Clinging onto the ropes of the wooden Nansen sledge I winced as we went over yet another bump and I crashed down onto the uncomfortable wooden slats. I could feel the fragile sledge twist and flex as we skitted over the rock hard sastrugi that had been left by wind gusting across the sea ice. Stewart, sitting on the sledge behind me, suddenly called out in vain to Tom towing us on the skidoo, 'Look out!' I just had time to spot the huge clump of ice directly in our path before shutting my eyes and tightening my grip on the ropes. The front runner of the sledge slid over the icy block and the sledge tipped over chucking me off into the snow before righting itself and carrying on. Stew, who had managed to keep himself on the bucking sledge, finally managed to make himself heard over the din of the rattling base skidoo and warned an oblivious Tom that he was minus one passenger!
The three of us were out on a day trip over the sea ice to Leonie Island, a distinctively triangular island about 10 km from base. With the increasingly cold weather the sea ice is now over 50cm thick in places and is covered in a layer of wind-hardened snow. As you travel over the surface it is easy to forget that you are not on solid ground at all but on a thin crust floating on the ocean. Despite its thickness we are still cautiously respectful of the ice. There are several memorials on base to remind us just how lethal the sea ice can be.
Above: Exploring the icebergs and ice cliffs around Rothera. Click on the images to enlarge them.
Half way to Leonie Tom pulled up beside me, full of apologies. As we stood there brushing off the snow the glow of the sun got brighter to the north. Shadows suddenly grew from our feet and the sun hesitantly peeped out from behind the nunataks. Growing in confidence it sailed across the gap between the far mountains and lit up a long corridor of ice around us. We all cheered and grinned squinting at the sun. It was the first time we'd seen the fiery blob since May and I'd forgotten how bright it was. We travelled on, enjoying the golds and yellows rather than the hazy blues and pinks that we'd gotten used too. It won't be long before we'll be unable to go anywhere without sunglasses and suncream again.
Above: The returning sun. Click on the images to enlarge them.
As well as exploring the surrounding islands there have been other benefits to the cold weather. Mike Wallman was delighted to become a member of the Rothera "100 degree club" and Pete Martin inspired a base wide excavation-fever, making the most of the huge drifts of snow that have built up around the buildings. They explain below:
"Although having a 70 degree sauna and coming out into a minus 30 breeze is really nice, the 100-degree club has really suffered with the bad weather - it means the sauna needs digging out every day. But with the warm, bad weather it now means you have to try and stand the heat of a 100 degree sauna just to stay cool. Your body in a minus 1 blizzard isn't so cozy!"
"July. For some the longest month of the winter, maybe because mid-winter month is over and summer is still a long way off.....luckily. For me, I like it, probably because it is my birthday month and a great excuse to to have a party. Although this year apart from doing the usual and paying the price the next morning, I also started an ice cave....oh yes. There is a small drift, on the south side of the linkway corridor that was formed by nature, especially for this purpose. It started off innocently enough with a path cut through from the outside, heading towards the linkway escape door. Just me having a small, mindless, energetic dig to see what would happen. Then Rich turned up to have a look and lend a hand, then a few more and a few more and a few after that and suddenly it turned into the salt mines with a system for removing snow and ice and a vague sort of plan as to where to go and what it should look like. Before you know it we had an ice cave, with two entrances and a corridor snaking its way through from the anti chamber to the main party area. If all this sounds very grand and spacious then I have set you wrong, it's really quite small and comfy with only the shortest able to walk freely about. The idea was for an ice cave party for my birthday, so that's what we did. Candles burning, people hunching, drinks downing, freezing bottoms party. It was primo! The cave is forever expanding and being developed, in fact spending a couple of hours in there sculpting and shaping is incredibly therapeutic. Perhaps I need pavements more than I realize. So who knows, maybe even an ice cave restaurant in the future, book early though space is limited!!"
Above: The 'Ice-Cave'. Click the images to enlarge them.
Not everyone is as excited to see the temperature drop as Mike and Pete. The cold brings with it a lot of problems not only keeping us going but keeping the base we are here to look after on its feet too. Unfortunately one member of the Technical Services team seems to bear the brunt of the cold weather problems....
"Cold? You have no idea! I used to think that it was cold at home in Blackburn, when it snowed or managed on the odd occasion to get into to the minus degrees Celsius. Now I know what cold is! Back then I just used to put an extra jumper on. No need to waste money by putting the heating on! Here though I have to put an extra three jumpers on!
I know that some people have experienced much worse; some may even like the cold. Not me though! Don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't want to be here, one of the main reasons I wanted to stay for the winter was to experience the raw, unforgiving environment of Antarctica. But why does it have to spoil my fun??? My position as Mechanical Services Technician means that all the heating, water, sewage and air handling services are mine to check, maintain and keep running. Nothing affects them so much as freezing cold weather and we have that in abundance. Waxy fuel preventing the boilers from working, burst pipes even inside the warm, heated buildings, frozen sewage lines and the air handling units blowing cold air onto everyone were just some of the things I had to contend with this month. Temperatures of -32°C outside played havoc with the services, sometimes leaving everything feeling as though it was -32°C inside too! I suppose I just felt like having a bit of a moan, but to be honest....I wouldn't change it for the world!"
Stewart Hill (Mechanical Services Technician)
Stewart enjoying the cold
Click to enlarge
With the cold dark nights outside we have come up with one or two novel ways of amusing ourselves in the warm indoors. Last Saturday, after weeks of threats that it was on the horizon, the long awaited Karaoke night took place. Matt Danby reports....
"Saturday 20th July, a night that will live in Rothera infamy for a long time. This was the night when stars where born and classic songs destroyed. At the beginning of the evening, after a fabulous meal, everybody gathered in the bar and it is fair to say there was a few nervous, scared, petrified faces in the crowd. They didn't want to show all of us they couldn't sing. So to combat the stage fright cocktails were distributed to get everybody in the Karaoke spirit. Everybody expected the stage to be hogged all night by Gaz W and myself who where not nervous about showing everybody how badly we sing at all. But the first act of the night was doctor Jim and Rayner. For those of you who don't know these guys they have big bushy beards (Rayner's has since been trimmed) and the duo did a great rendition of ZZ Top's 'Gimme all your loving'. Well, only after we found a replacement for the microphone that Rayner destroyed in his enthusiasm. They looked and sounded great in the end and broke the ice for more to follow.
Then it was my turn. After scanning the song list for a while I decided on the first song I would do justice. 'Dizzy' the Vic Reeves version. I thought it was great. Don't want to speak for everybody else though. The real star of the night was Stew. At the start of the evening he came out with the words "I have done Karaoke once in my life, I don't need to do it again". Well that changed. After he was forced up to do a song a star was born and we couldn't keep the mike out of his hand for the rest of the night. There were numerous group songs involving everybody in the bar, which again were fantastic because it meant there was no audience to comment on the performance!!
It was a great night and the singing didn't stop till gone 4 in the morning and I think most people got up at some point, be it as a solo performance or duet. Big thanks must go to Felicity and Stew who did most of the organising to make this one of the best evenings I have experienced at Rothera."
Above: Top - The duet. Middle - (L) Pete, Stewart and Gaz Wilson, (R) the group effort. Bottom - the audience participation! Click on the images to enlarge them.
By Felicity Aston