Monday, December 12, 2011

Cape Evans

We spent a couple more days at Cape Royds after the last blog. Lizzie, Martin and John Kemister flew out with their personal gear to Cape Evans. The weather packed in so we needed to stay. Later in the afternoon we saw the Kaptian Klenlicoff (KK) coming in, a Russian Ice Breaker used for cruises around both poles. They radioed to say they would be visiting the huts. The weather was marginal but it cleared enough for the two Mil 2 helicopters to transport passengers. First the expedition staff came out, put up flagged routes, unloaded emergency tents and gear, then the passengers came. The cruise starts at $18k US.
The Mil2’s are a big Russian helicopter, a bit like an old school bus. Seating for 10 people, loud and really smoky. They land on the back of the ice breaker and do trip after trip. We talked to the passengers as they walked past, telling them about the work we have done and what it is like to camp here. At 10pm everyone had seen the hut and they were pack to the ship
We moved the next day, Tuesday 22 November. The King of Malaysia visited with the Malaysian Minister of Science and the CEO of Antarctica NZ, Lou Sanson. We were given special instructions about how to address the king and not to wear gold or yellow. The king flew in to Christchurch in his private Boeing 737.While they were looking at the hut we flew to Cape Evans in Helicopter’s NZ’s flash new EC130. The king came to Cape Evans after us. By that stage the tents were up and I lay my red tent bag out in front of the tent and told the king to have a walk up the red carpet to check out a Scott Polar Tent. See the photo, he was impressed – fit for a king was a common saying that day.

The next day the KK was back on the horizon and started bringing passengers in to Cape Evans. They invited us on to the ship for a shower, so two at a time we took the empty return flight to the KK. I got to sit in the front, interesting machines, pretty old and basic. Landing on the back of the ship was interesting. Had a swim too which was fantastic, three weeks to the day since the last shower. Had a beer at the bar, a quick look around the ship then back on the helicopter to the camp. The wake of the ice from the ship was quite a sight. The others went to the ship too but some got stuck for an hour or two due to bad weather but it cleared and the operation went well and the ship left again.
Camp set up is not the most fun task but once it is done and we get in to a routine it is much nicer. The camp here is luxury. We have two 18ft containers beside each other which we cook, eat and hang out in. It has a fuel stove, gas oven and solar power. There is a large sliding window out the front which looks out on to the sea ice and over to the Barne Glacier which has 100 ft ice cliffs dropping to the sea below. The beach is 20m away so we see the open water when the ice breaks out, like a beach batch – can’t wait to go swimming. Al, the project leader said I can use it any time –keen? Just need to provide own transport. Also on site there is a carpentry workshop and a conservation lab, with Scott’s Terra Nova Hut about 100m away.
One of my tasks has been wiring up all the containers to the central battery bank and inverter. 24hr day light is a solar-power-enthusiasts dream come true. It took me 4 days to dig the snow out from the hut. Snow is always blowing here and it drops in the lee (downwind side) of any feature – rocks, buildings, tents. But interestingly the upwind side stays clear for a meter of two as the wind flows around the feature and keeps it clear. Anyhow there is a significant amount of snow on the lee side and it all blew back in when the next day another snow storm came through!
We are in the routine and the weather has improved. We sorted the food, it is like a supermarket with enough food to winter us all over. We have fresh bread daily and the standard 7:30 am start and 7pm knock off. Sometimes we go for a walk in the evenings. One night we went to a US scientists’ ice hole where they literally put fishing lines down and go fishing. There are lots of interesting sea creatures swimming around. We heard a seal sound then it suddenly shot past wanting to pop up through the hole. The seals are huge and very elegant in the water – the same can’t be said when on land. There are hundreds of them on the sea ice anywhere near tide cracks or holes in the ice. We visited a huge ice burg the other day just off the cape.
There has been plenty of work to do besides digging snow. I painted a small shelter called the Magnetic Hut, dug a trench in the permfrost– it is like concrete, assisted putting a canvas type roof product on the hut annex and more recently started installing a double glazed ranch slider on the front of the mess container.
The other day we saw a helicopter flying past carrying a huge device – covering the area of an average house. It is a Kevlar wrapped wooden lattice structure which measures the resistance of the earths crust, providing an indication of what is under the surface, a technique commonly used for mining exploration. It landed on the sea ice in front of our camp to refuel but on departure one corner got caught in an ice pin and it snapped. Luckily we had some wood and tape on hand so they fixed it.

Yesterday the Hagglands came out and we packed them up with our waste, unused tools and several thousand artifacts for the winter team to conserve. It was weird getting back to Scott Base after being out in almost complete isolation. Washing the clothes and having a shower was unbelievable good and sleeping in darkness was a wired change (the rooms have shutters- as opposed to a bright glow from our tents). This morning I rode a push bike to Mac Town (McMurdo Station) for a look. It is a busy place, heaps of huge machinery and I had to remember to bike on the right side of the road!!!
This is the last time we will be at Scott Base before the sea ice becomes unsafe to travel on. After that, all transport is by helicopter. 29th January is the next shower time and then back to NZ on the 4th February. Otherwise Sunday afternoons is the time reserved for a cat lick, a thermos of hot water in the tent with some handy towels and a face cloth. The beard is growing well, effective at keeping the face warm but tends to freeze up with snow/condensation from breathing and the infamous Antarctica snots-icles. The 7 weeks so far has gone very quickly. Christmas at camp will be interesting and New Year’s sitting on the beach in the sun will be memorable!!!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!! I will try and get another update out in the beginning of January. This will be on Facebook - not on this website. See

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Camp Move (attempt)

Camp Move

We finished the work at Shacklton’s Nimrod hut on Thursday. This is quite an achievement for the trust, the first fully completed conservation project. We began the massive task of packing up camp on Friday. Everything gathered in flight piles. Flying all the gear is a challenging task as we must make sure all the weights are known and within the helo limitations. The New Zealand EC130 helicopter is down for the summer so they will do the camp move, slightly smaller than the Bell 212. Planned for 5 flights to Cape Evans. It is only a 15 minute flight. Most of the bulk is under slung in nets. On Saturday we were up and ready but the flight was cancelled due to flat light – basically when the visibility is low and everything is white resulting in difficulty gauging depth perception and the horizon for the pilot. We had all but one tent down so we put up another to sleep in. Later in the afternoon it started snowing and unusual for here there was no wind. It is really light and fluffy so when it blows around it gathers in huge drifts in the lee of tents, rocks, hills etc. It also means if we have significant wind in the next couple of days it will be whiteout. The sun came out yesterday afternoon which was amazing. It snowed overnight and today we have mostly been in the small survival shelter/hut, drinking cups of tea. It is overcast and quite cold. An American helicopter came in just after lunch with DV’s (distinguished quests), the heads of the USAP (US Antarctic Program including the head of NASA). It was amazing seeing the helicopter come in, it created a cloud of snow from the wash, the helicopter appeared when it had landed. They had a look around the hut and at the penguin colony.

Hopefully the weather is good to fly tomorrow although the forecast is not flash, so we could be here for a few more days, 6 of us living in a 2.4 x 3m space is challenging. The Americans have kindly invited us up for tea and also allowed me to use their sat link.

Photosand video at

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cape Royds

On Tuesday 1 November the weather cleared and the wind dropped. Al, Martin and I needed to gather some gear from AHT’s camp at Cape Evans to use at Cape Royds. Normally the AHT camp put in would be by Haggunds convoy but plans changed due to the poor sea ice so the helo’s are being used. The rest of the team stayed at Scott Base to continue packing and preparing gear for Cape Royds. The thud of the Bell 212 (basically a civil Iroquois) could be heard as it took off from McMurdo. All our gear was loaded, it is amazing how much you can pile in. Summer camping trip Antarctic style. Cape Evans is only about 15 minutes by helo from Scott Base, over the hill and north up the coast, about two thirds of the distance to Cape Royds.

The Cape Evans camp is about 200m from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, which is currently covered in large snow drifts: my job next week will be to clear all of that snow. The beach is gently sloping and reaches the sea ice which continues for as far as the eye can see. Emperor penguins wander in groups. I sat on the sea ice and they came right up and investigated. An amazing experience. They are a large bird, standing as high as me sitting. The penguin experts say these penguins are likely to have failed raising chicks or breading. So seeing the penguins is a bit sad having heard that. As we departed, Henry Worsley and his team landed in a Twin-Otter to begin their expedition to the pole. An interesting expedition for you to Google if interested.

The tools, fuel drums and generators were loaded in a fashion so the cargo net would pick it up evenly. Finally bed at 2am, then back up working again at 6am. We packed the remaining gear and the helo arrived as the wind died down. It took the rock drill back to Scott Base for repairs and returned to load the sling and us to Cape Royds where we met the others and began the mammoth task of setting up camp. Pegs had to be put in with the rock drill, through the concrete-like permafrost.

This is an amazing and quite intense place. A rocky volcanic cape, stripped of snow. An Adelie penguin colony is 400m away. The chicks are hatching now. An American research team is camping up the hill. They take pictures of particular nests daily which can be viewed here . A webcam scans the colony and uploads that daily. We camp in a small gully. A comparatively large tent contains the kitchen and mess area which has a diesel heater then we have individual Scott polar tents to sleep in and house all our personal gear. The mess tent is tight with 6 in it but space management is improving. Shackleton’s hut is 100m down the hill. Mt Erebus is to the SE and is an amazing sight.

A typical day, Monday through to Saturday starts with breakfast at 7am then a briefing at 7:30 to go over the day’s tasks, health and safety and any other issues. First lunch is at 11am which is generally cheese, crackers, salami and hot drinks. Second lunch is at 3pm and is more substantial, often pasta. Finally tea is at 7pm when we knock off. We eat well but the food is basic. Stir frys and pasta dishes are common. I am normally ready for bed by 10. Sunday mornings deal with the record keeping of the project and planning. We get Sunday afternoons off to go for a walk, sleep, read, clean etc. It is looked forward to. Domestic chores are a challenge here. All water is melted from snow and a lot of snow makes not much water. Waste solids are packaged and returned to Scott Base for recycling or processing, and we have a permit to dispose of our small amounts of grey water and urine directly into the sea.

We communicate with Scott Base twice a day. This passes on any important information like weather and political poll results. We have a sat phone which can be used to make calls but it is expensive and sometimes difficult to use. Luckily I brought a small 12V battery down which is connected to a small solar panel to provide a bit of power to charge cameras and radios which is handy.

The project is interesting. Shackleton’s hut is amazing. It is like a snap shot in time, the smell is strong and the items as they were left. There is an eerie light inside from the windows, it is cold and very quiet. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to visit and spend three weeks here. The Antarctic Heritage Trust began conservation work at Shackleton’s hut in 2005, and this year marks the final year of work at this site. Meanwhile conservation work continues at Scott’s Terra Nova hut, Cape Evans (where we head to next week), with conservation plans written for Discovery Hut and Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare.

The first day was spent clearing snow then carrying all the artefacts and gear to the hut. A lot of items are going back to the hut which have been away for some time being conserved. The main items are the Venesta boxes, of which there are several hundred . Most are now in their final resting place. The artefacts inside are amazing. It is interesting working out what the foods inside are. In some of the boxes there is perfectly white flour.

The weather has been clear the last few weeks but it is always, with the exception of a few hours, windy. Consistently 20 knots gusting 30. Not particularly cold, -10 to -4, but the wind chill is the killer. Exposed skin is vulnerable to frostnip. When it is calm, it is an entirely different place. We walk to the edge of the cape and watch the Adelie colony and see the wandering Emperors. The open water can be seen further to the north. The Trans-Antarctic Mountains are across the sound. Scott Base is to the south over the hill on Pram Point, the most southern point of Ross Island. The cloud formations are amazing down here and they change so quickly. Photography is easy as there is so much to look at.

Last night the American Penguin Researchers came for tea which was nice. They have a satellite internet link which they have let me use to upload this. Otherwise a blog would have to travel by disc which gets sent on the next helo flight, and these only occur every few weeks. It gets to Scott Base, waits for the next US flight then ends up in Chch to be uploaded. At this stage we may be going back to Scott Base to vote but if not it will be the end of January before my next shower.

Next update December.

more images at