This summer seems busier than last. Everywhere people are rushing to beat the impossible and immoveable deadline of the ship's final departure. We expect the Shackleton back in a couple of days and will spend the rest of the end of the week unloading another mountain of drums before waving the summer off and entering another winter.
To prepare for this we raise the masts and wire runs for all the experiments to keep the equipment above the climbing surface of the snow. I started the week by ripping out the posts that support the catenery wire for the VLF experiment and lifting its electronic boxes onto another set of poles. It's important with this experiment to stop these components vibrating, as the motion of the metal in the earth's magnetic field sends a signal into the loops strong enough to let me use it as a slightly inaccurate wind gauge.
That job done I was very excited to be sent out into the field for a short trip. In theory to support some glaciological studies in the area where the ice shelf meets the coast of the continent, but mostly to let Sune, our new field assistant, spend some time ragging skidoos around the bondoo. Sune and I first flagged out a road to the site of the next Halley station then spent the night camping peacefully in a tiny tent where there will soon be a state of the art building. There we met the glacial team of Kathy and Toddy and fought hard at scrabble over a bottle of wine until late in the evening.
The next day we packed up camp and drove out with skidoos and a single half unit. As we penetrated further towards the coastline the terrain became more varied, soon setting into a pattern of rounded mounds and wind cleaned valleys. As we were driving linked together, Sune at front, then a sledge, then me, every run down an incline meant I had to break to stop the sledge catching up with Sune, and on the flat I had to drive at exactly the right speed to keep the rope ahead slack but not so slack I ran over with my skis. On a flat ice shelf this is fairly unrewarding and a little boring, but in the rumpled chaos of the hinge zone it's pretty exciting. Here and there we even drove clean over fairly obvious crevasses, but the snow bridges are strong, and the ground pressure of the skidoos is less than that of a person, so we were safe enough.
After this bit of excitement we checked in on the survey team and joined them for a spot of lunch. Eating frozen bacon sandwiches and nibbling on stores of chocolate, with thin clouds in the distance and the harsh sun casting sharp shadows all around. We then spent a couple of hours on an exploratory walk. Sune and I linked on a rope, picking interesting looking lumps of ice then hacking our way up and over them with crampons driven deep into the hard ice. On the whole we avoided crevasses with careful route finding, but one did suprise Sune who took a bit of a fall, thankfully a tight rope stopped too far a drop and he was able to pull himself out without extra help. Somehow mountaineering at sea level on giant shards of ice counts as work, but work shouldn't be so much fun.
As we headed back the wind picked up and clouds grew heavy on the horizon. The final few kilometers of the journey were nasty and cold, with the bitter wind blowing hard into my helmet and draining the feeling from my face. As we approached the station the sun was slowly drifting towards the horizon and a flock of kites was darting about in the air. Another brilliant day on the Brunt, except that I was too exhausted to join the frenzy of flying.
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