Thursday, 26 November 2009

The post everyone's been waiting for!

And it's penguin time! The past weekend is all about the world's silliest birds.

On Saturday, we had a penguin invasion! Someone reported on Friday night that penguins had been sighted near the Halley VI construction site. By the time we got there, there were at least 200 that had wandered up the drumline. And they're still around here, almost a week later, showing up here and there. Just two days ago, our Twin Otter landed - we'll be seeing more of it in the next month - but first the doc had to shoo about 6 penguins off the skiway. And they really didn't want to move.

The penguin diaspora isn't just confined to our base - we were 10km away on the side of the base opposite the Windy Bay colony, where we saw 10 of them standing and staring at a flag we stuck out there. Hours of entertainment, flags! Must have been sensory overload for these guys.

But anyway. More importantly, on Sunday we assembled the crew and went down to the colony - an exchange trip, if you like. So welcome back to Windy Bay!

Compared to previous trips, there were a lot less kids around. Shame, really. One result of this imbalance is that every baby penguin was fussed over by not only two parents, but several aunts and uncles as well. Obviously, they're spoiled now. One baby caught site of us, and excitedly ran over to meet us. You could almost hear him saying "Oh boy! Oh boy! Something new! Hooray!" while the parents and relatives were running behind him and freaking out; "He's too young to be near the orange-suited creatures!"

This was probably just a coincidental stretch, but this picture looks like a protective dad saying "Damn it, man, have you no decency? Get that camera away from my wife and child. Nothing to see here, sir! Move along!"

In the end, the kid just tried to do the old "Hide under mom" shy routine. But, seriously, isn't he getting a bit old for this? Barely fits under there any more.

On a different note - penguins are never known for their dignity. But you want to see a goofy looking penguin, watch one scratch i's ear for an extended period of time.

That sucker was good and scratched by the time I stopped laughing, lost interest, and wandered off. For all I know, he's still scratching it.

A few pics down at the seaside too. I like this one because it looks like the penguin and I planned a classic "day-at-the-beach" picture:

And here's one attempting to regain land:

A penguin that successfully launches out of the water is a beautiful sight. One that attempts and fails provides one of nature's goofiest moments.

Anyway, there are a few more, but I'll stretch them out.

Also, we managed to scale the Macdonald Ice Rumples and dig out a site that was 3m under snow. Once again, Kirk accompanied us and will probably make a video, so I'll suspend comment until it can be provided. Suffice it to say, there were enough bottomless crevasses and avalanches within earshot to make it an interesting journey.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Follow the bouncing ball

Gettin' on to two weeks here at Halley. The first week was mainly really crap weather, as the previous entry's video has shown. One interesting difference this season, though; the crazy winds don't rock the base like they used to. Our base, as pictures show, is built on "stilts", to keep us about 20 ft above the ever-accumulating snow.
However, we stopped jacking it up two years ago, in anticipation of eventual demolition when we build the new base. As a result, we're now about half the height we were above the snow in the picture. So a bit less swaying.

But yes, the wind has since abated a bit and I've been going like gangbusters digging out my equipment. Site update:

Raised and reprogrammed: B0, C0, D10, E0, R1
Remaining: A10, A00, R2, R3

Whole lotta digging. Site C0, in particular, was 2m deep under ice. We had to abandon shovels in favour of ice axes. Felt like we were mining, more than digging.

But still, things have progressed quickly, to the extent that I don't think I'll need to keep the running tally - I've knocked off more than half in a week! But soon the Twin Otter will be arriving, and it'll be time to concentrate on my flights again. Including a visit to a certain Aluminium/aluminum/alumium pole who has his own Facebook page.

But getting back to the title of the blog. As Kirk and I were preparing to hit site E00, some work was happening on the Simpson, the science building in which I work. Given a massive onslaught to the main living quarters at Halley, stuff like the gym has been shunted off to our building. Among the gym equipment coming across, there was a large plastic inflated ball - the kind you do situps and press-ups on - amongst the cargo on a sledge. But the ball fell off the sledge on the way to the building.

Generally, no big deal. But it just so happened that there was a brisk 20 km/h that day, and we live on a nice flat expanse of nothing. So off the ball goes. And as I was the only person nearby with a snowmobile at hand, I was the only one in a position to go get it.

This was not as easy as it sounds. First, the ball had about a 0.5km headstart on me before I got my act together and took off. It then bounced under the Laws building, past the garage and the Drewry, and was headed towards the Halley VI construction site. I attempted an intercept about 20ft from the site, but the ball banged into my skidoo almost contemptously and immediately went behind it into a large wind scoop formed by one of the Halley VI modules. This is a depression in the snow in the leeward side of a building - and these particular wind scoops are at least 8 feet tall.

Thinking the ball was trapped, I leisurely got off my skidoo and ambled around the building to trap my quarry. Only to see it merrily bouncing away, regaining at least 200m of distance from me. I don't know how it got out of the scoop, but I could swear it was laughing at me as I swore and scrambled back to my skidoo to resume the chase.

By the time caught up to it again, we had long since left the Halley base perimeter. This time, I sped past it considerably, got off my skidoo, and waited for it to approach. I could almost hear the "high noon showdown" music from an old western, as my own tumbleweed nemesis came ambling towards me. I pounced, subdued the fugitive, and brought him back to the Simpson amidst general applause:

And then I went inside for tea and medals. The plastic ball remains trapped in the room next door, never again to make a mad break for Antarctic freedom. If I hadn't caught it, who knows where it would be by now?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Welcome back to beautiful Halley

(video courtesy of Tim Gee, the cameraman and fellow melt-tank digger)

Ah, it's good to be back. Even when I'm doing melt-tank duty in 30 knot winds. I'm the one in orange, there, vainly pulling on the rope attached to the melt-tank lid, which is buried under at least five feet of snow. Once we get to it, then we open it, and the real shovelling begins.

Yes, we have left the namby-pamby Rothera base, with its mountains and balmy weather, for real Antarctica - Halley!

This is actually my favourite time and place to be south - the first group into Halley. There are eighteen of us on base at the moment, 11 winterers and 7 new arrivals. We're still on 9 to 5 (in theory) hours, and everyone congregates at the bar at night. I've even got a room to myself! For the moment. It's time like this that I wonder if I should winter at Halley. But such wonderings are brief.

As comfortable as I am, the clock is ticking before I leave. And upon arrival in stellar weather conditions, the weather promptly crapped out and has been the wonderful conditions shown in the above video. So I'm base bound.

I was supposed to leave on Christmas day. However, as happens in Antarctic logistics, everything has been delayed. The Twin Otter planes require a certain designation before flying over here. The Shackleton has a defective part holding it back. So I might get a reprieve. My sites are named A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,and I; I shall keep a running tally of how many I can get to before I am shipped out. I think I'll hit them all.

Regarding my trip over here from Rothera, I see no need to post pictures or describe the experience when Kirk Watson, our field assistant and cameraman, has already done so professionally. Especially since I have the longest dialog bit in his video!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Rothera: The Chilean Invasion

Hello all! Welcome to....Rothera, again. Coming on to the end of week 2. Our taxi to Halley has been delayed by weather, missing screws, airport as usual. It looks like I'm going right now, actually. But there's time to post this first.

Ladies and gentlemen, the enemy has been in our midst.

Some of you may know that the Antarctic Peninsula has been claimed by three different countries: Britain, Argentina, and Chile. This week, Rothera has been invaded by one of the rival claimants. Yes, the Chilean Air Force has come to occupy Rothera.

And oh, it was bad from the start. They came in two Twin Otters, ostentatiously performing a fly-by in formation before they landed. Yes, we've got Maverick and Goose here, disrupting our busy airport (we had three flights that day).

And they've been here taking up space for days now. Oh, sure, they're polite and happy, and everything, always smiling and helping out, but we know better. And we're not falling for it.

The other night, they rudely interrupted dinner, banging on glasses and standing up and speaking. They were saying something about "wonderful hosts", "fantastic time here", etc. They had the audacity to present our base commander with a custom-made clock and vintage Chilean wine. And he fell for it! He actually reciprocated with a gift of his own, and everyone clapped. But I'm sure they didn't mean it.

And then, to top it all off, they all came to the Hallowe'en party that night with a large bucket and a pisco sour recipe and served cocktails to all of us until at least 3am. Here's the Commander, mixing up the drinks:

I didn't fall for it, though - I only had two of their drinks. I would't let a good time get between me and a quasi-legitimate border dispute between two nations. Even if I'm not a citizen of either nation.

Hopefully Britain can find a way to prevent such a horrible international incident from happening again.

More general pictures:

...and meanwhile, amidst all this political controversy, evil continues to brew on Jenny Island.