Thankyou so much for your last two letters that I haven’t yet responded to
– one of October 15/16th and the next, which I just received today, from
the 23rd. I hope you received the flowers in place of my usual letters.
I am writing this on a Wednesday having taken a last-minute detour back to
base this afternoon on our way to our second campsite of the holiday. Simon,
Craig, Ed and I left for the "MacDonald Ice Rumples" on Sunday afternoon
and had intended on staying away until next Sunday – hence I wasn’t sure
if you would get any letters from me this week. We had a fantastic time at the
Rumples – what an amazing place.
As you know, everything around Halley is flat, flat, flat except for a few
features you can see on the horizon. One of these is the Rumples and since they’re
the only thing you can see, I thought they would be huge. As it turns out, it’s
pretty impressive but just lots of lumpy bumpy upturned icebergs, not much higher
than the ice-shelf itself. And only an hour skidoo ride away! Apparently this
is a point where the continental shelf is higher (like a mountain underwater)
and grounds the moving ice shelf that we live on. The result is all sorts of
chaos and the nice smooth ice breaking up and forming creeks… it is, in fact,
the reason why we can access the base by ship every year.
Anyway, what you actually see is delightful, to my eyes anyway. Lots of ice,
massive massive ice cubes, open water (the sea, the sea!), icebergs in the distance,
grounded icebergs frozen in around us… very exciting, you can almost see the
ground moving around you (very slowly!) We even saw some footsteps that colleagues
made last week and this week they were seperated by a 3 foot gap where the ice
had moved (so we turned around at that point instead of jumping!) Here’s a picture:
Just these few days away have done wonders for my confidence as well –
confidence camping in the antarctic, putting up and taking down tents, abseiling,
walking in crevassed ice fields… when you know how, it doesn’t feel very scary
Anyway, last night we decided to make the most of our 10 days off and head
for the Hinge Zone today if the weather was good. That’s the place I went in
March but didn’t see anything because the weather was so bad. After about an
hour of driving, we stopped to check everyone was ok and discovered that (1)
there were some possibly nasty clouds looming and (2) one of our team had quite
bad frostnip on his neck. We were still fairly close to base so we decided to
come home, have a cup of tea and re-assess here after having warmed up. Hence
this opportunity to email!
The timing is actually pretty good as it’s a friend’s birthday today as well
so everyone is in a celebratory mood. I think we’ll spend the night here tonight
and then try to move on somewhere tomorrow. If the weather’s too bad to go to
the Hinge Zone (about 4-5 hours driving), then we might just go to the caboose
on the coast and visit the penguins again. There are apparently even more now
than at my last visit! So whatever we do, I know we’ll have a good time. It
would be nice to get to the Hinge though as this is probably my last chance
to see it. Never mind if not – I have after all seen lots here and had
an amazing year!
On other news, we are apparently due to have three or four flights in the next
month, which is a bit weird. One private plane will be flying between Rothera
and a Russian station and refuelling at Halley… and then apparently returning
a few days later and possibly then a third time, we don’t really know for sure
though. After that come the Germans on their way to Neumayer – I met them
the last two years and they’re always fun to have around for a few days. I don’t
think the intention is ever to stay long but you really can’t predict anything
with the weather here as you’ve probably gathered by now!
Then, finally, in December we might get visitors from our own institution along
with mail and fresh food (the Germans should hopefully bring some goodies but
again, we’ve been told not to count on it!) There will be a couple more flights
in December carrying new faces (one lot coming in via Cape Town, the South African
base and then the German base… lucky sods!) The real chaos of course starts
when the ship arrives around Christmas… I can’t belive that this will then
be the third time I’ll be documenting that time of year! It really must be time
to move on!
The sun is now almost permanently up, I’m not really sure because we’ve had
so much cloud cover lately. It’s certainly light outside the whole time.. makes
camping easy and allows for late starts after bumbly mornings, always useful!
The warmer weather also makes an incredible difference to the basic enjoyment
and ease of getting anything done. On my last camping trip I remember my face
getting so cold, goggles steaming up, fingers feeling sore after a few minutes
outside big mitts.. and just tying knots, lashing sledges, doing anything really
was hindered by either cold or darkness. Plus, of course, it’s much nicer sleeping
when you’re warm even if it’s light!
So, I’m coming around to the advantages of warmth and light though wouldn’t
have missed the winter for the world.. it’s still nice to know that Scorpio
is up there even if I can’t see him!
I’ve just re-read this and realised that much that I’ve written to you I’d
probably repeat to Felix to put on his webpage. If you don’t mind, I’ll send
this to him as well and he can maybe post it for a dfferent angle of my life
here (weekly letters to Granny are actually big events for me!).
I’ll write with more news as soon as I get back from wherever I’m going!
lots and lots of love