After 11 days in the tent at the end of our season Julie and I arrived back at Halley this afternoon (via a great stop en route close to the mountains). It is so warm here compared to our field camp — it feels like the tropics. Captain Vicky, our Twin Otter pilot, has done an amazing job of making use of weather windows to get us home and to a very much needed warm shower. We will start to wing our way west to Rothera in the next day or so, and then onwards to the UK.
Mike Rose, who has been helping Geoff with the panel setup at Sky Blu is also at Halley and we have had a quick catch up about that part of the project. We also have caught up with the team here who have been doing our nightly scheduled chats (thanks very much Sarah, Alan, Barney and Rich — it has been really good to talk each evening through the season) and those who have helped co-pilot our flights all season (thanks Josh and Tom for doing the last two). We have even had time to do a bit of washing and drink a few more cups of tea before the bag repacking starts all over again. Pizza for lunch was amazing.
I am looking
forward to having a proper bed for the night, although will miss both the quiet
and the loud of being in the field.
We are sitting in the tent and doing a bit of waiting.
Yesterday our second plane load of equipment arrived from Rothera with one of the skidoos that we will need for our field work plans and some extra fuel. Getting the skidoo off the Twin Otter plane is more of an art than science with a lot of wiggling and grunt force to get it pivoted into position. Somewhat of a case of Chuckle Brothers style “to you — to me” whilst it gets lined up with the rampway to get it off the plane. The plane took off into sunny skies and afterwards we did a bit of ski-way chipping and shovelling to try and flatten out some sastrugi (wind shaped compacted snow mounds) that were causing some bumps during landing and takeoff. We sorted out the camp and as the meteorite collection kit and associated science equipment had arrived I got things organised and ready to go. We got the word later in the afternoon that the weather around Halley had closed in with snow, and so the third and final kit transport flight would be stood down.
After an evening meal of sausages, peas and smash, we had a peaceful night, but awoke this morning to poorer skies with some light snow and low cloud. The air temperature outside is about -9°C so not too bad, and the winds are relatively light. The Met Office team in Rothera and the Comms team in Halley are relaying lots of information back and forth to give us a forecast and planning for the rest of the day. Julie is sending over local weather reports to provide an idea of visibility, wind speed and direction, and contrast conditions. There are clearer skies to the north and the clouds are expected to lift later this afternoon, so hopefully there is a chance we could get out for a bit and/or the plane might be able to get in.
Sitting in the tent is warm — but the colours are very strange. The tent is orange so everything inside has an off orange-yellow light that drowns out all other colours. Even my blue jumper looks an odd shade of browny orange. We have the tent set up so that there is the primus stove in the middle for cooking, along with some boxes of living equipment like plates and fuel. By the door is our food box (we have more outside and just bring in what we need for a few days/meals). We sleep either side of the stove area in thick down sleeping bags on top of a thick sheepskin blanket, a blow up thermarest, a foam thermarest and a wooden board. At the top of the tent, where it gets warm from the stove, is where we hang our clothes to dry out. There are storage pockets around the inside of the tent for keeping loose bits of kit (sunglasses, sun cream, books etc.).
Now to do a bit more waiting and seeing what happens with the weather.
Geoff and Mike, who are on their way to test out our metal detection equipment are now in Chile at the Punta Arenas gateway — so should be heading out to Rothera later this week to start their preparations for getting out into the field.
We made it to our first field site this afternoon. One flight out of three complete and Julie and I have set up camp. We are cosy in our tent and have had dinner (‘man food’ — rehydrated food which is actually much taster than anticipated). The rest of our gear will hopefully join us tomorrow including the skidoo and science equipment when Vicky and the twin otter plane return. We had a cloudy first part of the flight after a snowy night at Halley but the clouds cleared over the Shackleton mountains and, after a refuel stop, we did a fly-over of our potential next site to check out the blue ice and a possible traverse route.
We are camped on snow close to blue ice (where we hope the meteorites will be) and the ground is covered with amazing ice crystals like hoar frost that blow around in the 12 knot winds. They are sparkling in the sunshine like glitter. There is not a lot of topography on the horizon with no nunatuks (mountain tops protruding through the ice sheet) to be seen from our field site so it is somewhat stark not to have any scale reference.
Hopefully we will be out to work in the next couple of days.