My blog while I work for British Antarctic Survey

A busy first week in the snow…

November 8th, 2008 Posted in Antarctica, Training

It’s been a massive first week for me down at Rothera! Let’s see if I can remember all that’s gone on…?

What's behind this door..? After arriving on base last Friday, we had the Halloween party on Saturday night (Halloween was delayed for a day down here so that us new arrivals could join in and have a little time to dig something out of the fancy dress cupboard!) and subsequent recovery on Sunday plus a little touring around base to find where the various IT and communication systems are. To the right you see Ian demonstrating what can be found behind various doors once the snow level builds up!

Before anyone is allowed out and about on their own from base they need to complete certain levels of field training to ensure their safety. The basic principles of crevasse rescue were introduced on the field course back in the UK but, once you’ve arrived down south, it’s time to practice them for real! As two new winterers, Matt (the new doctor) and I were paired up and assigned to be taken out by Ferg and Paul, two of the Field GAs (Field General Assistants, the title given to the mountain guides we have to take scientists out into the wilds of Antarctica and generally train and look after us when a higher level of mountain skills are required).


Because the doctor may be called upon to assist in the mountains at short notice, the GAs felt they should take the opportunity to pack in a little extra training and get Matt’s confidence up to a high level so we were set up for a 3 day course. After a day practicing rope techniques, getting kitted out and learning various manoeuvres on the snow slope at East Beach, Tuesday saw us heading out in glorious weather for a couple of days in the mountains and a night’s camp. Days of such fantastic weather are generally referred to here as “dingle days”… the photo above is a stitched panorama shot straight out of my compact camera on Tuesday morning – yes, it really is like that down here!! πŸ™‚

Down inside a local crevasseFirst up was a tour of one of the known local crevasses, just up the hill from the base, so that we got a better idea of how extensive these are and how difficult they can be to spot from above. We abseiled through the hole in the snow and went down into the strange blue ice cave below! The inside of the crevasse is difficult to describe but, basically, touring through it was live going caving in a giant ice palace, if you can imagine such a thing. A good chance to practice walking on sloping ice with crampons and a few tricky little holes to squeeze through made for good entertainment…!

Walking up to Stork Bowl After climbing out of the crevasse we travelled further up the glacier to a local area known as Stork Bowl – a bowl of snow beneath the Stork range, funnily enough. From here, Matt and I each took a turn jumping over the corniced edge so that the other could practice what to do when your partner on the rope falls into a slot. Not easy but an excellent way to learn the technique.

Our home for the night... All this made for a pretty long day out on the snow but the hard work wasn’t over yet. Back off the mountain and onto the flat we made camp and pitched the traditional pyramid tent that BAS still use for camping in Antarctica. This might look like an uncomfortable way to spend the night but, although the tent looks like it came back from Scott’s era, the pyramid tent design is still super strong and warms up nicely once you’ve lit up a Tilley lamp inside.

The weather wasn’t quite so outstanding on Wednesday so we took a lie-in and waited for the cloud to lift before doing a nice bit of roped-up winter walking over Stork Ridge for the day. Hard work but a great mountain day and excellent training in moving as a roped pair and use of axes and crampons over different types of snow, ice and mixed rocky ground.

Panorama between Stork Middle and Stork NorthWednesday evening saw us safely back on base for a well earned dinner and a couple of beers. Thursday and Friday this week were busy work days for me (yes, I am actually here to work!). The Dash-7 was flying again between Punta Arenas and back to Rothera so a good opportunity for me to get up to speed on the flight communications and I spent most of my time in the tower. In the evenings some boat trips were organised to take people out around the icebergs and local islands. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to hop on one of these as I was up in the tower providing ‘ops cover’ which basically means logging regular position reports from the boats for safety. Not a problem though, the base is relatively quiet at the moment so it’s a good time for me to get to grips with my job one step at a time before the Twin Otters arrive and everything goes mad!

To finish off, today (Saturday) I’ve had a much needed day off and basically I’ve just been fairly lazy, got up late, wrote this blog post, gazed out at the icebergs and joined Crispin’s Beginner’s Ski School this afternoon for my first few slides down the ramp beside the runway. πŸ™‚

  1. 4 Responses to “A busy first week in the snow…”

  2. By Mum on Nov 9, 2008

    That cave is thrilling & the glowing tent…. Zoe, Airbus & Class 4 are waiting for penguins. Emma is waiting for a snowman. Well I’m waiting for a snow angel, please..
    What a first week.
    What did you dress up in for Halloween? Presumably you had a Guy Fawkes celebration. We watched the fireworks from the comfort of The Lockhouse. Rain lashing down in that typical British way. Remember all those years of rained off Bonfire Nights or just standing about in the drenching rain? Must make some Middle Eastern Lamb in pitta this week.


    Andy Reply:

    No penguins yet I’m afraid. Apparently some Adelie penguins appeared on base the other day but I was out in the hills so I missed them. They’ll be here soon, I’m sure!


  3. By sticky on Nov 9, 2008

    Wow, amazing photos mate, is it possible to take a bad photo there?


    Andy Reply:

    Apparently not dude, and I haven’t even got the SLR out yet! πŸ˜€


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