Birds & Bergs
FI to Signy
So well, I'm here, but also I'm not. We arrived at the ice shelf on the 21st and were met by a couple of field assistants, penguins and seals on the sea ice. We drew up alongside, had a quick look, then withdrew to spend a couple of hours ramming the ice to make a stable harbour, after all, if the ice can carry the weight of the Shackleton it can probably take a few people and some cargo. We then went away again overnight, spending the time steaming up and down the coastline near Halley, and celebrated our arrival with a bit of singing on the foredeck.
We moored up the next morning and swung right into working cargo. I'm working on the day shift, which is a misnomer as we've now got 24 hour sunlight. I've got two jobs, the first is helping the ship's crew load and unload stuff (boxes, barrels, sledges, steelwork, stores, food and beer) onto sledges which park up on the sea ice. My other job is to sit on the sledges with a throwline in case the Sno-Cat driver taking the sledge to the top of the ice shelf drives into a crack in the ice. We then leave the sledges at a depot on the ice shelf and other drivers hitch up and take them the rest of the way to Halley. As it's a long way, about sixty kilometers, taking a full twelve hours for a Sno-Cat to get there and back, food and drink is being transfered by twin otter, so I also get to load those up. In between doing all of that I might be ferrying drivers up to their Sno-Cats in a Ski-Doo or helping the mechanics turn a Sno-Cat around for another trip.
The work isn't all that hard as the long drive limits us to six sledges each way each day (the rubbish from Halley is being removed). This means there's a fair bit of waiting around for things to arrive, but also leaves plenty of time to lounge about outside the mechanics' caboose at the shelf depot drinking cups of tea. We're having very good weather at the moment, with only thin clouds and temperatures only just below zero, so it's no bad thing being able to sit back and drink the place in, and reflect on how amazing it is to be here.
It still feels odd being supported by nothing more substantial than a couple of meters of solid water with some snow on top, and the first time I walked out onto the ice felt weird, as if I expected it not to carry my weight, even though it was supporting everyone else just fine. It does look very solid but all the while, in the back of my mind, I can't help thinking that it might crack up at any moment. It won't, and I know that too, but still the small fear that it might stays lurking in my thoughts. Up on the shelf it feels very different. This is ice that's made the journey from the continent all the way out to sea. It's been solid for centuries. It seems, as you gaze out over its bleak, flat expanse, that you could walk for miles over its certain surface without any troubles. It's hard, then, to teach yourself that you've got to stick to the bits we've tested, as anywhere there could be cravasses thinly covered by a bridge of snow, hungry for your footsteps and ready to swallow you up. It's not just me here, though, and there are people that know which ground is good and where might be unsound, so we can safely lug loads and land planes.
I've not been up to base yet, but given I'll be there for quite some time, having another week or so on the ship isn't so much of a problem. We expect we'll be finished with relief sometime near the end of this week, and I'm looking forward to really arriving, and getting on with the work we've planned for the summer.
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