Sunday, 21 February 2016

Work and play

It’s been a busy week, but a good mix of both work and play. Last Sunday was a no fly day, but the weather was stunning, so I tracked down some of the field guides at breakfast and it didn’t take much to persuade them to head out climbing on an outcrop just opposite Rothera. You may be picturing an epic adventure of hardship and cold hands, but we were in the sun on a windless day, and I was way warmer than I have been on many a British crag…

Monday was back to work, but of a different kind; I was on ‘gash’. There are a host of wonderful people here whose job it is to do the cooking, sort the rubbish, mend anything that breaks etc., but each day they also have someone assigned to 'gash', and this person helps out with odd jobs that need doing. So my morning was spent emptying the different bins (everything is carefully sorted into paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, metal etc.) into the relevant containers in the recycling shed, cleaning the toilets, and hovering the accommodation block. I then reported to the kitchen and spent the rest of the day washing up – for about 6 hours! This is actually my favourite household task, so I enjoyed trying to keep on top of the endless supply of pots and pans that headed my way, and chatting with the chefs as the recounted stories of cooking in a host of exotic locations.

Pulling the kit down to the outcrop - thanks boys! (photo: Ian Potten)
The rest of the week passed in a blur as I got the chance to head into the field again, first to install a GPS and seismometer on Wednesday, and then to service another GPS on Thursday. This sort of work is a funny mixture of waiting, followed by frantic activity: on Wednesday we were on standby all morning waiting to see if the weather would improve. Loitering around, the boys somehow managed to squeeze in three meals by 11am, but then suddenly we were off!

We called Max on the radio and got him to head to the science building with a tractor and trailer so I could load up all my kit. I ticked off the 20 separate cargo items that we needed – all crucial – then we jumped in the trailer and headed over to the hanger where we somehow crammed an awful lot of stuff into the back of a Twin Otter.

co-pilot Pippa
It was my job to make the call of exactly where we would install the instruments, which meant jumping in the front seat of the plane, and chatting with pilot Ian as we hopped over the mountains and then dropped down to circle the nunatak that we’d chosen from looking at satellite photos. After a few passes to get a close look at the rock and snow conditions we settled on a site and Ian swooped through a col, pulled a sharp left, and deftly landed the plane in a flurry of snow only a hundred metres from the outcrop. Amazing skill!

Yes, we are heading straight for a mountain...

Solar panel powering the GPS receiver (photo: Al Docherty)
We had a lot of work to get through, and there was a chance that the plane would head home and leave two of us in the field if it looked there was more than a day’s work, but the guys were amazing – Ian the pilot, Al the field guide, and Lewis the chef (who had a day off, so came along to provide crucial extra manpower) – and we were done in 8 hours from landing to take off. Wearily heading into the dining room at around 10pm I was greeted by two grinning people who asked if I would be up for heading straight out again the next morning…

Preparing to install the GPS monument (photo: Ian Potten)
Hard at work installing a seismometer (photo: Ian Potten)
A fun day off for Lewis the chef! (photo: Ian Potten)

Ali Rose in the middle of nowhere: Robertson Island
Thursday caught me out as the waiting was in the middle of the day rather than at the start. We got the nod to fly first thing and so Sam, Ali and I scrambled some kit together and were airborne with pilot Al soon after 9am, heading for Robertson Island. The work didn’t take too long, and after a quick explore of the headland we were back in the plane, tucking into sandwiches and ready to head home. However, the weather had closed in at Rothera so we had to sit it out.
In the plane.
In the middle of nowhere.

The moonscape at Robertson Island
I took the opportunity to nap on the pile of sleeping bags in the back of the plane (always carried, in case you get stuck out overnight or longer), then since the weather at Rothera was not improving we hopped over to Cape Disappointment for a cup of tea with the field team who were still camped there. Just as it was looking like we might be staying out for the night, a flurry of radio conversations suggested that visibility at Rothera was improving, so pilot Al made the call to see if he could get us home. We cruised up to 14,000ft to avoid the worst of the weather (the cabin is not pressurized) and were rewarded with a break in the clouds as we descended into Rothera to be greeted by the hangar crew.

The fact that we got all this work done in two days, skipping around the Antarctic Peninsula between patches of bad weather, and still making it home for tea, shows what an amazing operation BAS run down here - thanks everyone!

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