A few days have gone by since we arrived in Rothera and I’m settling into the routine of life down here. One thing that is immediately apparent is how dramatically changeable the weather is – yesterday we woke up in a howling gale, but the clouds seem to disperse almost instantly around 1pm leaving a glorious evening and perfectly clear skies. However, it’s just above freezing today; low grey cloud actually hangs in the air and it’s actually sleeting! Patches of snow have turned into slush, and it’s actually these warmer spells that constitute “miserable weather” in Rothera.
The changeable nature of the environment here means that we have to be prepared for all eventualities, and preparation has been the name of the game in many of the training courses we’ve undertaken in the last few days. On Friday, we met our BAS field guides – Al and Bradley – in the equipment store to organise our Personal P-Bags, which contain much of what you need for a comfortable night’s camping. The P-Bag contains the obvious sleeping bag – but extra insulation is provided by two camping mats, fleecy liners and a sheepskin rug!
Being new to Antarctic fieldwork, Heidi and I spent the night under canvas to get a feel of home-life for the coming field deployment – all under the guidance of Al. We loaded our gear into the Snow-Cat, and drove up Reptile Ridge to the Rothera ski-way (a back-up landing strip in case Rothera’s main runway is out-of-action). It’s maybe only 5 km out of Rothera, but it feels much more isolated once the base is out of sight and the silence kicks in! The wind was mercifully calm as we managed to get a pyramid tent assembled but, once up, Al assured us that the tent is able to withstand windspeeds of up to 100 mph. We laid out the P-Bags and set-up the HF-radio for a scheduled check-in with Rothera, but then retreated to a nearby cabin – The Caboose – to make dinner. Having lit a couple of Primus stoves and Tilly lamps, we had soon boiled some snow into hot water and enjoyed a dinner of rehydrated chicken curry (and when I say “enjoyed”, I genuinely mean it! Field rations are great!).
After sharing stories and hot juice, Heidi and I retreated back to the tent under the light of a flickering Tilly lamp – although the wind had picked up quite a bit at this point. So, while the P-Bags did their job and we had no problem keeping warm in the tent, the canvas rattled around in the wind and even ear plugs did little to keep the noise out! I therefore can’t say that sleep came easy on my first night of Antarctic camping, but I guess it’s the kind of thing you get used to and definitely good to experience before the real deployment. At 6 am, we emerged from the tent in a white-out and staggered back into The Caboose for some welcome coffee.
The team expects to be out on Larsen towards the end of the week after a few days of equipment testing, and no doubt we’ll report in then. Thanks for reading!
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