Tag Archives: Barff Peninsula

Ninjas on skis!

Apologies about the top of the page, I’m having some trouble with the title and menus at the moment. I’ve had to take the galleries offline. Should have it fixed soon enough.

March 2017

March was another big month on base. Luckily we were back to full strength with Paddy being back.

The Bark Europa is the only tall ship that visits throughout the year. Most passengers spend about 30-40 days onboard and help with various duties.

We had a VIP visit early in the month that was led by the Governor of the Falkland Islands, who is also the Governor of South Georgia. He brought senior people from various organisations, including the RSPB, BAS, WWF and the Australian Antarctic Division. One of the intentions of their visit was to get a close-up look at some of the retreating glaciers.

The second week in March Fraser and I managed to get away on holiday, the first break I’d had since getting back in November. We headed off to the Barff with the, well, optimistic intention of getting some summer skiing in. While there wasn’t much low-down we knew there would be a chance higher up…

BAS don’t allow us to travel on glaciers at KEP due to the lack of a field guide. However, the Szielasko Icecap on the Barff peninsula is within our travel area, and we knew this was our best shot of getting some turns in. The high peak to the top right of the photo is the unnamed peak Katie and I climbed last year. Having asked around I’m fairly certain it hadn’t been climbed before.

Carrying the skiing kit for two hours paid off. There was enough snow clinging to the ice to ski on. I’d fallen into the old trap of thinking that the point I could put skis on meant down-hill. There was a good hour of ‘skinning’ up the icecap to the top before that could happen.

Luckily the sky started to clear when we were about halfway up the icecap.

It’s hard not to let the kid in you out when you reach the top. Taking the skins off the bottom of your skis is always satisfying. There might have been a semi-smug call on the VHF radio to base just before we started our first run to announce a couple of ninjas were about to descend from the icecap, something they might see from base with binoculars. The ninja reference is from a film we watched recently that made us chuckle.

Fraser pulling some cool ninja moves at the bottom.

If you are wondering what skins are, they stick to the bottom of your skis with a fine fur-like layer on the bottom, facing the snow. This allows you to slide the ski forward but will grip if they try to move back. As well as skins you need bindings that will allow you to free your heel, so you can bend your knee.

Back at the top for another run and the cloud started to make things quite atmospheric.

At the bottom we decided to stash our skis as we thought we might get another day of skiing before we left. There was a risk that we would have to walk back up only to turn around due to a lack of snow.

The lighter packs on the two hour walk home was greatly appreciated though. Fraser was even able to ninja jump over some of the streams in Reindeer Valley.

Day two we headed for some of the nearby peaks. We kept an eye on the snow when we could.

Though it was late summer it’s still unusual to have snow hang around for much more than a day or so. KEP is just visible to the left of Fraser.

The cloud closed off the mouth of Cumberland Bay.

Corral hut is probably the most comfortable available to us. The tracks are still visible from when reindeer roamed the Barff Peninsula, they can be handy when heading out into the hills.

Despite some fairly damp weather we headed back to the foot of the icecap hoping to find snow. Reindeer Valley had a sprinkling of snow two days before but it had all gone by this point.

The gamble paid off.

We decided to do one of the peaks above the icecap while we were there. We headed for the col to the (centre right of the picture) to have a go at the peak hidden in the clouds.

After we hit the ridge the cloud cleared a little, though we knew it wouldn’t last.

Descending from the peak on skis wasn’t going to work with the protruding rocks.

Fraser descending the ridge towards the col.

More snow now… good enough to ski?

Enough for Fraser! I took the jessie’s way out as I didn’t have a helmet and didn’t have enough faith in my own skiing not to break myself.

Not many places you get this much room to yourself on skis.

The walk back through Reindeer Valley was more of a slog this time, no ninja jumping streams! Fraser’s skis were slowly working their way loose in the bag but stopping to fix that seemed too much hassle.

The last few hundred metres to the hut are always the hardest. But we left ourselves a little treat in the stream next to the hut before we left. The back of Fraser’s bag now something of an omnishambles.

A couple of cold drinks work as good motivation for getting back. I’d had gear envy (something outdoor folk tend to get when someone else has some good equipment) for Fraser’s bag all week. You can activate a fan that inflates a large bag that, in the unfortunate event of an avalanche, should help you create a pocket to breath in. Very, very expensive but I want one!

We didn’t have much time back on base before the RRS Ernest Shackleton was due in for ‘last call’. Last call is usually a big event on the BAS bases as it marks the start of winter with the departure of the summer staff. KEP is a little different as we have the Pharos, but it’s still a good excuse for a party with the crew and other BAS staff who have left the other bases. I got some new flags for the boatshed this summer and came up with the idea of a glitter ball. The glitter ball is made from the biggest buoy I could find on base and about 100 chopped up CDs – possibly the proudest thing I’ve done on base!

The Shack was still given the traditional farewell. As well as the Pharos taking people out, some of the expedition ships lend a hand.

One of the ships that regularly lends a hand is the National Geographic Explorer. Not many of the visiting expedition ships take as good care of us as they do. In my time here, they have always come in the afternoon to put passengers ashore and then invited everyone on base onboard in the evening. Most ships expect you to dine with passengers and chat to them about life on base in return for a meal and some drinks, a fair trade really. After the scientists give their talk to the passengers, the Explorer regularly leave us at the bar while the passengers go for a meal, I think they see it as a chance for us to have a night off base and don’t ask too much of us.

We had a flurry of extended boating towards the end of the month. We were drafted in to help get a small team of oil and asbestos surveyors into the old whailing stations in Stromness. The Pharos unexpectedly had to turn around to the Falkland Islands almost as soon as they arrived so we picked up the baton. Leaving the relative shelter of Cumberland Bay usually makes for some interesting conditions.

Husvik is one of three abandoned whaling stations in Stromness Bay. We aren’t allowed, by law, to go within 200m of them due to the risk posed by the asbestos. So this is about as close as we can get.

Anchoring close to the beach and then putting the engines in astern lets you get close to the beach. You hope the anchor holds! That lets you quickly get people and kit off fairly quickly. The fur seals seemed intrigued by the technique.

We were back a few days later to move them to Stromness, after they were done in Husvik. We had an early start so we could get them round for a full days work. The journey in this time was as good as it gets.

We spent a full day in the boats round in Cumberland West Bay as it was the only place Paddy hadn’t visited yet. Leopard seals aren’t a common sight so it’s worth hanging around if you see one. By the end of the day we had six different sightings, that’s about as many as I normally see in a year.

I’m fairly sure when I first came to South Georgia, four years ago, the front of the Neumayer Glacier was pretty much where I took this photo from. It’s been retreating at over a metre a day since then. It’s not far off being split into two glaciers, by the peak in the middle of the shot, as it retreats.

On the northern side rock is now clearly visible underneath, a few months before there was only a few feet of beach visible. The top of the rock is probably about 40ft above the water.

As it retreats on the southern side it takes you closer and closer, to what feels like the centre of the island. The southern side of the glacier still has about 30m of water underneath it so it may continue to retreat quickly until it hits land.

One leopard seal came for a look. I had my telephoto lense with me so could get him from a decent distance.

He kept his distance for a while, but that doesn’t normally last long…

Sure enough, a few minutes later he popped up right under the bow. I’m not sure if he was inquisitive or hungry!

The last stop of the day was Mercer Bay, there is no real reason to go in here other than for the scenery.

The last boating trip of the month was to head back to Hound Bay and pick up Richard and Camille, who had been there for over a month. The weather was due to take a fairly dramatic turn for the worse not long after lunch so we left KEP at 7am so we could get everything done and be back before lunch.

We took the opportunity to drop Jerry and Paddy into St Andrews Bay, which is the next bay down from Hound Bay, for the start of their holiday. The hut is just visible, slightly left of centre in the photo. The half a million strong king penguin colony is only a few minutes walk from the hut.

After nearly 40 days at Hound Bay together Richard and Camille were looking a little slimmer and, more surprisingly, still talking to each other! They had been tagging some of the king penguins in a smaller colony to get an idea of how far and deep they would go for food. We got back to base just before lunch. I had my fingers crossed for some foul weather, which would justify me making people get up early for boating. Not long after I sat down to lunch the wind picked up – not often foul weather brings a smile to my face!

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