Z or Dead
The last few days of the summer have passed in a mad rush of packing and tidying. Trying to get as many jobs out of the way as possible to save us working so hard during the coming months of cold and darkness. The Piggott has gained a container parked by its southern leg filled with boxes and foam and bubblewrap which will eventually enclose the scientific equipment we're shipping out next December. The sledges and containers have been moved into neat lines or pulled onto mounds to keep them free of snow. I also, finally, got my chance to use the mast training I received way back in 2005 when I helped the RAF mast erectors with the VLF mast that I look after throughout the year. We managed not to drop any bolts and found the strength to heave everything into its proper position. It only took a couple of hours, but the cold and the constant effort required to keep in a working position without getting cramps saps my energy so I slept well that night.
We have, naturally, been making the most of the outdoors. Days with wind make for good kiting and days without for good skiing, so there's really no excuse not to head out and exercise in our remarkable environment. Dave, a weather recording type, took his camera out for one of our kiting sessions. He got some fantastic action shots and tempted every one of us to push ourselves that little bit harder -- so also got a few good shots of tumbling balls of snow and skis as we went beyond our limits.
Winter has come early to Halley this year. Yesterday the final set of summerers and hangers on from last year were driven off to the Shackleton and packed onto the ship. I held a quick post office for the crew, ate an orange or two, said goodbye to the Captain and wished them a good voyage before stepping back onto the ice. A small team set off to dig out the mooring posts and free the lines from their stakes in the snow, while on the deck the cast of Halley and the crew massed at the edges to wave as they departed.
The lines slowly crept back into the ship like shrinking tentacles, a boiling fog grew in whispy patches over the soapy surface of the water. White flowers of frost looking like small crumpled up doilies grew on the thin plates of ice. The Shackleton's horn thundered over the silence, the small party of winterers answered with a hearty cheer and a barrage of rockets. Their smokey trails arched over the ship as she broke free, turned, and, gliding gently, smoothly shrank into the mist in the distance.
The ten of us took a little pause to drink the moment in, to grow into the feeling of the winter, the realisation that we're all that's left. That the busy base we'd left in the morning is to be our quiet isolated home for the next year. For me it feels different to the last time. I'm not so afraid, after last year I know I can trust my feeling that we're in for a good time; that the people I'll be sharing my life with will quickly grow into a group of friends, glad to be stuck together, and ready to enjoy the year ahead.
As we set off on the long bumpy drive back to the station we bantered over the radio and nibbled on biscuits as we were shaken and bounced about the backs of the Sno-Cats. The tracks built up over the summer have been amplified into rolling mounds by the wind which space themselves out with the right seperation to throw the cab into a manic lurching that subsides just as the next range of bumps arrives. Outside the sun slank from the deep blue sky and melted into the misty horizon. A fog formed and threw rings of light about the disc of the sun, a tunnel real enough that it seemed we could step from the snow and clamber up each loop of light in turn to touch the golden star at their center.
So, ten more months to go...
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