From Texel to Rothera
Jamming all my belongings in a suitcase staying under 23kg was quite the task. But after repacking about a dozen times I managed to close my bag ready to set off to the most southern continent! After a last memorable night with family and friends I met up with Tristan Biggs and Johann Bown (Trace metals project) at Schiphol airport. Let the adventure begin!
From Amsterdam to Frankfurt to Sao Paulo to Santiago…then joining a group of BAS collegues and flying on to Punta Arenas where we were also joined by Maria van Leeuwe and Jacqueline Stefels (Dimethyl sulfide project) from Groningen University. Two days of flying was quite the journey, especially for Johann who is over 2m tall, the poor guy barely fits in the seats! Eventually we arrived in Punta Arenas completely wrecked, craving a warm shower and a decent meal.
After a good night rest we boarded the DASH 7 to Rothera, a small aircraft well suited for extreme environments such as the Antarctic. All the cargo was strapped to the floor in front of the passenger seats and then, we took off! The last stretch until the icy world.
Three hours into the flight the first icebergs began to show up followed by ice floors stretching out underneath us. After a total of 4 and a half hours we landed on the icy runway, surrounded by white and mountains and the frozen sea…. breath-taking! When we set foot on Antarctica it felt like stepping into a postcard, one of those postcards you tape above your bed.
The base commander Matt guided us through -11°c and strong winds to the dining room for a coffee. Talk about a room with a view! Sitting over a hot cup of coffee looking out over a glacier and a frozen bay (for now) with icebergs rising out of the sea ice and every so often a seal resting on an ice plate…It is all just so unreal! Once we got appointed to our rooms, my way as a newcomer became apparent as I split from the others who have been down last year. Whilst they went straight down to the Bonner and Gerritsz lab to see how things have changed over the winter, I took up my base training together with Petra, Matt and Silver, three new winterers. It started off with loads of information on living around a runway, communication to the real world, medical and environmental things and a super fun one, vehicle training (tractor, Gator, ski-doo, crane and boat).
On day two we packed up our sleeping bags, tents, stoves, thick clothing and drove up the glacier across from the base in a huge snow-cat (it felt like a bit of a monster truck) for our field training with Malcy, one of the field assistants. We set up camp and learned some basics on camping and survival in the snow.
After all that hard work there was time for a bit of leisure. I strapped myself into a snowboard (for the first time in 12 years), jumped on the back of a skidoo and was whisked up to the top of Vals, our recreational skiing area.
Getting down again was more like rolling down than anything else, face plant after face plant but it was great fun! The view is incredible: mountains covered in snow, frozen sea, huge ice bergs trapped in the ice and of course, more snow snow and snow!
Today was my birthday and my fellow campers surprised me with cake and candles so we had a little celebration in the tent. Probably the most special birthday ever! Next morning, after a bit of a rough night sleeping on the snow, we broke up camp and went back to base. All base training completed, I was ready to join the others in the lab!
First things first though, digging digging and more digging as most of the buildings and stores are snowed in up until roof level. We had to clear windows, doors and fire escapes and when Johann decided he needed something from the hazardous chemical store, a little building next to the lab, we had to dig out an entrance that was three meters deep. Nothing is self-evident in Antarctica! Luckily the two boys are good diggers and I could take care of the staircase leading into the snow pit.
Meanwhile we are setting up the lab for the experiments to start as soon as the weather allows. For now, the bay remains completely frozen which means no boating and so no sampling! We are just waiting for the winds that will blow the ice out of the bay. Hopefully soon we’ll be out on the sea!
On our first Sunday the weather was superb, a bright blue sky and a shining sun. With an English brunch in the stomach (fried fried fried) we set off for a great afternoon on the ski hill together with about 15 others. The winterers took up a sound system to blast a rather funny mix of music around the area. A good layer of sunscreen and the fun could begin. Tristan on skies, me on snowboard and Johann driving the skidoo. It was a great day out but although loads of sunscreen, some nostrils were pretty burnt! After dinner, with pain in every single muscle, we forced ourselves to make a walk around Rothera point, taking advantage of the great weather and enjoying the spectacular view of the vast sea ice before it is gone. A great ending of an exciting long week!