foxtrot

Personnel:

Duncan Cameron
Kevan White
Jon Seddon
Ben Norrish

Overview:

Initially proposed 10 days/9 nights, but first night spent back at base due to a skidoo breakdown. Three nights were spent at the McDonald Ice Rumples exploring sea ice, the grounding zone and crevasses. Thereafter remaining time spent at the Hinge Zone campsite, exploring environs and further a field. Dominated by cold temperatures of between -30°C and -40°C.

Days:

Friday In keeping with the current wx. trend, started bright, -40°C, clear with a light westerly wind. By mid AM solar radiation taking effect and fogging out. After some waiting departed for Creek V caboose down the drum line. Visibility poor for anything more. Encountered very rough sastrugi. On arrival at caboose found one of the older orange doos to have sheared a suspension mount. To avoid any further damage there was nothing for it but to return to base. Fog in and out for rest of day, clearing in evening. Night spent on base.

Saturday Refreshed and raring to go. Improved vis., -39°C, nil wind, solar radiation bringing with it early mist, clearing, westerly wind increasing in evening.
Linked travel from base directly to A210 survey pole, thence onto Creek V caboose. Able to navigate east following Creeks, fantastic scenery, avoiding slotty places, to a waypoint "Rumples Central" where we made camp in dingle wx. 2nd orange doo needing suspension bush, field repairable.
PM. Found decent route onto sea ice and explored immediate bay area, much grounded and calving of ice edge. Found three large, in pup, Weddell seals sunning by entry hole. Once out of bay, ice much younger, being too thin to make a seaward circumnavigation of Rumples. Walked over older more stable ice in the area of the westward Creeks before returning to camp.

Sunday Dingle, -32°C, colder later, no wind at first but picking up later. Bitter wind-chill in PM.
Decided to try a traverse of the Rumples from a tongue on the seaward side. Initially easy access to grounded bulk of Rumples, then route finding through crevassed region to negotiate hazards, awesome views. Traverse finally leading to the south side, detoured well south to skirt major crevasse before finding suitable bridge to bring us back to camp.
After warming and brews, dug out local crevasse, where all of party abseiled and jumared out of 35m deep, and eerie hole. Very cold belaying, but spirits high.

Monday Tent bound all day. 20+ kts. from the west, 952 mb. -30°C, fog.
Cleared late PM so dug out sledges etc. and prepared for an early start to move camp the next day. -35°C in evening.

A pyramid tent at sunset Preparing ice blocks to melt into water A pyramid tent at night
 

Tuesday -33°C with poor contrast and horizons, snow, westerly wind 8-10 kts. AM in tents. Brightening later so made decision to break camp at 1245; ready to depart at 1445. Navigated to clearing line to avoid slots then directly for base. Collected a few supplies and larger boots for Kevan.
While wx. holding, made for Second Chasm campsite. Journeyed down flag line to Crossed Stakes then travelled virgin trail just picking out marker flags en route, replacing several buried flags along the way. Arrival at site 2030 all set up in time for 2200 sched.

Wednesday -32°C, light westerly 8kts, bright, then 1500hrs wind increased to 18+ kts., ground drift, snow.
Purpose of day to mark a skidoo route through and down the Finger. Walked out to head of Monument Valley to find bealach on the Finger thence descend into Super Bowl. Once flagged walked over features to traverse Matterhorn and Eiger then traverse up central ridge before making way back to camp.

Ice climbing up to Aladdin's Cave in Second Chasm Walking on the top of Whale Meat Sausage Berg Second Chasm seen from the campsite
 

Thursday -35°C but accompanied by solar radiation in AM, light airs, cloud building in PM but enough contrast to complete circuit.
Linked skidoo travel route of 60km. Navigated down flagged route of Finger into Super Bowl, drive through Chasm floor to Stony Berg. Probe route through pressure at foot of ramp up onto The High Street. Got the full splendour of visa looking along the edge of the continent, Baby Chasm, First Chasm, Caird Coast and the Mythical Mountains [see the extra explanation below].
Journeyed north-east along the High Street picking route around numerous Mythical Mountains, slots etc. Recce future campsite with view looking down into Second Chasm. After lunch stop, drive east, north-east and then north through wild, rolling, Mythical terrain until once more onto the relative flatness of the Brunt then drive 8km to the Crossed stakes. With contrast moderate but holding, followed flags back to camp. Successful day.

Skidoos set up for half-unit linked travel
 

Friday -33°C, light easterly wind, mist. All up early for a camp move to the High Street/Baby Chasm. Wx. OK until sched time then deteriorated rapidly with poor contrast, moderate horizon., followed by snow showers. Tent time, keep warm, eat, read and sleep resulting in major ice rime on the inside of the tents.
Clearing by late PM so Jon, Kevan and I took a walk/probe to an area 750m north of camp. Probing revealed many slots. Descended into one to take a look at some incredible kinetic growth and crevasse-hoar snow-crystals. After further probing re-flagged route to by-pass hazards.

Saturday Wx. much the same, poor contrast with intermittent snow showers. Unable to drop into Chasm for a climb of Aladdinís Cave. Relegated to the tents all day.

Sunday Improved contrast but -30°C with 8-10kts of wind gave harsh wind-chill for breaking camp. Good camp-craft meant we only took one and three-quarter hours to strike camp and get moving slowly back to base. All on the lookout for frostbite to digits.

Summary An excellent trip with much variation; disappointing that poor wx. on the final two days wouldnít allow us to move camp to the High Street.
Operating at these temperatures on iron hard sastrugi takes its toll on skidoos (4 repairs needed) and sledges (three bridge cross spars broken). High risk of frostbite.

Diaries/
Distance:

Tentage

00D 9 nights
92B 9 nights (1 blow 22kts)
 Sledges: Z1 Full Unit
Z4 Full Unit 170km
Z55 Half Unit
Z71 Half Unit 230km
 Skidoos:Field spec. winter trip Alpine IIs
 Distance:230km

A little should be explained to the reader describing the Hinge Zone and features such as the Mythical Mountains:

Halley Research Station is situated on a floating ice shelf approximately 150 metres thick. Where the shelf joins the Antarctic Continent is known as the Hinge Zone. Snow and ice is constantly descending from the Antarctic Plateau increasing the size of ice shelves and glaciers. In the Hinge Zone the floating shelf moves considerably, opening up great chasms, crevasses and rifts.

The Mythical Mountains are also formed through the movement of the ice shelf. On their south side they resemble rolling hills, looking quite benign. But seen from their north and west angle, they are shear, corniced faces sometimes culminating in crevasses and deep holes at their bottom. All this coupled with the fact that everything is always moving (so latitude and longitude readings from a GPS vary with time) make for interesting navigation aided with the use of sketch maps and satellite pictures.


A couple of days after the first field trip returned to Halley the second trip headed off. This time Mark Ryan, Annette and Paul were off with their GA - Steve. Here's Mark's account of this trip:

At home we talk about the weather. Itís usually because weíre stuck for something to say, or because we canít be bothered to think of anything more interesting. It has little bearing on our lives, except that we might decide to take a coat to keep the rain off.
At Halley this is not the case. Our lives are dominated by the wind, the snow, the clouds and most of all the cold. In my time here I have come to realise that we are totally ruled by the continent we live on. It is us that have to fit in and we can in no way tame our environment in the same way we have tried in the UK. This winter trip is a case in point!

Day 1:
We set off on my winter trip with optimism. Ten days of wonderful sunshine, warming our backs and making the sights stand out on the horizon with great clarity. The drive to our campsite was clear and after a relatively easy setting up, we used the rest of the day to visit a nearby crevasse. Crevasses always scare me, I donít know why. I think itís the realisation of the shear power of nature that has caused them.
The camp on the first and only clear night

Day 2:
Still looking good in the sky. We decide to drive to a place called Baby Chasm on the other side of Second Chasm. It's about 18km away across the Hinge Zone, up and down and around all the amazing features that riddle the place. At this time of year there isnít much soft snow around, and what fresh snowfall we have the wind quickly turns to hard sastrugi which plays havoc with the bodies of both humans and skidoos. Within about half an hour the cloud had started to move in and thus began the plague of our trip.
In order to see shapes on snow, you need strong light. If that light is diffused by cloud the shapes start to disappear. The thicker the cloud the less you can see. In its harshest form, the Hinge Zone with its undulating terrain and steep drops becomes completely flat to the eyes. This is what we were now starting to get.
We managed to take in Stony Berg, with its small gravel pits on top and practice a little climbing on the much smaller Antarctic version of the Matterhorn.
In the end it was about turn and back to camp for tea, Biscuits Brown and a good read.

Looking down into the crevasse that we abseiled into

Day 3:
One of those wonderful days where you are forced to read, sleep, eat and stay in the tent. It was pleasant outside, but the poor contrast meant you tripped up just going to the loo!

Day 4:
Once again, optimism was high. Though the sky wasnít completely clear we started out for Baby Chasm. Moving around the small peaks and valleys as we had done a couple of days ago, it was good to see it in clarity. The Matterhorn stood out and Stony Berg trailed into the distance behind us as we pushed on South. It was now starting to get 'funky'. Then guess what happened, the cloud moved in, we lost the contrast and so steadily snaked our way back to the campsite. On driving back it started to snow. And I thought it couldnít get any worse.

Day 5:
This was just going downhill now. The wind picked up to around 35 knots, flapping the canvas and making going to the loo interesting. My tent mate, Annette, was convinced that we hadnít put the tent up right and lay there looking worried with every gust. Needless to say it was fine! Another day reading, eating and snoozing. Good job I took all those books.

Day 6:
Annette had stopped worrying by now as the wind had died down. But outside we still had the snow and the cloud and I was still stumbling around over the wind tails. By midday we decided to go for a walk. 300 metres later we turned back. An admirable effort from our Field GA Steve, but in reality it was like the blind leading the blind!

Day 7:
At last! The sun broke through the clouds enough for us to see across Second Chasm. Donning gear and layers of warm clothing we took off on foot along the same route as the previous day. The benefit of sight had a marked effect and we wandered down into the Chasm across a few large wind tails and into the area of Aladdinís cave. This small valley has amazing serrated wind blown and sun melted walls, and at the far end, a wind blown cave surrounded by a couple of arches. A short climb takes you into the mouth of Aladdinís, where the concrete ice is blown into a finish resembling a large-scale Hammerite paint. Icicles adorn the roof as you walk out, left over from the previous summer when the heat makes the roof drip. Outside the cave, the arches 25 metres high frame the sun as you look out.
By now the sun being framed was not very bright. Once again the cloud had moved in and it started to snow. Terrain was starting to flatten, eyes straining for the bumps beneath our feet.
We made it back for more tea, food, reading and as with each night a communal meal in one or other of the tents.
Looking out of the mouth of Aladdin's Cave

Day 8:
By now we had all but given up on getting to Baby Chasm. The Antarctic weather deciding that we would not be realising our main objective. As such we packed up, waved goodbye to the Chasm for the last time (for me at least) and drove back to base. The skidoos we use are robust, but by now the hard sastrugi of the first trip and our attempts at Baby chasm were taking their toll. There comes a time when something has to give. Of course as with all these situations we hope that it doesnít all give at once. Sometimes it does!
Sharpy stopped, thinking something was not quite right and further inspection found a broken suspension. On looking at Annetteís skidoo, we found a smaller part had sheared off. Fortunately Ben, our vehicle mechanic, had foreseen this and given us a spare. I decided out of duty that I should look at mine, not really wanting to know whether it was OK of not. It had also broken!
By now with two out of four skidoos bust, the day was not going to well. With the aid of a snow stake we limped the worn out doos back to base to create even more work for Ben. On getting back, watching Ben look over the doos and not wanting to hear the phrase "Oooooo itíll cost ya!" we found out that it had. Steve's doo, was also knackered.
The aim of the day was to get to Windy Cove to see the rest of the trip out with the penguins. By this time they were looking very far away.
But, as always, our personal AA Home Start Service supplied us with two (very old) doos for us to make the short hop to the coast. Loaded up with a fresh Vindaloo under the seat, nicked from the kitchen only minutes earlier, we made it to the coast.
Further complications meant that we couldnít get the caboose stove started for over an hour, until we had all become partial experts in Paraffin stove regulators, but at just gone 10 that night we settled down to a huge plate of curry and rice. Annette, with her bottomless stomach, giving Sharpy a run for his money in just how much a person can eat.

Day 9:
No sun again but a flag line to the cliff gave us easy access to the penguin colony. With the generally warmer weather the penguin colony has started to open out and the chicks run freely across the ice chased by their parents. The sea ice is littered with dead chicks and abandoned eggs. Though they have no land predators, the cold is their enemy as it is ours and only a short time away from a warm adult can lead to their end.
Within a couple of hours the wind picked up chilling us down and we headed back for the warmth of the caboose.
Later that day, whilst Annette enjoyed the quiet of the caboose for a few hours, the weather improved and Sharpy and I wondered out to watch penguins jumping out of the water onto the ice.

Day 10:
This was it, the last day, and again it was cloudy. We wandered down to the penguins again for what could be my last ever visit. For me, the Emperor penguin colony is the biggest perk of living here. Some people pay thousands of pounds to see this rare sight only for a few days, I have seen it for free. The cost has been in my home life, but it has all been worth it. Their squawks and the cheeping chicks will stay in my head for the rest of my life. I take a lot of pictures here, but what I have seen and heard there can never be replicated on film. And to get it back all I have to do is close my eyes!


Apart from the lucky eight of us who have been on our field trips so far, the rest of the team has been busy back on base with their usual jobs. Annette, Cathy and Elaine on the Simpson Platform have begun the daily ozone measurements with the Dobson spectrometer. On the Piggott Platform Mark has been busy improving the way that the data that our experiments generate is safely stored. Doug has been servicing the wind generators that will be flown out to the remote experiments over the summer. Jon has been updating the documentation for some of the experiments so that our successors have all the information that they need. Lyndsey has been continuing with her research into our sleep patterns while adjusting to night shifts. The barbecue for dinner on the open platform

Ben has been kept busy servicing the skidoos after each of the field trips and has been helped by Lyndsey and Mickey. Andy, Kevan and Paul have been kept busy looking after the buildings and the heating and electrical supplies to them. All of the Technical Services guys have also been busy raising the drumlines around the base and some of the entrance shafts to the tunnels. Steve and Duncan have each been away on a field trip, but have also had to service the kit between trips and have continued to prepare kit for the summer field season. Stuart's cooked some amazing meals for us again, and has also been preparing some extra meals for us to freeze and take on our field trips. Mark Ryan's had a busy month looking after the computer systems and has also been helping fix the satellite receiver that lets us receive weather pictures.


Jon in the Hinge Zone

Helloooo to everyone at home, in the UK and everywhere else!

Jon Seddon

Duncan in the Hinge Zone, by Cathy Moore

Love to all the family, especially Isla. Hi to all friends in the Highlands - have a safe winter in the gullies.

Duncan Cameron

Mark with the penguins at Windy

Hello to all my family and a big hug for Anna.

Mark Ryan