Sunday, 30 November 2008

Dean's Crack, strange folk, dodgy hairstyles, and OMG...fresh produce. Another normal time at Halley!

"Hannah handed me her box and I proceeded to give her some!"

Any innocent eavesdropper would have thought conversation within the orange pyramid tent, perched on a hillock overlooking the large chasm of the Brunt Hinge Zone, had dropped to a low level of decorum. But, in all honesty, it was a perfectly innocent comment, albeit with some subtle leanings of innuendo. (in-your-end-o, surely - Ed).

Rich was in fact explaining to me that Hannah had passed the wine box over to him, and he was topping up her glass with the contents of said wine box. We were having a toast to another successful day of tent pitching, abseiling and ice-climbing. Still, it gave me cause to snigger like the puerile red-blooded male that I am!

Most of October and November was 2nd winter trip time for all on base. We each, (in teams of three), had 10 days "holiday" time to go out and have a bit of R&R around the Brunt Ice Shelf.

October and November were also the months in which we had visitors in airplanes stop over for fuel en route to the Russian base of Novo. It was the first time we got to see other human faces since the ship left us in March

And October and November were the months of taking advantage of the warmer, lighter weather to get a lot of prep work complete for the coming summer season when the ship arrives in Mid-December. Everyone have been involved and have been working very hard to get such prep jobs done.

Yep...the months of October and November have been a busy couple of months indeed.
This is my excuse for the 2-month hiatus in my blog entries! :o)

A rare chance to sit down for a break with a cuppa and catch the latest news from the Boundary Players.

Saturday 4th October & Sunday 5th October 2008
Another Trip to the Penguin Colony

"What Ja-makin' Paddy?" I shouted as I entered the kitchen, grinning.

Satisfied with my amazing ability to use word play to such comical effect, turned heel and exited before I got any answer.

It was another Saturday night, and Paddy was putting on Jamaican themed meal for the evening.

I had practically waited all my life to make a smart-arsed quip like that, and the timing was perfect! Ah, word play and me are practically bedfellows.

So, it was an evening with Jamaican themed food, but I cannot for the life of me tell you what we doubt a consequence of my haste to leave the kitchen after indulging myself in my own humour and not listening to Paddy's answer. Meh, it was worth it though.

Sunday brought about another opportunity to visit the penguin colony again. It was precisely a month since I last visited the colony, and feeling cheated that I never got to see any chicks last time (apart from frozen dead ones...which I apologise for putting pictures of onto my blog ladies), I thought it would be worthwhile going again.

And indeed it was.

A line of penguins form a spur from the main colony to welcome us

There were loads of chicks running around this time.
And here they are...

And of course, I have to have the customary pose with my army of penguin fans...

What amazes me is now naturally maternal/paternal the emperor penguins are. They fight over each other to look after a stray chick. During our latest visit I witnessed many times when a chick would break free from its parent, and suddenly a huge tussle would ensue where penguins would fight over one another to get to the errant chick and to put it between their feet and nurture it. Sometimes the scrambles would get a little violent and the chicks would get trampled on.

And one one occasion I witnessed a lone penguin struggling to get a chick inside it's pouch. It would succeed, then try walking off with the chick between its legs. It would end up walking off leaving the chick behind not realising it had slipped and popped out from behind him! This particular penguin would try again and again, with the same result each time. It clearly was not used to looking after a chick. In the end, another penguin waddled up, slipped the chick under his pouch, and waddled off again!!! Like a true pro. It was quite comical to watch.

For all you ladies I know who requested that I bring them home a baby penguin (which is pretty much every single one of you), this is for you...!


Monday 6th October - Sunday 26th October 2008

For once, I really do not have much I can write about in this blog. October was a largely uneventfful month due to people being on winter trips, people being knackered after a hard day's work, and just generally enjoying relaxing in the evenings before the furore of the summer season kicks off.

Dean and I finally got the sign that our winter was over on the 9th. While chatting over a cup of tea in my office, we witnessed a flock of Snow Petrals buzzing around the base...our first sight of airborne wildlife this year. It was a positive sign that temperatures were warming up, wildlife was returning to the shores, and the winter was all over.

Scotty requested my services as a qualified electronic engineer to help fix the speedometer on Sno-Cat K23. It hadn't been working all winter. I helped him out, and took the opportunity to have a little joy ride around base in K23.

(well, I did need to hook up some test equipment to the dashboard to measure signals as the Sno-Cat was driven).

A few hours later the speedometer was up and working again.

Electronics 0 - Stephenson 1.

Me and Sno-Cat K23

From Fri 17th Oct until Fri 24th Oct I was on NightWatch.

Not a particularly exciting week on nights, but I was treated to some amazing sun-sets and sun-rises. By this time of year the sun only sets for a couple of hours.

Sun-Rise at 0300hrs

Tuesday 28th October 2008
Fresh Faces and Fresh Food

The 28th saw the final sun-rise of 2008. From this day on the sun will be permanently in Halley's skies until it sets again in February 2009. We already have 24 hour daylight, but now we will have 24 hour sunshine (when it's not cloudy that is!).

This final sunrise was the last thing on all of our minds. In fact, the moment passed without us even realising. We had more important things to think about.

The first plane of the season to pass through Halley was on its way. Having flown all the way down from Canada, via Punta Arenas and through Rothera station, it was now winging it's way to Halley for a fuel stop before continuing en route to the Russian base of Novo.

People were busy getting the ski-way set up for the arrival of the plane, Dean was in the comms office flight following, and I was providing hourly met reports on the weather. All the time only one thing was on our minds...

...fresh vegetables, fresh salad, and fresh vegetables!

It had been 8 months since eating an apple, or chewing on a piece of lettuce, or tasting the juicyness of a tomato. And now the plane was bringing us 100kg of fresh food.

The plance arrived, the fresh food was given priority VIP treatment and transported to the larders, and we all of a sudden had 4 new faces on base. The first glimpse of other human beings since March! It was really surreal.

I tell you, you don't know what it is like to taste fresh salad again after so long. The succulent taste of moist cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc. was sensory overload. It was quite orgasmic. In fact, in my enthusiasm to describe it I might have gone as far as saying it was like an orgasm in our mouths....but that would sound very very wrong indeed!

Friday 31st October 2008
Halley Hallowe'en Party

Ah, it was time to celebrate Hallowe'en at Halley. Another theme night. Paddy pulled out all the stops to put on a fantastic spread of blood and guts labelled food, and Dean spent the afternoon decorating the bar with Hallowe'en related things.

The table-spread...complete with evil ginger-bread bunny rabbits and ginger-bread skeletons

And being a theme night, it was fancy dress.

Dean came as a ghoul, Joe came as Jason from Friday 13th films, Hannah and Ags as witches, Rich as a voodoo-esque skeleton man (like in James Bond Live and Let Die). At the bar were Hallowe'en themed cocktails with lots of red food dye for blood colouring. Hmm, nice!

Hannah and Rich

Lacking in inspiration for something original for my fancy dress, I formed my idea based on a costume I saw last year at a friends party. (Many thanks to Sally) I came as a blood spattered doctor.

But not just any blood-spattered doctor...but in fact a blood-spattered gynaecologist, complete with blood-stained saw and chisel!

Dr. Stephenson - Gynaecologist

On several occasions during the evening I asked the girls if they wished me to "service their bits" but they politely declined!

The evening ended with a game of cards, playing the latest craze at the bar for Dean, Paddy, Joe and myself...Shithead.

Losing at Shithead

Tuesday 4th November - Thursday 13th November 2008
Post-Winter Winter Trip

Finally the time came for me to go on my 2nd winter trip. I was paired up to go with Hannah, and obviously Rich being our GA was to be our "guide".

10 whole days of holiday time to go out and about camping around the Brunt Ice Shelf and doing various activities such as abseiling, ice-climbing, walking, exploring crevasses, and chilling out in the tent.

Tuesday to Friday - Creek 4 caboose
After an initially crappy start to the day's weather, the wind soon abated to allow us to head off. Our first port of call...Creek 4 12km north of Halley.

The 1st day was a lay-up day due to strong winds and wet snow. So, we just ended up chilling out in the caboose. By Thursday the weather had improved and the clouds had broken up to give us the most gorgeous sunny and warm day. Temperatures reached up to -7C, which is rather balmy compared to the temperatures I experienced during my first winter trip with Joe.

We linked up via rope and harnesses and took a walk to Creek 5. Here a crevasse has formed between where cliffs of the ice-shelf form a natural V-shape. For some reason this got named Dean's Crevasse. And it was time for Rich to take Hannah and I to go exploring within Dean's Crevasse! (it's much more pleasant than what it sounds!).

View from outside Dean's Crevasse

Inside it was amazing. A short tunnel in which we had to crawl through opened up into a huge cavern which I can only describe as a cathedral of ice. It was a beautiful sight to behold. The tunnel led to a ledge from which we abseiled down 30m to the bottom of the creevasse at sea-level. From here were were able to make our way through the crevasse approximately 250m horizontally into the ice-shelf.

Abseiling down from the ledge to sea-level

A shrimp frozen in the ice of the crevasse wall

Edging along the bottom of the crevasse from the abseil point

Delicate formations filaments of ice dangle from the walls and overhangs

Rich leading and lighting the way through the dark

Chandaliers of ice-crystals cling to the ceilings

The Antarctic Monkey stopping to take in the view

We reached the end, and then turned back and made our way out again.

Back outside is a complete contrast after being inside the crevasse so long...beautiful cloudless skies and a hot sun beaming down on us

It was a most fantastic experience.

Creek 4 caboose - our home whilst at Creek 4

A massive tableau iceberg sits out on the sea beyond

Antarctic Monkey poses on the Nansen 1/2 unit sledge

Later in the evening we took a late-night stroll onto the sea-ice, out to the pressure ice which had formed over the winter. The landscape was quite alien. Chunks of ice broken up and refrozen in the sea to form a very rough terrain. And here and there were emperor penguins walking around in groups of 3 and 4.

Taking a midnight stroll out onto the pressure sea-ice

Me, looking out over the alien terrain

The scene was so peaceful and calm. Not a sound could be heard apart from the occasional call from these penguins. And then every now and again I could here a "whump". And again..."whump".

These sounds turned out the be unseen penguins (behind ice rocks, etc), dropping onto their bellies to scoot around. It was quite comical to hear.

Friday to Monday - Hinge Zone
Our next port of call was the Hinge Zone 40km south of Halley. We ended up pitching camp on the top of a hillock over looking a chasm formed where the Brunt Ice Shelf flows off the main Antarctic continent. The evening was a beautiful one, and we took advantage of the good weather to go out for, what Rich called, a "short stroll" at 2100hrs.

Camp at the Hinge Zone.
The tent on the right is the "poo tent".

Four hours later we were back at the tent, exhausted.

Our "short stroll" actually consisted of skidooing to a feature called Aladdin's Cave, abseiling down to the bottom of the hole, climbing up to the cave itself on the opposite wall, then climbing over the top of the cave, and walking all the way around back to the skidoos.

Aladdin's Cave...the actual cave can just about be seen on the far right of the picture

Rich abseiling down to the melt-pool at the base of Aladdin's Cave...

...and climbing up to the cave itself on the opposite wall

It was bloody knackering. But damn good fun.

I didn't think it was much fun when I was climbing up the ice-wall of Aladdin's though. If you ever want to hear a fully grown man talk dirty to a wall of ice, then watch me do ice-climbing. Not only was I moaning like a bitch all the way through it, I was getting angry with the stupid ice-axes and the stupid crampons on my feet.

I tell you, it's just not natural to be clinging to a wall of smooth ice with nothing but two ice-axes and two spikes on the end of each boot to support you. Not natural at all I tell you.

Rich and Hannah sillhouetted by the sun on the top of Aladdin's Cave

Saturday turned out to be a lay-up day due to overcast skies. Travel in the Hinge is very dodgy when contrast and visibility is at a low due to all the hidden crevasses around.

Sunday was not that much better, but an improvement nonetheless.

Rich decided we should go hunting for a crevasse and chuck ourselves down it. We found one a few hundred metres from our campsite. Rich dug into the snowbridge, opened up a hole into the crevasse, and then we all took turns to abseil into it.

Rich finds us a crevasse to play in

Hannah observes down the hole, and just like out of some dodgy horror movie, a hand pops out through the ice not far from her.

Again, what an amazing view. Directly under our feet is this huge cavern of ice, with ice-crystals the size of dinner plates protruding from the walls and chandeliers of ice hanging from the ceiling. And just hanging their on the end of a rope it is as still and peaceful as anything.

Abseiling down into the crevasse into a cavern of ice

While I am dangling on the end of a rope, Rich appears on a ledge a few metres away

A few photos later it is time to jumar back up the rope to get out again.

Monday to Wednesday - Rumples.
Next was to strike camp and head to the Rumples. These are located 15km east of Halley. The Rumples are a naturally formed set of icebergs, ice crags, and crevasses. There is a formation of rocks under the sea, and the rumples are formed from the Brunt Ice Shelf crashing into these undersea rocks causing ripples and buckles in the ice...but on a grand scale.

We pitched camp and the next day went on one of Rich's "little strolls" for four hours.

After abseiling from the cliff, we walked around the sea-ice which fills in where the ice-shelf has broken up. Within the sea-ice are huge ice-bergs (from the breaking up of the shelf) which are literally frozen in place and free for us to walk around and climb up on. These bergs are huge.

Cliffs form a wide crevasse at the Rumples. Our entry point down to the lower Rumples features

Hannah for some reason gives me the Jazz Hands as I abseil down!

Rich stops to take a few snaps on his way down

On our walk through the Rumples

The lower Rumples

It was during this walk that we came across a Weddell Seal basking in the sun.

This was my first ever encounter with a seal. It was an amazing thing to see. These creatures are huge. It was just laying there, and didn't even get startled when we approached. Instead it gave us a nonchalant look and went back to basking in the sun.

A Weddell Seal lounging in the sun, soaking up some rays

Seal gives us a lazy look, and goes back to sunbathing

And if that wasn't enough, 5 mins later we came across a female Weddell complete with seal pup.

Female Weddell Seal and her pup


The next day we went on another walk to the top of the Rumples (whereas the day before we were in the lower parts of the Rumples on the sea-ice). It was quite a knackering walk, and not one without several occasions of being half swallowed by hidden crevasses. But we made it to the top. And from here we could just about make out some features of Halley station, such as the Laws building, and the long line of storage containers for the Halley VI build.

View from the highest point on the Rumples.
Campsite can just about be seen in this picture on the middle-left

View out to sea across the Rumples

Me pointing out where Halley station is to the Antarctic Monkey

Wednesday to Thursday - Windy Creek
Our final call was to Windy Creek (where the penguin colony is located) 15km north-west of Halley. We arrived late and so settled for the evening drinking whiskey and having a cultured night, whcih continued until 0700hrs. Well, it was the last night of our holiday after all!!

The plan was to spend Thursday afternoon at the penguin colony, but unfortunately the wind picked up and we were forced to instead take a peak at the colony from the top of the cliffs.

Soon it was time to go home as the holiday was over.

But what an amazing time we had. Besides all the adventure and climing and walking, etc, there was plenty of tent time where we just chilled out reading books, listening to music and ignoring the worries of base life. Groovy.

Tuesday 18th November 2008
Happy Birthday to ME!

Happy Birthday Dave indeed.
27 years of age! Ooh, I feel I am out of my mid-twenties now!

I agreed with Ags and Hannah that they can spend the evening pampering me and giving me a "makeover". Hannah decided that it would be fun to rag my hair. Not knowing what it was I agreed instantly.

I soon realised it involved rolling bunches of my hair into cotton strands and tying them up. I then had to spend the evening with my hair like this until it dried.

Getting "ragged" by the girls.
Huh huh!!

But in the meantime I was given a facepack/mudpack thing to cleanse my face and make me look youthful again....
...or look ridiculous. But you know me, I'll do anything in the name of entertainment. comment!
(photo courtesy of Richard Burt)

I was later presented by my cake. Hannah had spent the entire previous night making 4 different cakes, each one cut into the shape of a letter of my name. The final product? Four cakes topped with colourful icing spelling out my name. A ginger cake, a Slovakian cake, a coffee and pecan cake and a Mary Poppins (fruit) cake.

Hannah explained that she was at a loss as to a theme she could base the cake on for me (as she had done with previous birthdays). She eventually opted to base the cake on the thing I love, and as I love myself she decided to make my name out of a cake. I wasn't sure whether to be insulted with that or not...but as it was such a wonderful cake, I opted for "not insulted"! :o)

Dave cake
(photo courtesy of Richard Burt)

Hannah explaining the nature of the cakes to me
(photo courtesy of Richard Burt)

I have never had a birthday cake made for me before, so this was quite a momentous occasion.

27 candles, one big breath
(photo courtesy of Richard Burt)

And Dean presented me with my card. On the front is a picture of Han Solo with the head of beaker photoshopped instead of Han's. It has been evident that I am a former Star Wars geek (with a lot of geeky Star Wars knowledge retention) and my role here being the base "beaker" then Beaker's head was the obvious option.

I was very chuffed with that.

My birthday card

My rags were removed the next morning (for I was told I had to sleep with them in).

Removing the rags...

...and brushing the clumps of hair out.
And boosch! Instant Afro

For the next couple of days I was walking around Halley looking like the stereotypical scouser whenever I wore my shell-suit-esque purple shiny nylon outdoor jacket!

Which was not a good image to introduce the first of the new winterers who arrived on the next plane to pass through Halley en route to Novo. Rich's replacement, Niv, came in on the Polar 5 aeroplane to begin his handover relatively early this season.

Ben, summer vehicles manager, also came in on the plane. Two extra hands on base is going to be a great help for us in terms of man-power.

I've managed to get the errant flying radiodome back up and running on the Laws building, the GPS antenna on the Simpson is now receiving a strong signal, and replacement parts are on their way for the balloon data loggers and the exploding UPS. Science survived the winter...

To continue my tally...
Electronics 0 - Stephenson 1
Science 1 - Stephenson 1
Weather 1 - Stephenson 1

I'm just about winning methinks.

And so ends the latest 2-months of life at Halley.

I'm now on NightWatch once again, my last hopefully.
The BAS Twin Otter plane is due to arrive on 16th December, from which date I will be busy with field work servicing several remote science sites on the continent and uplifting some kit which needs to go back to Cambridge.
The ship is due to arrive sometime around Boxing Day, at which time relief will happen instantly.
So, it's soon going to be busy busy busy x10-fold pretty much until the ship takes us out of here on 1st March.

Adios for now.