I’m not sure why I’m destined to love one of the most remote and inaccessible
places in the world. Perhaps it is just one of those quirks of character that
define who you are and which, try as you might, you can’t change. I could avoid
it as an impractical dream or, helped by good fortune, obey.
On Wednesday I was craned onto the RRS Ernest Shackleton, my once-was home,
and waved goodbye to the friends we are leaving on the shelf. This time there
were just six of them, tiny spots on the massive sheet of ice, immediately separated
from the ship by an ever-increasing space of cold blue. Everyone present at
the scene knew instinctively which side of that gap they wanted to be on. And
most were satisfied.
Gut reactions teach you a lot even if outward displays of emotion are often
discouraged. Leaving Halley, and pulling away from the ice that day was one
of the hardest things I can remember doing. Not hard like difficult, since I
had no choice so in fact it was very easy. Hard like gut wrenching. Hard like
“I don’t want to do this”. Just hard.
Simon’s sister left a message on my last blog saying she thinks I’ll be back.
Thanks, Alice, thanks for your faith in me. As for Simon, I’ll miss him lots
but I know I’ll know him for much longer than either of us are at Halley. Leaving
him, and leaving the others here, isn’t the most traumatic aspect of the separation.
Leaving the ice and the moment that can never be repeated was the wrench. Knowing
that there is a possibility, even a likelihood, that I’ll never come back.
Judging by my gut reaction just now, however, I guess I’ll have to return to
something like this.
The ship was moored at N9. No, was sitting at N9, not moored as it couldn’t
get close enough to the edge of the ice. Sitting in what seems like a big cul-de-sac
of water, surrounded by ice shelf on three sides. Ice shelf with cracks. I dozed
for most of the white journey to the ship and realised that I haven’t slept
in the back of a ground-based vehicle for years!
The ship was, I must confess, in a majestic spot. Nestled in a bay, surrounded
by ice cliffs. We assembled our clatsch, chatted for word of direction, turned
around, and boom – there in front of us was a great big iceberg that I
could swear hadn’t been there before. The cliffs were literally crumbling around
us. A large tabular berg floated on past, oblivious that its latest bump with
the shelf had created another loner in the ocean. This is the land where icebergs
We were craned onto the ship, hanging onto the Wor Geordie, a big net that
floats, across the ocean gap. I didn’t want to join the ship; I didn’t want
to leave the ice. For the rest of the day I kept a low profile. The next day
was a real treat, however, and slowly I was reminded that there are other good
things in the world too. We sailed up and down the coast, investigating potential
creeks where we could collect the remaining people on Friday. Into creek two,
creek five, creek seven, nuzzling the ice, stepping back and watching the coastline,-
the formation of creeks and their source at the Rumples. Halley in context.
To many short-term visitors the creeks must have all looked the same, but to
us, each one was a new discovery. And in the evening? Sea smoke. The Earth System
doing its damndest to remind me of the continuing revelations that are out there.
Sea smoke. Magical. Pouring off the cliffs, hitting the warmer water, floating
and surrounding us. The sun set and the moon rose. You can’t ask for more really!
Friday really was our last day at Halley. We picked the remaining people up
at creek 7 and a few lucky ex-winterers, myself included, got to go on the ice
again. It was possibly the most picturesque spot yet and appropriate to be manhauling
food and bags as a final task on the ice. It felt really good to be back there
again, one last time.
Once all were aboard, we cruised around to creek 2 to wave goodbye to the wintering
crew. The ship was sailing across water that we drove 7 tonne containers across
only a couple of months ago. The sea ice has gone completely, the cliffs have
crumbled. That crevasse I explored on my winter trip – now open to the
Seeing the winterers one last time was fantastic, so close we could shout across
to them and had to dodge flares they sent our way. They were happy to see us
go, I know that, as happy as I was last year, and will have a fantastic year.
Strange as we sailed away though, seeing these 14 small spots and knowing they
were the only humans around on all the ice I could see to the horizon and far
beyond. Within a few hours Antarctica was barely a stripe on the horizon, within
a day the occasional iceberg was all that I had to remind me of where we had