|Easter at Windy Caboose|
People have been asking what we get up to at Easter and other days that would be full of DIY or general slacking if we were back home. We do, thankfully, get the days off -- we wouldn't be a very effective force of colonists if we didn't carry the full array of British behaviour out here with us -- but I decided to trade my time in bed for a working trip out to a couple of points on the coast. Half holiday and half hard slog, but worth it for the chance to get away for a while. The elite team of Mum, Dad, and troublesome children was formed by Nichola, Anto, me and Frances.
We had two jobs to do. First we had to deliver a refitted caboose to Creek II, a bay in the coast roughly to the south of Halley. On the way back we had to raise the drums that mark the route we travel. As the iceshelf moves about a kilometer a year it's impossible to use GPS fixes to navigate. A week after they're recorded everything's somewhere else. Instead we set up lines of drums, every hundred meters or so, between the base and critical points on the coast. As more snow falls the drums eventually become burried. If they were to disappear we couldn't navigate so we have to raise the lines two or three times a year, ripping the drums out of their holes and placing them in new, smaller, holes. We get the drums up by driving past them slowly with a Sno-Cat, lasoo them with a lifting strop, then wait out of the way for them to pop out. Once freed we dig a little hole, pop the drum in, then move on to the next one. It's hard work, but it's great to be out on a good day, sat on a sledge with a shovel, or driving the Sno-Cat and trying not to lose anyone off the back.
Anyway, after about three hours we'd got back to the base, and as the night slowly set in we turned off to the East and followed another line of drums out to Windy Creek. We didn't raise those drums, leaving them for the return trip. Following the drum lines is usually fairly easy, but in the twilight gloom on a cloudy evening spotting the next one along can get hard, especially when only a few inches of the drum are showing above the snow. Careful driving and a bit of looking out of an open window got us to our destination and we settled into the caboose for the night.
Initially very cold inside, a tilly lamp and a parafin stove soon warmed up the inside of our shed on skis, and after a spot of delicious manfood we set into our bottles of wine and a game of bridge. Disaster struck as we failed to find a single corkscrew in the caboose (a critical piece of safety equipment), but a bit of ingenuity and the ever useful Data Manager's multitool soon pushed the corks into the bottles and allowed the wine to flow. The bridge game, certainly the most remote in the world at the time, went from sense to madness, with an eventual trouncing by many thousands of points after repeated doublings amid general chaos and confusion.
The next morning our hearts and hopes were raised as we woke to the sound of a creaking caboose. It looked like being about thirty knots, and we couldn't see the first drum on the line back home, so radioed back to Halley that we'd be staying for another night. I think we hid our delight at the situation fairly well. The day was spent relaxing with the trashy books that infest far away cabins, routing around amongst the boxes of food for the tastiest morsels (BISCUITS FRUIT being prized above all other nosh). In the evening, as the wind rose to a punishing yet amusing 45 to 50 knots, we mostly remained inside in the warm. Nichola cooked up a good pasta from dried vegetables and spam, we rejoiced in our oversupply of wine, and filled the evening with happy conversation and shouty music making.
The wind remained strong overnight, but at around six in the morning it dropped away in the space of ten minutes. We woke and warmed up, with the wind gone we could hear the colony of emperor penguins that was forming on the fresh sea ice a few hundred meters away at the edge of the ice shelf. In the distance we saw snaking lines of black dots, and now look forward to the days after midwinter when we can return and venture off the shelf to visit them.
The hard work then set in again as we raised the route back to Halley without missing too many drums. A pretty perfect Easter weekend, unlike any I've had before. Chatting on the back of the sledge we agreed that Antarctica was great.
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