On the ice at last: it’s all go!

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

retain faith.

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.

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2 Responses to On the ice at last: it’s all go!

  1. cathy says:

    happy new year rhian! don’t despair about fading into snowy winter oblivion, i think of you often while hunkering down for the next deep freeze that grips toronto every so often. and i think, this is nothing, what about antarctica!! and so i read your postings, and i think, wow, antarctica! i love snow and i love ice, people here can’t understand me. so, i’m seeing all sorts of new possibilites of winter through your eyes. by the sounds of it you are getting remoter and remoter? is it possible to send any real mail to you? or is that it for the supply ship? i notice that my comment is turning into a rather lengthy ramble. am i supposed to be emailing you somewhere else? i don’t want to inconvenience fellow posterers. well anyway, as for news from the other land of snow and ice, i had a fantastic little vacation in a little chalet in quebec, with 80cm of snow, which i’m sure cannot possibly impress you, and we went snowshoeing and skiing and made la tire from maple syrup poured onto snow. has anyone brought any maple syrup? imagine having the purest of the purest syrup tire…and now i’m back to data drudgery. well–that’s all for now from the north american continental crust side of things…good luck on the trek to the camp, and the crevasse crossings, and with all those other things that antarctic scientists do!!



  2. Jim says:

    Hi Rhian!

    Thanks for your report of the great trek from the Shackelon to Halley.

    I can just see you riding on that sledge enjoying the scenery. Your word pictures are great, Felix is not the only writer in the family.

    I hope you enjoy that balmy summer weather, it is minus 25C here tonight and REAL winter!

    Looking forward to hearing more adventures.


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