Dan's Antarctic Dairy - Week One

Saturday 1 Jan
Got all my stuff packed, had some last minute paranoia about having forgotten something and dithered over what books to take then during the mid-afternoon set off. A mate of mine (Anton) very kindly gave me a lift from my house to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire (cheers Anton!!) where I was nicely on time for an early evening check in.

My plane took me to the Falkland Islands via Ascension Island and was chartered by the RAF (British air force) to take military personnel to base on both the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. A few spare seats were sold to the British Antarctic Survey to take their personnel to the Falklands to meet another aeroplane to go 'down south'.

Shortly before midnight I boarded the plane and we were off!!

Sunday 2 Jan
An eighteen hour flight to the Falkland Islands. Ascension Island is about halfway and the plane refuels here. Flying south across Europe and Africa at night was quite dull - saw the Algarve and Casablanca all lit up, but flying over northern Africa you quickly realise how dark and empty much of it is.

We arrived in Ascension Island at breakfast time, and as luck would have it I met up with one of my Met Office colleagues there (the Met Office have a small team of forecasting personnel there) for a quick natter whilst the plane was refuelling (cheers for getting me out the cage Graeme!) and then after an hour or so we were off.

The RAF use a Portuguese company called Air Luxor for this charter flight. They're not great. Cheap. Not cheerful. We arrived at a military airport in the Falkland Islands during the mid-afternoon. There were quite strong crosswinds so the landing was slightly alarming. We were then taken by coach to the main town on the Falkland Islands, Stanley. This journey takes about an hour. Then it was time for tea and then it was time for lager. I can recommend the Victory Bar in Stanley to one and all. It might not look much but they sell cheap Cuban cigars and have a fine range of malts.

view of the Falklands from the bus from MPA to Stanleyview looking away from Stanleygoing down the pub

Monday 3 Jan
The plan for today was to potter down to Stanley Airport and make a 5 hour flight to Rothera in the Antarctic. Sadly weather conditions conspired to beat us and the flight was postponed until Tuesday. With a day to spend in Stanley I, and the rest of the  Antarctic Survey people with me, went to a place called Gyspy Cove which is a fairly secluded spot with a nature reserve. Managed to see a sea lion (nearly trod on it!!), some penguins and a minefield (the legacy of a 1982 war here). Also went to the museum in Stanley which had an interesting array of bits and pieces.

The Falkland Islands look quite barren - lots of moorland and rock and not many trees. I'm told they resemble parts of northern and western Scotland. Stanley looked much more prosperous than I expected - most houses were nicely put together and many were new or new-ish and there were an awful lot of new 4 wheel drive cars about. Apparently revenue from sale of commercial fishing licences and increasing numbers of cruise ships stopping at Stanley have brought some money in.

Popped into the Globe on the way back from Gypsy Cove and went down the Rose in the evening. There's quite a few places to drink in Stanley!

nearly trod on this chap!!Ahhh cute!view of Stanley from Gypsy Cove

late afternoon lagerpost dinner drinks

Tuesday 4 Jan
An early decision was made that we would travel to Rothera so spent the morning pottering in Stanley...went to the supermarket and noticed Falkland Islands whiskey for sale. Cannot believe they make their own there!! Is this where Bells etc. send their rubbish to???

Shortly after lunch set off for the Antarctic. Conditions en route were generally cloudy so no view of Antarctica until the last minute. Apparently this is common on 5 out every 6 flights. At the suggestion of one of my colleagues I sat in the cockpit for the descent, the idea being that I'd get a feel for the lie of the land at Rothera. Sadly the rapid descent from 14000 feet ensured that rather than being concerned with the lie of the land I was more concerned with landing in one piece.

After that the next few hours were all a bit of a blur as we were shown around and attended some health and safety briefs. Met up with my Met Office colleague, Fraser, with whom I'd be sharing a room until he left a week later, and had some beers in the evening.

flew south on this planetouchdown at Rothera!

Wednesday 5 Jan
Spent the morning attending a number of briefs and familiarisation talks regarding living and working in the Antarctic. In the afternoon I had a nose round my office and spent some time getting familiar with my forecasting kit and setting up some macros on the workstation I'd be using to look at weather models. Also pratted about with the satellite receiving gear I'd be using.

Thursday 6 Jan
Spent the bulk of the day pottering about in my office. Quiet day all in all, but productive from a work point of view. Boring from a diarists point of view, but hey, I bet Pepys had days like this too!!

Friday 7 January
Spent the morning working. I then had to do some training in the afternoon and evening. Basically in order to be allowed to go away from the base and do things, like go for a walk up a nearby hill or do a bit of co-piloting (the pilots can't fly on their own) you need to be familiar with some outdoor equipment and have spent a night camping.

So, during the afternoon with a small group of people I learnt how to use tilly lamps and primus stoves (or more accurately re-learnt what I'd forgotten from being in scouts) and did a bit of abseiling and jumaring. Jumaring is basically climbing a rope using a handheld gadget to grip the rope as far as you can reach whilst your foot's in a thing to slide up and down the rope - you take a 'step' up the rope and then use the handheld gadget to pull the slack in. In theory it sounds good. In practice it's tricky. Your movement makes the rope swing leaving you doing a magnificent impression of a pendulum. And whilst swinging in the horizontal you're supposed to be going upwards. There is a certain amount of faith involved in taking the step upwards a split second before pulling the slack in. Unable to generate the necessary amount of faith I didn't get the hang of the jumaring. And not feeling it necessary to be macho and prove my manhood I gave up. After all, it's not like I ever intend to fall into a crevasse, and let's face it generally I'd use stairs to ascend rather than a rope trick. I also got my harness rammed up my jotter in such a way that proving my manhood might cost me manhood. I am now aware of what wearing a g-string might be like.

After some ropework we went in a snowcat up to a nearby plateau where there is a kind of ski hut. Here we had to pitch some tents and sleep out for the night. The tents were pretty straightforward to pitch and surprisingly snug in the benign weather. Wouldn't want to be out in them in -30C and a gale though!! Pleasingly the tents were roomy enough to be able to stand up in too!

Saturday 8 January
Busy day today....spent the morning climbing from the camp site up a small ridge. Climbing's actually too loose a word - it was more trudging through snow. Keep on sinking into snow knee or thigh deep. Surprisingly hard work. Near the top of the ridge there were crevasses and we had to be roped together. Succeeded in falling a short way into a small crevasse. Had crampons on so it was fairly easy to get out. Incidentally the boots I was wearing were probably the most crippling item of footwear I have ever had the misfortune to wear...they were boots made of rigid plastic designed so that the wearer cannot flex his or her ankles. Unfortunately the net effect of this is that there is terrific strain placed on the lower part of the shins, and in fact by the time I got these devices of torture off I had the start of some pleasingly colourful bruising on my lower shins.

Anyway, after a morning of trudging through snow and admiring a pleasant view from the ridge (Reptile Ridge it's called), we struck camp and went to a nearby crevasse which had already been scouted out and made safe for some crevasse training and the pleasure of people working at Rothera. Rather than haplessly stumbling and falling into this crevasse an opening already existed and after fastening myself to rope fastened to ice screws I was able to descend 10 or so metres into the crevasse. Which all sounds very leisurely and nicely controlled. Sadly as I hate any sort of activity involving ropes and danger I found this rather nerve wracking and not much fun. I'd have rather had a bad case of the runs or be force fed broad beans and liver. Basically the way down involved squeezing through a small hole vertically and rock climbing downwards (rather than abseiling). There were some small 'steps' in the ice to assist matters, but the descent relied, to a certain extent, on having faith in one's crampons. Personally I found this leap of faith somewhat difficult to make - is it realistic to expect a 210lb-ish man's body weight to be supported by 2 inch long spikes coming off the end of his toes? I begged to differ so with some trepidation and not inconsiderable difficulty (not to mention the speed of a 3 toed sloth) I eventually (and I do mean eventually) made my descent.

To be fair it was more or less worth the effort. Inside the crevasse it looked quite nice. Very blue, lots of icicles and ice stalactites and stalagmites...all very scenic, surreal and picturesque. Then I had to get out. One was supposed to use the aforementioned jumaring technique to get out. Given my inability to master this technique I had to get out the way I came, basically relying on my crampons to scramble out whilst at the same time using the handheld jumar thing to take the slack in on the rope. I made a meal of it, although with hindsight it was fairly straightforward.

Then it was back to base for a shower and a sit down. Most people here have Sunday off and so alcohol restrictions (more on this in week 3!) are lifted on Saturday nights. I was pretty tired as it happens and in any case had to be up at 0530-ish the next day to go to work (the meteorologist doesn't get a day off!) so sloped off to bed fairly early.

the campsitedidn't think I'd fit down this!!inside a crevasse

Sunday 9 January
Effectively my first day at work here! Strolled across to my office and heard a few straggling revellers from Saturday night pushing on through the night! Did my work and then can't really  remember where the rest of the day went. Given that my room mate  was sleeping off Saturday night's excesses I must have pottered and dithered in my office. Felt quite tired though and went to bed early.

Dan Suri, 16 January 2005. Click here to go to my home page and click  to email me.