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