Trips out and mid-winter

I’ve been out and about lately and it feels good. Nothing as exotic or high

speed as what you folk out there in the ‘Real World’ can do I admit, but a kilometre

away from the base makes all the difference. Remind me in the future that you

don’t need to go far, or for long, to have a holiday.

The first trip out was on the Friday before mid-winter. There is an old caboose

called Wonky just beyond the perimeter that is equipped with

basics and beds. Frank and I went out

there after scrub-out and before dinner, pulling our huge

p-bags and two small backpacks, containing dinner and stories,

on a pulk.

Caboose Like a caravan but on skis.

Perimeter The perimeter drum line around Halley base

has a circumference of about 5km and rolls around 1km from the main building

at any point. As a general rule, we stay within this boundary for our own

safety but the CASLab and some containers are betyond its reach.

Basics Frozen butter, dried food, pots, pans, primus

stoves and tilly lamps, sheepskins, candles and fuel.

Frank Doctor and good friend.

Scrub-out Fortnightly intensive cleaning of the base

– everyone does something.

P-bag "Personal -bag". A massive bag containing

thermarest, insulating foam mat, sheepskin rug, down sleeping bag, fleece

sleeping bag liner and bivouac bag.

Pulk Small plastic or fibreglass sledge used for

manhauling stuff around the place.

It was an absolutely stunning night. Clear to the horizon, no moon, stars so

bright you could navigate by them. After dinner, we took two sheepskins out

of the caboose, dug some seats in the snow on which to lay them and stared at

the sky. Orion setting, Scorpio dancing, the old familiar faces, the southern

cross. And shooters! So many shooting stars. A beautiful crystal clear night.

After about 5 minutes my toes were numb and I had to go in to warm up.

The caboose is equipped with a slow oil-burning stove in addition to the lamps

and primus which, once it got going, kept us toasty all night. The familiar

smell of kerosene, slightly sweet, the tent-like banter, bedtime stories.

The next day I had to go the the lab to do daily checks and then most of the

weekend was spent by people finishing up presents. Monday finally arrived, June

21st, mid-winter, the day we’ve been counting down to since the ship left. It

was a great day. Breakfast in bed from the Base Commander, The Shining as a

traditional morning movie, everyone gathering in the lounge around lunch- time,

surrounded by decorations, a newly created fire-place and a christmas tree.

Awaiting Santa. Ho Ho Ho! He’s not that busy this time of year so he stayed

for a while. Under the tree was one present for each person (a miracle of trust

and memory, if you ask me!), made by a secret friend on base, often involving

hours of unknown heartache behind workshop doors. No-one was dissapointed and

I was reminded again what present-giving is supposed to be about. Intricate

models from brass, carvings from wood, a fully functioning stove, an engraved

knife, hand-developed photos, paintings, stories, picture frames and glossy

photographs, games, plaques and stories. Each very personal, each unique and

each made with love. Then the bubbly was popped, wine bottles opened and the

festivities began! Christmas with none of the bad bits, none of the consumerism,

an amazing meal, great stories, everyone dressed up to the nines. Celebrations

into the night.

The next day I had to go to the lab to do daily checks. I didn’t think I’d

make it.

In honour of reaching mid-winter, all British bases have a week holiday at

this time of year, but obviously everyone has a certain amount of maintenance

work to do. It was a relaxed week, a fun week but very low key and I for one

spent most of the time asleep.

On one of the evenings a group of us went to the igloo to read poetry and stories.

I had my big fat book of native american tales and delved back into the world

of Coyote and Iktome. Others brought poems and we passed the book around. After

a couple of hours, folk were cold. It was, after all, approaching -40C outside

and body warmth can heat you only so far. Another beautiful, starry starry night.

Kev (the chef) and I decided to stay the night in the igloo and had brought

our p-bags just in case – in case we dared, that is. It was cold. The

tilly was providing light but little heat and our sleeping bags needed unrolling,

sorting out, mattresses blown up etc. Not easy with bear-paw mitts the size

of your head on the end of each hand. Not easy in fits of giggles eaither. Kev

first clambered into his sleeping bag, overalls and all, to warm up. I tried

the more sensible approach of taking off atleast one layer of down in order

to allow the bag to work its magic. But this involved getting cold first so,

in retrospect, I wasn’t much better off. Invariably, just when you’ve warmed

up, your bladder decides it’s time to make itself known. Out of the sleeping

bag, back into boots (ooo so cold!), out the chute of the igloo, down the tunnel,

up the entance that is now buried and has no steps, out, out, spat out into

the glorious night sky. And then repeat. The only good thing about this whole

charade is the amusement it provides your companion.

Eventually we settled down to try to sleep. All thermals, all liners, all zips

zipped and toggles toggled, cosy cosy. Turn over in the middle of the night

and BLAST a shot of icy cold air shivers right down to your toes. In the morning

we tried to light the tilly but the meths wouldn’t take. When it eventually

did, we got a plume of smoke in our face. It was all comical and awkward, and

cold. We just needed to get some light and warm up enough to get out of our

sleeping bags and go home. But this involved putting on boots that had been

sat at -45C all night. Still, it’s a record I’m proud of. I came in, had a mug

of horlicks and a hot shower and then went straight to my bed.

The week continued with celebrations and events. A murder mystery night, a

barbeque, a fancy dress party. It was so cold for the barbeque that the wood

had to be doused in petrol and the petrol lit with a soaked rag. Even on a red

hot stove the meat barely cooked because of the icy air above and before not

too long, people ended up inside again.

Then we went back to work for a week. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected. The

sun’s coming back now. It’s a shame – I like it dark, I like it in winter,

this is my pace of life.

Last Friday, Simon and I went out to the caboose, this time equipped with bottles

of plonk and ingredients for fish butties. The night was not clear. It was foggy

foggy, no, misty. I can’t explain it. The world has a mauve haze about it. The

moon has returned now so there is light even if you can’t see where you’re going.

It’s a bit like, I imagine, being inside a mothball inside a freezer looking

out. With a dim blue light on in the freezer. That’s the best I can do. Isotropic.

Every direction in a sphere around me looks the same. I can’t see a thing. I

can’t see where my feet are going, where my body is headed, what’s up, what’s

down, what’s in front or behind. I quite like this haze too though, it’s enveloping.

We found the caboose eventually but not without some difficulty. Inside, once

again, was warm and welcoming – eventually, that is. I like it there so

much that I’ve now left my sleeping bag out there. At the very least I intend

to go out there for my birthday. We talked through the night like you do when

you’re students, or kids at a slumber party, and slept like babies late into

the morning. The day that greeted us was stunning. The haze had gone completely,

the moon was bright and there was a striking red glow from the horizon to the

north. It was huge and red and so uplifting! It took us a while to sort ourselves

out but by 3pm we were walking the long way home, past some old Roman Ruins

and a cow called Cyril. It was like being a tourist in your home town. The sky,

the light, the shapes in the snow revealed after days of wind and fog.

I didn’t want to go in. But it was cold, so we did, at 5pm. And then I had

to visit the lab to do my daily checks.

6 thoughts on “Trips out and mid-winter

  1. Hi Rhian,

    I have been following your blog for quite some weeks and just wanted to let you know its absolutely immensely awesome….i dream of exploring horizons but accept that its hardly likely… your blog gives me opportunity to enjoy it vicariously….

    thanks 😀


  2. Hi Rhian…

    Another classic tale.

    I guess those winters you spent in Canada

    were good for something!

    Thanks for taking the time to share with us.


  3. Hi Rhian

    “slept like babies late into the morning” really? None of the babies I know sleep past 6am – and most of them have at least one parent who has overwintered.

  4. Don’t give BAS media section any ideas – have you heard about “Nine Dreams” or whatever it’s called?

  5. im just surfing around and found your site quite by accident. i grew up in the upper west side and find this site neat. renuka, are you the girl that lived in oxford, u.k. in the seventies. i was the chef at maxwells do you remember?

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