Tag Archives: Snow

South Georgia – Winter

June 2015

It’s feeling very wintry around here at the moment, we have had a good covering of snow all month. There is already more snow that at any point last winter. Having said that we have had some blue skies…

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Not what you’d expect from a winter’s day in the sub-Antarctic.

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Early in the month James, Emma, Steph and I spent the night in Curlew Cave on the north coast of the Thatcher Peninsula. It’s a three hour hike from base that includes crossing ‘No Name Pass’ at 500m. It’s a well furnished cave with ropes strung up to dry stuff out on, not sure how effective that is in winter.

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The entrance isn’t obvious from the sea or land. There is a small crack (hidden in the shadows on the right here) that grants you entrance on foot.

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We’d carried over some firewood and some good wine for the decadent evening in the cave. I’m not sure if Emma had any idea of the creature lurking over her right shoulder.

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James contemplates the mysteries of the universe… or maybe he’s just concentrating while letting a fart out quietly (I should add that’s speculation, and nothing more).

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The weather the next day was a little blustery to say the least….

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And just like that they were gone! Massive gusts kept passing through that made staying on your feet a bit of a challenge. It would make getting over the 500m high pass all the more interesting!

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One of the calmer moments of the ascent – ice axes and crampons by this point. That’s Swinehoe peak in the background, one I still need to do!

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Getting up and over ‘No Name Pass’ was a relief, partly because my head was starting to hurt and I wanted the sauna!

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It wasn’t the warmest outside either – that must have been the cause of my increasingly sore head!

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Here’s the line up for our Midwinter photo we sent to the other bases. Ian added names and a Midwinter message before sending it to the 30 or so other wintering bases.

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Midwinter’s week is a big deal down here, it’s like Christmas for us Antarcticans. Various activities happen though the week including a pub crawl. Each department sets up a bar and we make our way through them one by one (drinking responsibly). This was Emma’s bar. Emma was also on ‘earlies’ that day so meant she was on cook. The old gaol had a real countryside tavern feel to it, despite the seating area being flanked by cells.

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Next was the ‘beakers’* or scientists bar. Lab coats and goggles were mandatory. I hope you’ll agree that Erny takes #distractinglysexy to a new level. *Google: ‘Beaker from the Muppets’ if the nickname doesn’t make sense.

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Attention to detail in the beaker bar was impressive. Can you guess what kind of skull that is?

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Corwin is back with us at the moment. He was here in the summer launching weather balloons – the theme of his bar hopefully making sense now. Emma and Steph took charge of decorating people with balloons. Some enjoyed it more than others…

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Ying and yang, happy and miserable, Emma and Ray.

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Into the mechanics workshop now. Ray and Erny had set up a reindeer themed bar, complete with lasso and antler – who needs a dart board?

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There haven’t been any reports of dolls being mistreated during the course of the evening.

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We also had the ‘Midwinter Olympics’ during the course of the week. I’d managed to win this last year, so being ever so slightly competitive I was out for back to back wins! The first event was the ‘welly wang’, basically throw a welly as far as you can.

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Steve (our newest Government Officer) not only winning the points for style but also distance.

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Next up was toss the caber, something the island bookkeepers had very short odds on me doing well in (being the only Scotsman on base) – bloody racists! I think I was knocked off first place with one of the final throws by Steve, who had now won two out of two events.

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The penultimate event was the javelin, an event I felt confident about. Some of my strongest childhood memories are with my brothers, javelining my mothers bamboo garden canes down the back garden. As a result I punched well above my weight at school sports days in this event, despite being relatively small for my age, until my senior years. Sure enough the technique hadn’t left me and I won the event. The last event was to tow someone in a sledge round a course in the fastest time possible. Another event I could feel confident about, sure enough I managed it in 35 seconds – a clear ten seconds ahead of second place (nearly 1,000 km on the base treadmill in the last 12 months paying off) After that it was indoors for tea and medals (biscuits) while we awaited the final results. It was close in the end but I did just enough to retain my crown – I’m not sure if Guinness will mention it in the records book this year though.

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The Midwinter swim is another tradition, one that has various levels of enthusiasm from the participants. There was driving wind and snow on the day, as if it wasn’t stupid enough without crap weather. Thanks to Simon for the photo. My camera on shore decided not to take photos – must have been protesting the weather conditions.

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Sunday the 21st was the shortest day when bases all over the Antarctic have a big meal and celebrate Midwinter. It marks the halfway stage of winter in the coldest part of the earth and when the days start to get longer. Some bases will still have two months of darkness before the sun starts to skim the horizon. Got the focusing a little wrong here (only Steph is really  in focus), I blame the booze.

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A month or so before Midwinter the wintering team selects a ‘celebrity’ who will then hopefully send a message as part of the BBC world service special Midwinter broadcast. We didn’t get our first choice but we did get actor David Morissey who is famous for being ‘The Governor’ in the hit US TV program ‘The Walking Dead’ You can listen to the broadcast here, KEP is first up (if you are coming south with BAS for a winter don’t listen to this or read anything else under this photo! Go to the next photo and continue) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02tp3cv?fb_ref=Default . My mother had sent the message last year but was on holiday at the time they were recording them this year so I thought I might miss out. Hearing my niece’s voice was a great surprise!

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The end of Midwinter’s week saw one of the biggest snowfalls I’ve seen. This wave held for a day or so before the temperature spiked and it came crashing down.

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The jet boats needed a little attention with a shovel. If you walk on the snow before clearing it, it turns to ice – which isn’t great on a boat.

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Here’s the bow of Pipit after some of the snow has been moved. Some pancake ice forming in the bay as well.

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While 54 degrees south isn’t far enough to plunge us into months of darkness, we do go without the sun on base for nearly three months. I took this shot just after midday when the sun still isn’t high enough to get over Mt Duse and down onto base. Thats the main peak of Mt Paget behind.

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We took the boats round to Cumberland West Bay so Emma could check the medical kits in the huts. We took advantage of the calm weather and headed up towards the front of the Neumayer Glacier. There are always some terns feeding on the crustaceans from the melt water near the front of glaciers. But there were literally hundreds this day, I’ve never seen so many in one place before.

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The grey overcast days bring out the best in the ice. The far end of the glacier looked particularly blue so we headed over for a closer look.

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Sure enough, by far the bluest ice I’ve ever seen! Also true for Ian (far right) who wintered at Halley and Rothera. My understanding is that the denser the ice the bluer it appears. We might have to go back and get some of this, when it breaks off, for G&Ts!

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Other than cropping the photos I’ve not done anything to them. I didn’t even have a filter on the lens. If any glaciologists are reading this I’d love to hear your explanation in the comments!

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I tweaked this photo a little to lift the shadows in the holes but nothing else. Even when the sky is flat and dull down here it’s still beautiful.

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I’m sure I mentioned this last year but the Neumayer is retreating at an incredible rate. The black dot in the middle of the screen is the GPS position of the boat. Thats a good 8 km (maybe even 9) from where the chart has the glacier front positioned. We think the glacier retreated about 300m in 2012 alone.

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Emma and Steph had a girls night at Maiviken hut late in the month, leaving us males to fend for ourselves for the night. The next day I headed out for a ski and met them at Deadman’s Cairn. The smiles here hide the fact they had walked the 7 km there without skis or snowshoes the day before and were having to do the same to get home. If you’ve walked any distance in shin to knee deep snow you will know how hard 100m is!

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Heading back down was sheer bliss for me. I found it hard to hide the smug smile on my face as I majestically glided past them… Sorry girls but it was a schoolgirl error!

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The 30th of June was Ian’s birthday so we took advantage of some good weather and headed up to Deadman’s Cairn for a quick lunchtime ski. I should take the time to get some action shots of people skiing but given it’s a 6 km round trip and we only have an hour for lunch there wasn’t much time to waste!

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We received an e-mail from a Korean artist who was looking to get a photograph from each of the 24 time zones, at precisely midnight UTC (9pm our time) as part of a potential exhibition. I’d pretty much written off any chance of getting a photo an hour before as there was a blizzard outside. When I stuck my head out at 8:55 pm and saw the moon I was pleasantly surprised. The idea was to catch the ‘leap second’ at midnight UTC, that meant a shutter speed of one second. Most of my night shots/timelapse shots are over ten second shutter speed (the longer it’s open the more light you’ll let in). So I used the light the moon was providing and 2,500 ISO was enough to get a shot of Larsen House, the satellite dome and Mt Duse.

My mind is slowly being filled with thoughts of the real world, it’s a bittersweet thought. There will be two new members of the Phillips family to meet and seeing everyone again after 20 months will be great. However the thought of traffic, city noise, paying for things in shops, possibly getting a ‘proper’ job*, being sucked into watching rubbish TV etc (I could go on) isn’t one I’m enthusiastic about. It’s still looking like I’ll be back late August time, I have a date but it’s not confirmed.

* not if I can help it!

Happy birthday! That’s a year I’ve had this site live and sending out monthly blogs. I put a ‘counter’ in the background of the site to see how much traffic it gets, it went in last September. But it’s had over 18,000 hits from 101 countries since the counter started ten months ago. It seems most people come back and visit multiple times (I don’t get much more info before you panic! i.e I can’t see who you are). Which I think means people are enjoying it – so thank you for your loyalty!

See you next month!

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