Once the sun has returned to Halley, things start to get very busy again. All the outdoor work we have been saving up for when it is more appropriate weather outside for vehicles, etc., can begin, and the chance of incoming flights means more people on station. However, I’m going to skip the work part of summer until the next post, and show for now some of what we get up to in our spare time.
The big advantage of warmer weather and sun and access to vehicles is that we have much more opportunity to get off base. So of course, first on the agenda was another trip to the penguin colony.
It was very interesting to see the chicks again and see how much they had grown from our last visit a couple of months before. We ended up going back at the start of December, and found that the vast area sea ice seen previously had completely broken up and blown out. This was very different from last year, when the RSS Ernest Shackleton visited Windy Creek at Christmas time and found the sea ice intact. All that was left of the colony were a few penguins swimming, and a few chicks stranded on the cliff face. While the adults will not have been affected by this, it is likely that many chicks had not yet grown their full waterproof coat. Hopefully there were enough larger ice floes formed as the ice broke up.
As well as penguin trips, we also visited the coast to do a bit of ice climbing. We would set up anchors and ropes on the cliff tops, and then belay each other as we attempted to climb with crampons and ice axes. There were some more gentle routes for practice, but also a couple that awkward parts, a bit of an overhang, etc. It was pretty difficult and very tiring! On one trip, we also found an Adélie Penguin camping out in a cave under the cliff, clearly enjoying the rather nice views out to sea.
Trips of base take a lot of planning and preparation. We have to make sure we have enough emergency equipment and food for all those going, even though we only ever leave base when the weather looks good. We also have to make sure that there is enough Search and Rescue cover on base, and persuade a vehicle mechanic to get up very early to start a sno-cat for us. All this has to be done on Sunday, the one day off we get a week during summer, and so we were incredibly grateful to the Field Assistants and vehicle mechanics that made it possible.
Much of the time, we would have to entertain ourselves around base. In good weather, this was easy enough, with skiing, running, kiting and skijoring being our favourite activities. I did try kiting, but wasn’t particularly good. I’m not good enough on skis, and so mostly ended up being dragged around face down. Skijoring (being towed behind a skidoo), however, was easier to pick up and good practice. While I was still pretty unstable and liable to fall over for no reason, I did actually manage to land a quite few jumps on the huge (small) kicker we built. I was very proud.