Winter trip number 7

So that’s me back at Rothera after leading my final winter trip of the season. The winter trips are basically an opportunity for all wintering staff to spend some time exploring Adelaide Island, travelling by skidoo, mountaineering, climbing, skiing and camping in Antarctica. Each member of the wintering team gets two week long trips and aside from being a fantastic opportunity for everyone the trips are also vital training for myself and the other “Field Assistants”. Travel in Antarctica is very unique and you won’t find a lot of the kit we rely on down here being used in many other places throughout the world so the trips allow us to perfect various techniques and familiarise ourselves with the kit before the summer season kicks off again.

Last week was Justin’s (the Rothera Chef) second winter trip. Justin has done a winter ar Rothera previously in 2008/09 so this was the fourth time he had been out exploring Adeliade. He had only been to the South of the Island once before but was pretty much tent bound due to poor weather so we made it our plan to re-visit this area. The weather on Sunday was awful and the forecast for Monday wasn’t much better so things weren’t looking too promising. However as Monday progressed the low cloud began to lift so after lunch we made a break for it. It is over 50km in total to get to our proposed campsite from base but with the longer daylight hours leaving at 2pm was still feasible. The drive South was absolutely stunning, the sun was out and the fresh fall of snow the previous two days made the driving feel like we were on jet-skis in the sea with powder splashing up and over us!

We arrived beneath the Legend just after 5pm in time to set up our camp and get some dinner before our evening “sched” with base at 7.30pm. Justin wanted to visit the abandoned BAS base Adelaide or as it was known since being sold to the Chileans “Carvajhal’. On Tuesday morning we set off on the 45km round trip towards Carvajhal but were stopped in our tracks half way there by deteriorating visibility. We returned to camp for a brew and then made our way over to a large crevasse beneath a nearby nunatak. We explored the crevasse and then returned in poor weather to the sanctuary of our pyramid tent.

Wednesday turned out to be another day of low cloud and therefore poor visibility and contrast so we had a relaxing morning reading books and drinking tea in the tent. The skies cleared up in the afternoon allowing us to re-attempt a trip to Carvjhal and this time we made it. This was the third time that I’ve visited the base and what really shocks meevery timeis the state of disrepair that it has fallen into. It is now at the stage where should the Chileans want to return it will be completely un-inhabitable and will need knocked down and re-built - obviously a very costly venture and one which is unlikely to happen.

On our sched that evening we were given the good delayed news that firstly Andy Murray had won the US open and secondly we should have what is know down here as a “dingle” day of weather for Thursday (blue skies, sunshine and very little wind).

With a good forecast in hand we made plans to venture up the Sloman glacier towards a peak called Snow Ditte. The deep powder made travel to the base of the peak tough going for the skidoos and then even harder by ski from there…but our reward would be the descent! After the obligatory summit photos with the other two out on a trip; Steve and Tim, we shot off down the slopes towards our skidoos. We made a fast turnaround back to camp to take down our tent and load the sledges so that we could get back closer to base before the predicted poor weather returned Friday and Saturday. It really was a phenomenal day and so nice to be in the sun again after what seems like an age of storms.

By the time we had made it back through the Macallum’s pass (the only route between the East of the Island where Rothera is situated and the West which opens up travel both North and South) time was marching on so we continued to the caboose (a metal hut on skis) to save pitching the tent again. As forecasted the weather tunred ugly over Thursday night and into Friday but we managed a short walk along a the Northern section of Reptile ridge before going back to base in time for lunch.

I’m back on base for two weeks now and then out on one final trip with Steve; another Field assistant, for our own trip. The winter has gone so quickly and it’s hard to believe that in exactly a months time the first BAS plane will be arriving marking the start of the summer season.