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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Off Camping Tomorrow

Today we packed and weighed. The loads are all together and ready to fly, weather dependent. Today the flight from NZ was cancelled so no new people on base tonight. It has been low vis and windy, -23 deg C, -45deg C wind chill. The visibility reduces significantly here at times, often less than 20m. Light snow/ice blows around. Although there is very little “snow”, ice blows off the Antarctic Plateau. So we won’t be going anywhere if the forecasted weather arrives but we are to be ready for helo movements at 1050 either way. One of the uploaded photos shows you the amount of gear for an overnight stay for 3 of us so you can have some appreciation for the gear required.

Car camping they call it. The 3 of us are flying to Cape Evans (Scott’s hut) to gather some supplies. We rough it for the night and the next day we fly to Cape Royds where we meet the other 3 and set up camp for 20 days. After that time we are back to Cape Evans for 40 days.
I had my last shower tonight so will not be any cleaner than this till potentially February. A couple of tourist ships might come in (including a Russian Ice Breaker) so they might fly us back to the ship for a meal and shower.
There are 6 of us in the team. John Kermister is a conservator at the national Australian war museum. Lizzie Meek is a conservator with the Heritage Trust. Martin Wenzel is a restoration carpenter; he has been in Antarctica for all but 8 weeks of the last year. Jamie Ward is from Scotland and specializes in traditional carpentry. Lastly, Al Fastier is the project manager. He is an Antarctic veteran and very experienced. A great team. Lizzie is leaving prior to Xmas. Just after New Year’s, Scott’s grandson Falcon Scott will join us.
This will be it from me for a while. A CD with picts etc will be sent to NZ and should be online late November or early Decemeber.

Sun at its lowest point, directly south

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Packing for the summer camping trip

We spent all day packing and weighing gear. There will be about 5 helo loads (helo is the term used for helicopter down here) to get it out to Cape Royds. We are at Cape Royds for 3 weeks then at Scott’s for the remaining time. We use a Bell 212, basically a civil huey operated by the yanks. It is a serious amount of gear to take, about ten thousand pounds.
We put up 7 Scott Polar Tents to check them out before we live in them till Feb. It has dawned on me that going out camping for 3 months is a long time and there is a lot to think about. That means Xmas and New Year’s too. Coms will be minimal, only radio with Scott Base and sat phone. Also means showers will be non-existent.
Meeting lots of people, heaps of similar aged people which surprised me, I am about the only one without a PhD. A team is heading to a field camp at Roosevelt Island tomorrow. It is 800km’s away, they fly in ski Herc’s and Baslier’s which are a turbo-prob DC3. They are drilling ice cores 700m deep, going back at least 30 thousand years. They are camping on an ice mountain dome. There is nothing; they look over the horizon to whiteness.
Tonight we walked up to Observation hill which is probably the next most historic site after the huts. It has a large cross erected by Scott’s crew after he failed to return from the pole. It is 100 years later that I am at the same place.
Next we walked/slid down the hill to Mac town (Kiwi’s version of McMurdo). We checked out the amazing array of vehicles. They use a lot of fuel and they have enough for 2 years in case the icebreaker can’t get in or they go to war, no jokes. We went to the bar and yarned with a couple of friendly yanks. They brought us a Coors beer. The place is like an Alaskan mining town and the people match that description. It is literally like crossing the border. They have fuel lines and power lines everywhere which they are very protective of. The fuel line goes out to the ice runway and contains 10 thousand gallons so a rupture would be catastrophic.
The king of Malaysia and PM of Normay are coming down at some stage. The NZ high commission has given us special instruction to behave ourselves and they are very strict about pork contaminants.
Tomorrow we will finish the rest of the packing to be off on Tuesday. After that picts and updates will be scarce but I will be posting some CD’s to NZ to get uploaded.
I bet it is warming up back there, it is here too, got up to -15 deg C today, -35 deg C wind-chill, which is the killer.
more photos see;

Friday, October 28, 2011

Field Training

This Place is ColdDuring the last 2 days I have been on an Antarctic Field Training Course. This is required by all people operating out of base. It is important to learn how cold it is and what gear needs to be worn and when. First, a class room session went over a few things then we packed the Haggland with all out gear and headed for the ice shelf. We sleep in big triangular tents called Scott... Polar Tents. The sleeping bags are essentially 1 sleeping bag inside another. That was all stowed along with the food for the night. We set up camp on the side of a hill called Castle Rock. It was quite windy, about -40deg C with wind-chill. So getting shelter was the key priority. Then we had tea but that is interesting. By the time I had finished eating my pizza, the end was frozen. A cup of water would have ice crystals in it after only a few minutes. The fuel gets quite viscous at low temperatures and lighting it isn’t easy. Before bed we went for a quick walk up the hill to look north to where we will be camping, 40km away. The camp overlooked Mt Erebus which is impressive, higher than Mt Cook with a small steam vent at the top. 11pm, the sun was still high and bright. Anything you don’t want to freeze must be in the sleeping bag (between the two), anything electronic, water bottles, clothes for the next day and boot liners. We have to pee in bottles to bring back. Although advised, I didn’t want to sleep with my pee so that was left to freeze beside my bed, in the tent, along with the drink bottle. Defrosting the pee was the first job to do once I got back to base. I got to drive the Haggland home. Hardcase machines, they float so if we break through the sea ice we should be ok. They have big ramps to cross cracks and winches to pull themselves out.
See Facebook for photos

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scott Base

The trip down was smooth, 5 hours in the C17 was amazing. It is an awesome aircraft to say the least, but loud. If the flight hadn't been delayed yesterday, it would have been 8 hours in an LC130, 5 hours was enough. The plane was full, mostly Americans and about 14 Kiwis. Nothing prepared me for walking out the door of the plane and onto the Sea ice. The plane has no windows so it was a surprise. We had our extreme weather clothing on (EWC's), but stepping out to the -15 deg C (-25 deg C wind chill) was a shock and a feeling I will never forget, what a place. The Kiwi Landcrusiers were waiting and we all jumped in the back and headed through McMurdo to Scott Base. McMurdo isn't very pretty, but Scott Base is tidy and very smart inside. We had a tour after a cup of tea watching the seals sunbathe on the pack ice. The place is all joined together and is going to take a bit to get used to navigating. Everyone is very friendly, a really neat Kiwi “family”. Tonight is when the Americans are allowed to come over for a drink. Otherwise they require an invitation!!! Any time you touch something metal you get a whack from the static build up, it is so dry. Fire and dehydration are really dangerous here. Tea time at 6, they have great food. Antarctic survival training tomorrow so you’ll get some more pictures then. At the moment I am overwhelmed and trying to get to grips with reality, might go for a walk, it’s probably getting down to -20 now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Beginning Is Near

In just a week I will be leaving NZ's summer to go to the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth. This blog will document my experiences while down on the ice. Updates will occur when we head to Scott Base every few weeks from our camp at Cape Royds then Cape Evans, the sites of Shackleton's and Scott's huts' respectively.
Here is the webcam image of Scott Base

"like" the Antarctic Youth Ambassador page on facebook

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

End of the Line

Tonight will be my last at Scott base having spent close to 3 months on the ice.

To learn firsthand the history of Antarctica through living at Cape Royds and Cape Evans (the sites of the historic huts) has been as close to a traditional Antarctic experience as you can get. Ten weeks total living in a Scott polar tent with temperatures seldom above zero and sunlight streaming in 24/7 I have learnt to take all manners of obstacles in my stride. The things I have seen and done here beyond my wildest dreams. I have worked hard through sun and snow, but always woken up buzzing that I have realized my dream of being here.

(Last day at Cape Evans)

I write this final blog from inside the T.A.E (Tranz Antarctic Expedition) hut at Scott base, built by Hillary and his men in 1957. The humble start of New Zealand’s 53 year ongoing residence in Antarctica began here. Looking back on the many highlights of my trip, I am reminded of the smells of these historic huts, climbing icebergs, flying in helicopters over Antarctica’s unspoiled landscape, swimming in the brash ice on my 22nd birthday, spectacular wildlife and trips to the Scott Base Ski Field. These and many more memories have been so special to me in countless ways. To share them with my friends from the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT)and Antarctica New Zealand have made them all the more important. Living here I have forged some unique friendships in day to day life with many passionate driven people all of whom have dedicated themselves to preserving Antarctica’s rich history. All of which have taught me a great deal about team work and leadership, all of whom I regard as close friends.
(Antarctic Heritage Trust team in Scotts hut)

(T.A.E hut)

I hope that Antarctica remains the place it is today, a hub of scientific activity and history supported by a small and friendly Scott Base. Long may the rest of the world continue to support conservation and research in Antarctica for the benefit of us all.
(scott base)

Many thanks to the Sir Peter Blake Trust for this life changing opportunity, as well as the support of the Antarctic Heritage Trust and Antarctica New Zealand who have been with me all the way.
This program is a fitting way to celebrate the life and achievements of Sir Peter Blake, an ambassador for the environment and a truly remarkable leader.

(Sir Peter Blake)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cape Evans Centenary 4/01/2011

(expedition seal)

Today marks One Hundred years since the landing of Scott and his 24 men, on the ship Terra Nova at Cape Evans. In the coming weeks they erected the Terra Nova hut in anticipation for the coming winter, various scientific endeavors and ultimately attainment of the South Pole (some 30 odd days behind the Norwegian Amundsen).

(The Tennements as they were)
Whilst there were no big celebrations planned there was a definite sense of occasion as we set off for work on Scotts hut, still standing tall after one hundred years on the harshest continent on earth. It was the usual work around the hut finishing off re-cladding the roof, repairing the stables and treating various atrefacts (currently Oates bed frame).

(recladding the roof)

As we worked through the evening an Emperor penguin approached us across the fractured sea-ice coming right up to the hut within arm’s reach of us. We watched intently as he carried on intrigued in our behaviour. Up close they truly are an impressive creature. Astonishingly large in stature both high and wide, their size enormous in comparison to their adelie cousins, the colour of their coats so stunning you could look for hours. It was certainly a moment to remember as well as a stark contrast (beyond the obvious) to the taxidermy penguin sitting on Scotts study table.


(scotts penguin)

After dinner I went for a walk to view the world from the lookout towards inaccessible island managing to avoid the usual attack by nesting Skua. Ahead lays open water in the distance with groups of seals and penguins surrounding the water as the Trans Antarctic ranges provide inspirational backdrop. As the snow began to fall lightly it became as serene as ever, imagining a group of men frantically unloading the ship to spend over a year isolated from the rest of the world to conquer the last frontier on earth. Whichever way you think about it the determination of those men was second to none, the stories of their hardships dressed down as only small hurdles.

(waters edge)

To end the day I had a walk around the hut as per usual. Sir David Attenborough described the Terra Nova hut as “a time warp without parallel”. Also a pretty cool way to wind down at the end of the day.

White Christmas

Out in the field at Cape Evans with five others from the AHT I am celebrating my first ever white Christmas! The day seemed to sneak up on us without the usual barrage of advertising or carols on the radio that you would expect in regular life.

Our celebrations started with fried eggs on toast for a late breakfast (a special treat considering that we are in the field) and a tradition brought to our team by Scottish conservation carpenter Jamie 'Jam' Ward. The team enjoyed a leisurely morning prior to lunch when the camp divided into Northern Hemisphere (Randy, Jam and Martin) and Southern Hemisphere (Al, J.T and myself) for Christmas games. J.T organized the games for the day with the “stick” game, dunnage toss (basically caber toss but with spare pieces of workshop lumber) and the “rope” game all being competed as teams and individuals, The Southerners coming out victors!

(dunnage toss)
The afternoon we went for a group walk up to the top ridge beside the Barne Glacier to enjoy the sunny still day and awe inspiring panoramic views.

(What a view)
To top the day off we exchanged gifts through a previously arranged secret Santa over a brilliantly cooked dinner.

(Christmas dinner in the field)
All in all a Christmas I will never forget!