Happy New Year, Happy Christmas, and thank you to all who have left messages
here or sent emails. It’s lovely to receive word from home and from friends,
and amazing to think that folk out there are reading this stuff!
Word on the ice is that, as the winter progresses, the volume of correspondence
from the Outside World decreases such that, come mid-winter, you truly are an
isolated core, desperate for news or proof that you did once have friends, somewhere
in the world. Here, the solitary Antarctican thinks, “oh, so the novelty’s worn
off, has it, and now I’m no longer worth remembering,” while at home, no doubt,
life goes on so busily that you scarcely notice it’s been a month and, anyway,
there’s not much to say these days.
It’s been interesting for me to hear these stories, wondering if we, too, will
experience all these apparent inevitables. In fairness to the folk who have
remained throughout, they all still smile a lot and appear to be sane, so I
We stopped bashing the ice. It hurt too much and got us nowhere. Halley base
pulled out the stops, fashioned a bridge across the big crack and located safe
spots to cross the smaller cracks, laid out a 7km drum line from the ship to
edge of the ice-shelf and then another from these cliffs to the base, about
Relief was carried out in two camps: shipside and base-side. I was shipside.
(Last year I stayed on base so check that
entry if you want the full picture.) It was great. There was action at last!
Unloading boxes, discovering new levels to the Shackleton that I could never
have believed, days of fuel drums, nights and days of 12 hour rotating shifts,
hard physical work. Cargo is offloaded to sledge. Sledge is pulled by sno-cat
across sea-ice. Sno-cat driver drives cat, driver’s mate sits on sledge with
radio and throw bag. If driver falls into ice, driver’s mate saves him. If the
sledge is too full, driver’s mate follows on sno-cat.
My sometime job, driver’s mate, was the best job in the world. Sitting on a
sledge, watching the world go by, staring at clouds, admiring icicles and cliffs
on the shelf, blue blue ice, imaging what must be inside those crevasses, away,
away, away, from the mayhem of the cargo hold. Strops and straps, weight loads,
cranes, crossed information, endless, endless boxes and crates, drums and drums
and drums and drums. So much fuel, so much impact, can we really justify our
And then the skidooing, hard work, bounce, bump, steer her back, topple over,
jump up again, zoooom, up beside the driver, wave, yup, communication all intact,
mine sits like a Harley, I feel like a motorbike bodyguard beside a limousine.
Zooom, bounce, bounce, o my, look up, can’t; wind in face, thumb hurts, wind,
I’m cold, but sweating lots, this thing is heavy.
Penguins. The wildlife! O! the wildlife… I had no idea so much was going
on down here at the coast when up there on the ice shelf it is all so barren
and bare. The wildlife! I saw whales, up close, checking out the ship, amazing,
and then swimming under us, under the ship, under the ice we are moored against
and driving on (it is 3m thick, don’t fear). And seals: leapoards and weddels,
a pup sliding right close, snapping at the lines holding the ship in. Lots of
emperor penguins, always nearby, and the occasional adelie, so sweet, so comical,
bewildered by our activity, not knowing where to go, or how. Wilson’s storm
petrels, a giant petrel and the ever beautiful snow petrels. (There are lots
of petrels, – the name apparently comes from Peter, biblical, the fisherman
who tried to walk on water, because they fish, and when they take off, they
walk on water, or something like that. Their beaks are very cool anyway, – little
in-house desalination plants. You can even see the salt that has crystallised
But I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. It’s like German irregular verbs:
you spend so much time learning about them that you never really get the ‘regular’
bit right. Most of the time, it is still void of life here, these sitings are
a song in silence. But so wonderful when they do happen. Them in just their
skin while there’s me in my orange dayglo gortex super everythingproof allinone
tellytubby outfit, and mask, and three hats. And the patterns in the snow and
the cliffs, and the ice, the ice, the ice!! There is so much to see in a landscape
that is apparently empty. I now realise why Manhattan did my head in last March.
You start to see detail in the plainest of things. Angel-dust in the air, arches
in sastrugi, the accumulation of snow on yesterdays footprint. I love it, I
love it, I love it here. And then we came to Halley, and I love it here too.
But I’m knackered.