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Rothera Diary - June 2014

June, our special month. Whilst in the north you are sunning yourselves here , in the Antarctic, we face a world without sun, a long night, coldness coupled with ferocious winds.

Yet with a little luck and some planning we can, and do, venture out in the hours of twilight available. Outdoor work has to continue whether it be refuelling the base, diving or collecting sea water sample. And on nicer days we field assistants take people further afield to climb, ski, snowboard or abseil into deep, dark, crevasses.

Diving (Photo: Belinda Vause)
Diving (Photo: Belinda Vause)
Collecting sea water samples (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Collecting sea water samples (Photo: Mairi Fenton)

The sun may be below the horizon but that fact in itself helps produce some wonderful skyscapes and  surreal lighting making the magical landscapes look unreal , like old fashioned Hollywood backdrops. A huge , pink, moon rises over the jagged peaks of the peninsula  sending a shiver down your spine. Not a shiver caused by the cold, rather one caused by the overwhelming beauty of the scene before you.

We also catch glimpses of the mysterious and colourful polar stratospheric clouds. They hide, coyly, above the lower clouds and are high enough to catch the invisible sun’s rays and in doing so are lit in rainbow colours. This is all the more special when you consider that in general we live in a world without colour, a place where  you can be excited by penguin poo as it’s the only green you will see.

Given the lack of light and the particularly poor weather this June most entertainment  has been taking place indoors.

Table tennis is hugely popular as is badminton the latter played in the  unheated hanger so there is a distinct lack of  the usual  shorts. On Wednesday evening we have been entertaining each other with lectures varying from A Brief History of Cross dressing, through climbing adventures in South America to short films from Halley presented by Chris who wintered there.

There was also lots of activity in our tiny gym as teams competed in the Race Across Antarctica using gym equipment to cover the distance across the continent i.e. 6000 km.

Other less strenuous activities included Sabrina leading a team in completing a 9000 piece jigsaw.

But this being June most of our thoughts have centred around the 21st, midwinters day. Obviously this is the most significant date in the Antarctic calendar. As you would expect we celebrate it with some gusto. In fact we set aside a few days either side of the big day itself to enjoy ourselves. Band night, winter Olympics  and the inevitable pub crawl.

A group of very smart people meet to swap presents (Photo: Chris Walton)
A group of very smart people meet to swap presents (Photo: Chris Walton)
Midwinter meal (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Midwinter meal (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Midwinter food (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Midwinter food (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Listening to messages from home from the BBC World Service (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Listening to messages from home from the BBC World Service (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)

Great fun was had throughout none more so than on the big day itself. A group of very smart people meet in the bar to swop the presents they had so industriously been making for one another. Once again the standards were high and  the whole affair had a distinctly Christmas feel about it.

Later followed the meal, though that word hardly does it justice. Chris had produced a superb banquet which took us some six hours to work our way through. A break during the meal saw us wandering over to the communications tower in order to listen , via the BBC World Service,  to  a programme of messages  from home from our nearest and dearest.  This is always a lovely moment , not only hearing your own message but listening to those directed at your friends and colleagues.

All too soon the merriment is over and its back to work, mending those boilers, fixing those snowmobiles , diving those icy waters or relashing those Nansen sledges. But still we have the rest of our winter to look forward to. What more adventures can we get up to ? Watch this space.

Dave Routledge

Field Assistant.