Sunday, 21 November 2010

Season 4: Already Underway!

Hello all!

Well, I kinda abandoned last season's blog, as long-term readers know. Suffice it to say, all turned out well and mission accomplished. I may go back on one of these posts and put up a few pics and links.

But in the meantime, I am back at Halley now and will bring you up to speed on the current season. Fair warning - I will probably blog less this year; perhaps once every ten days. But this season could be the most interesting yet, as I have work all over our half of Antarctica and don't quite know when or how I'm getting home.

So let's begin.

My season this year started on November 4. After a charming weekend in Oxford and the Cotswolds, where we stayed in a 500-year old pub in Shipton-under-Wychwood, Rachel dropped me off at Heathrow for the Cape Town flight.

I've come into Halley three times in the past - twice through Rothera and Chile, and once via ship from Cape Town. This time it was by air, via Cape Town. As usual, though, we had a bit of a buffer between our arrival and our departure, so there was time to frolic in Cape Town. We were put up in a hostel-like place near the V&A Waterfront - the swish area full of expensive shops and whatnot. Our place was fairly bare bones, but had a good location. So no complaints.

As I'm now a veteran of Cape Town, once again I played a minor role as tour guide/town expert. I knew the best place for pizza ("Clay Oven", Long Road), the various routes up Table Mountain, and where to get the best banana colada (some place in Camp's Bay; can't recall the name).

However, this time, I went with an armada of chefs - we've got seven this year (this includes a few who aren't actively chef-ing; some have changed roles). They made a few new discoveries that have gone in my file folder. Or would, if I had such items of organization.

Usual pictures of Cape Town. Camp's Bay:

...and the obligatory climb up Table Mountain:

While wandering downtown, this newspaper front made me laugh:

Seriously, I've only got one suggestion for you and your old vuvuzela.

Anyway, it was about three days of exploring before we got the go-ahead. We left Cape Town at 11:30pm, for the 5 hour flight to Antarctica. I have to say, I'm not particularly a fan of this particular flight. It's a Russian plane, whose toilet is a ratchet-strapped portapotty, and is ridiculously hot. Fortunately, I had my iPad with Civilizations on it to keep me occupied. Sleep was sadly not an option.

But then we were there! Novolazarevskeya, the Russian base. Last time I came through there, in 2008, we were there for about 45 minutes. This time, it was three days.

First thing we did was unload the plane. This wasn't trivial. Five different bases were serviced by this flight. And, in addition, there was some equipment for a race to the pole! I've seen signs of this here and there - keep an eye out in the news for it. As it was, we were carrying down one of the vehicles:

I was lucky enough to get a ride in one of these vehicles up to base from the skiway - about 15km. I can safely say it was the coolest way to traverse a glacier. Fast.

As it turns out, it was a good thing these things were around the base. While I was there, some guy - a Canadian, no less - went out for a walk and fell straight into a crevasse. Just opened up right underneath him! He was a tourist and stuck down there for five hours. When they tracked him down, they tried getting him out by the usual mountaineering pulleys, but no luck. So they drove one of these vehicles up and winched him out.

However, I was oblivious to all this. We were staying in an area of the Russian base called the Oasis. The accommodations were a little bit, shall we say, tight:

Fortunately, it was only one night of this before we were upgraded. The best feature of Novoa and the Oasis, though, was the sauna/health club. It was set up by one of the Russian long-timers and polar heroes, Vladimir Baranov. He still runs it. I think he has a base named after him somewhere. But his passion is now the sauna. He and his daughter, a doctor, run the Oasis. Here he is, presenting a certificate to some of the sauna attendees.

I was to receive mine later that night.

Here we are taking a stroll of our own. We were knowledgeable enough to avoid obvious crevasse areas.

After day three, we had word there was a weather window at Halley, so we went for it. My travel back to the skiway was in a bit more traditional Russian conveyance:

And no, this thing wasn't exactly whisper-quiet.

Anyway! We got to the plane, and with minimal fanfare, we were on our way to Halley. But alas - our window had closed. We were half an hour away from Halley when we had to reroute to a different base, SANAE.

And I shall leave you here, for the moment. I need to convert a few more pictures from SANAE, which has been one of the oddest places I've been on the planet. And besides, it's 8pm - past my bedtime! I'm trying to keep very early hours this season, getting up at 4:45am and asleep by 8:30pm. This schedule usually has a half-life of one week. All it takes is one big party and I'm sleeping into 8am and there's no turning back.