Winter Trippin'

Over the winter months everyone on base gets two week long trips away from base to explore the island that Rothera is on. It is one of my jobs as a Field Assistant to lead these trips. I got back from the first of these trips yesterday with Rob Lambert, the base Doctor.

We had a fantastic and very varied week exploring Adelaide Island. We set off early on Sunday morning with our aim for the day being to get to the other side (West) of the island to set up camp.

After roughly two hours of driving Rob’s skidoo began smoking from the engine…not a good sign! We stopped and let it cool down to discover that the fan belt had popped off the pulley. This isn’t too big a job to sort so we set to fixing it and tightening the belt up to prevent it from happening again. Sadly after doing this the engine still wouldn’t fire so we got in touch with the mechanic on base who said that it sounds like a major fail…plans were put in motion to get a replacement skidoo out to us but the weather had now turned so we put our tent up and waited until the next day. The following day arrived and again the conditions were not good enough for a team to travel to us with a new skidoo so having nothing but time to kill we phoned the vehicle mechanics at Rothera once more to see if there was anything that we could do. It was suggested that we remove the cylinder heads as if the cylinders were damaged from the overheat then there would definitely be no more we could do. On inspection the cylinders were fine but the heads were loose…we put everything back together nice and tighlty and to our amazement the skidoo burst in to life! A great success!

Although we had managed to fix the skidoo the weather still wasn’t good enough for us to travel anywhere so we spent another night in the same spot. The next day was much better and we packed up our camp and continued South. We set up camp beneath the Myth and the impressive West face of the Legend. By the time we had our camp sorted it was about 1400 but there was a crag close by that I reckoned we could visit for a quick climb before darkness. We climbed two pitches up the crag; known as Mythical Monster Nunatak, before deciding that time was not on our side so we abseiled off and headed back to our tent.

That evening the winds picked up and a fair bit of snow fell. The next day was more of the same and we spent most of the day in the tent melting snow and playing Yahtzee! When darkness fell the skies cleared and the temperatures dropped dramatically. Our fingers were crossed for a good day tomorrow as we were keen to attempt Mount Liotard, the third highest peak on Adelaide Island.

An early start was the order of the day on Thursday so that we could have as much daylight as possible for climbing Liotard. As we had hoped the weather was beautiful! Blue skies and barely a cloud to be seen. From our camp we drove the skidoos up the Sloman glacier to park below our objective for the day.

At 2225m Liotard is not huge by mountaineering standards but it’s remoteness and thefickle Antarctic weather make it a serious proposition not to be underestimated. The climb itself is never overly difficult; approximately scottish winter grade II, but it is at a very consistent angle with very little places to rest without carving out a bucket seat. We found the lower third of the slope to be deep snow which was hard work and the latter two thirds were bullet hard ice. We moved together up the entire route and the total ascent time was about 4.5 hours. 

Once at the top we were rewarded with breathtaking views over the whole of Adelaide Island.

After climbing Liotard on Thursday both of us were fairly tired so we had a leisurely start to the day before heading to Milestone Bluff for a spot of climbing. There were only two recorded routes on this crag that we knew of so we picked an obvious left to right slanting gully to go up. The route turned out to be a lot easier than it looked from below and we moved together throughout. We decided to call the route “Rubber Dinghy Rapids, at grade II/III.

Having completed our route quicker than expected we had lunch on the summit of Milestone and made our way back to the skidoos. There is an abandoned Chilean base on the South West side of Adelaide Island called Carvajhal. We hadn’t planned on visiting the base but with the afternoon free and Carvajhal only 22km from where we were we decided to make a quick visit. I’m really glad that we did as the base is very interesting. It is a bit like the Mary Sileste. A lot of the base is as it was the day the Chilean’s abandoned it. The otherinterestingthing about the base is that it was first built as a British Antarctic Survey (or Falkland Islands Dependency as BAS was previously known) base. In those days it was called Adelaide and legendary Scottish climber John Cunningham was the base commander for a period.

On Saturday we packed up our camp, loaded our nansen sledges and drove back through to the East side of the Island. There is only one way through between East and West and this is to drive through the McCallum’s Pass, an arearenownedfor unsettled weather and large crevasses. It requires near perfect visibility and contrast to negotiate safely and luckily we had such conditions on Saturday so we made good time back to the East and headed to Trident for some climbing to round of the week.

First we climbed a two pitch mixed route called Bravo-2-Zero. It was a good route but considerably easier than the grade we had been told for it. I reckon it was about III, 4 scottish as opposed to the IV, 5 that we had been led to believe. It was a worthwhile wee route. After this route Rob asked if we could do the Trident Ice-fall…“a rare treat” of water ice in Antarctica. There isn’t much of a freeze thaw around here so routes like this don’t tend to form often. The steep ice is short lived but great fun! I hadn’t brought any ice-screws with me other than the two on my harness for crevasse rescue but from the bottom it looked as though I may get some rock gear too so I set off. The ice was in great nick and was really enjoyable to climb.

Once at the top we abseiled back down the crag and drove our skidoos back to Rothera. It was a fantastic week and we were very lucky with the weather. I’m back out in next week with Dale the plumber so fingers crossed we have as equally a successful trip.