Thursday, 10 March 2016

10 things...

I’m now back in the UK, with drizzle outside my office window rather than sparkling snow and comical penguins. Having been away for a month there is plenty to keep me busy back in the Geography Department at Durham University, but the memories of Antarctica will take a long time to fade. Here are a few things that I will particularly miss…

1. Getting my hands dirty
For most of my working life my toolkit has consisted of a pen, paper, and lots of computers. As I headed into the field with essentially a 300kg meccano kit and lots of tools that I didn’t even know the name of, memories of playing with technic lego and building 3D models came flooding back from my childhood. It was great to get back to basics, and feel the satisfaction of building something where my tools were drills, spanners and a voltmeter rather than pen and paper. I think my proudest achievement of the trip was learning to solder.
not my usual set of tools
Even a mathematician can spot that this rock should not be here
2. Flying
Flying will never be the same after sitting in the cockpit of a Twin Otter and having the pilot explain what all the dials and switches are for; watching clouds silently weave around inaccessible peaks; enjoying the ride as we bounce our way home through bad weather; and trying to recall the physics that explains how we are somehow able to magically float across the sky in a lump of metal.
yes, we should probably turn left soon...
coming into land
How much kit can you fit in a Twin Otter?
3. Wildlife
Penguins are very cool. I am not cool when watching penguins. I still get excited at even a couple of Adelie penguins dozing by the runway. One evening I spent so long standing watching the penguins round the back of the point that I didn’t notice a pincer movement being set in motion: The cries of the penguins on land attracted a group who had been hanging out on an iceberg. Suddenly a gaggle of penguins shot out of the water and onto the snow next to me. I was surrounded!
Penguin pow-wow - spotted from the bar at Rothera
4. The view from my office
One sunny afternoon in my office in Old Bransfield House, I was gazing up at the rocky buttress at the top of the snow ramp, looking for inspiration on my latest paper, when a Basler suddenly purred its way down the runway not 100m from where I sat. You don’t get that in Durham. I may have let out a whoop of excitement.
evening clouds over Jenny Island
end of the day 
Rothera sunset 
5. Fuchs House
Even in the most miserable weather, as you climb up the steep steps and push open the door of Fuchs House a warm glow envelops you as you enter a world of sledges, skis, climbing equipment, tents, stoves, sleeping bags, and lots of books. It was here that we practiced crevasse rescue on ropes hanging from the loft whilst trying not to land on the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government or the Director of BAS; I learnt how to adjust ski bindings; and it was the starting point for all forays into the surrounding hills.
Mushroom Buttress: we climbed the inviting crack centre of shot
6. Outside the flagline
Inside the flagline is good. A peaceful few hours spent gliding round the plateau on cross country skis is a good way to unwind from a day of work. But a better way is to find a Field Guide and head outside the flagline and into Stork Bowl to sample some powder! Or skidoo up to Mushroom Buttress to sneak in a two-pitch rock route before dinner. Surely this much fun shouldn’t be allowed on a school night?
Stork bowl powder 
sunset as I skied around the flagline
7. Waste
Now I'm back in the UK it is strange not to have to think about which recycling bin to throw my rubbish in, or question whether I should even be throwing the item away - could it be used for something else? Do I really need the light on? Do I really need a shower today?! People are very careful about energy use in Rothera, hopefully Britain will catch up one day!

I don't have any photos of  rubbish (although I have many rubbish photos), so here is some cool crevassing 
8. Music
At the opposite end of the 'rubbish' spectrum is music! Whilst I was in Antarctica the musical skills of the residents of Rothera were on display at ‘Acoustic Night’ and during the Burns’ night ceilidh (a chaotic affair, at least on the dancing side…). For a small community (~80 people) the array of talent was impressive, and as people performed cool covers of old favourites and songs they’d written themselves I resolved to step outside my comfort zone of classical music in the future. Although, I don’t think I will ever master the skill of performing the Indiana Jones theme tune just by blowing into my hands…
I also don't have photos of music, so here is some more scenery: looking along Reptile Ridge back towards Rothera - can you spot the skidoo? 
9. Equality
Although we were a little slow to get in on the act (women roughly came in as the dogs went out in the mid-90’s) there is now a good mix of men and women at Rothera, and there is no pigeon-holing of what task you should be taking on based on your gender. While I was south there were women working in the communications tower, taking charge of science cargo, running the marine lab, running the diving program, providing the weather forecasts, and flying planes, as well as carrying out research into anything from oceanography to atmospheric physics. Indeed, the current director of the British Antarctic Survey is a woman. However, my own bid for equality was not completely successful, and it quickly became apparent that pulling a heavy sledge uphill through soft snow is best left to the boys if you want to make it back to the plane any time soon.
Stunning ridge lines 
Mysterious mountains in the mist
Clouds cascading off the Antarctic Peninsula plateau
Weather in the mountains
Untouched (?) rock
10. People
The thing I will miss most about Antarctica is the people, their attitude towards life, and their attitude towards each other. Rothera is almost self-sufficient (completely so in winter), and this is reflected in the way people look out for each other, and in the roles that they adopt. With a small community you don’t hear people saying ‘oh, that’s someone else’s job’; everyone mucks in, and they develop a keen sense of spotting a problem and doing something about it. I am hoping that some of this will have rubbed off on me and that my time at Rothera has made me a slightly better person.
Cape Disappointment team: (L-R) Chucky, Erin, me, Ted, Chris
A final thank you
As well as sending a huge thank you to all the folk down at Rothera and back at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, I am also grateful to: Matt King for getting this project off the ground and then suggesting I should be the person that heads to the other end of the world for a month; Anya Reading and the UNAVCO boys for training me to install GPS receivers and seismometers; Mike Bentley for advice and enthusiasm on all things Antarctic; and Duncan for all his support (and for feeding the cat while I was away).

time to head home...

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