Back at Halley, briefly (we hope!)

Dear Granny,

Thankyou so much for your last two letters that I haven’t yet responded to

– one of October 15/16th and the next, which I just received today, from

the 23rd. I hope you received the flowers in place of my usual letters.

I am writing this on a Wednesday having taken a last-minute detour back to

base this afternoon on our way to our second campsite of the holiday. Simon,

Craig, Ed and I left for the "MacDonald Ice Rumples" on Sunday afternoon

and had intended on staying away until next Sunday – hence I wasn’t sure

if you would get any letters from me this week. We had a fantastic time at the

Rumples – what an amazing place.

As you know, everything around Halley is flat, flat, flat except for a few

features you can see on the horizon. One of these is the Rumples and since they’re

the only thing you can see, I thought they would be huge. As it turns out, it’s

pretty impressive but just lots of lumpy bumpy upturned icebergs, not much higher

than the ice-shelf itself. And only an hour skidoo ride away! Apparently this

is a point where the continental shelf is higher (like a mountain underwater)

and grounds the moving ice shelf that we live on. The result is all sorts of

chaos and the nice smooth ice breaking up and forming creeks… it is, in fact,

the reason why we can access the base by ship every year.

Anyway, what you actually see is delightful, to my eyes anyway. Lots of ice,

massive massive ice cubes, open water (the sea, the sea!), icebergs in the distance,

grounded icebergs frozen in around us… very exciting, you can almost see the

ground moving around you (very slowly!) We even saw some footsteps that colleagues

made last week and this week they were seperated by a 3 foot gap where the ice

had moved (so we turned around at that point instead of jumping!) Here’s a picture:

Just these few days away have done wonders for my confidence as well –

confidence camping in the antarctic, putting up and taking down tents, abseiling,

walking in crevassed ice fields… when you know how, it doesn’t feel very scary

at all!

Anyway, last night we decided to make the most of our 10 days off and head

for the Hinge Zone today if the weather was good. That’s the place I went in

March but didn’t see anything because the weather was so bad. After about an

hour of driving, we stopped to check everyone was ok and discovered that (1)

there were some possibly nasty clouds looming and (2) one of our team had quite

bad frostnip on his neck. We were still fairly close to base so we decided to

come home, have a cup of tea and re-assess here after having warmed up. Hence

this opportunity to email!

The timing is actually pretty good as it’s a friend’s birthday today as well

so everyone is in a celebratory mood. I think we’ll spend the night here tonight

and then try to move on somewhere tomorrow. If the weather’s too bad to go to

the Hinge Zone (about 4-5 hours driving), then we might just go to the caboose

on the coast and visit the penguins again. There are apparently even more now

than at my last visit! So whatever we do, I know we’ll have a good time. It

would be nice to get to the Hinge though as this is probably my last chance

to see it. Never mind if not – I have after all seen lots here and had

an amazing year!

On other news, we are apparently due to have three or four flights in the next

month, which is a bit weird. One private plane will be flying between Rothera

and a Russian station and refuelling at Halley… and then apparently returning

a few days later and possibly then a third time, we don’t really know for sure

though. After that come the Germans on their way to Neumayer – I met them

the last two years and they’re always fun to have around for a few days. I don’t

think the intention is ever to stay long but you really can’t predict anything

with the weather here as you’ve probably gathered by now!

Then, finally, in December we might get visitors from our own institution along

with mail and fresh food (the Germans should hopefully bring some goodies but

again, we’ve been told not to count on it!) There will be a couple more flights

in December carrying new faces (one lot coming in via Cape Town, the South African

base and then the German base… lucky sods!) The real chaos of course starts

when the ship arrives around Christmas… I can’t belive that this will then

be the third time I’ll be documenting that time of year! It really must be time

to move on!

The sun is now almost permanently up, I’m not really sure because we’ve had

so much cloud cover lately. It’s certainly light outside the whole time.. makes

camping easy and allows for late starts after bumbly mornings, always useful!

The warmer weather also makes an incredible difference to the basic enjoyment

and ease of getting anything done. On my last camping trip I remember my face

getting so cold, goggles steaming up, fingers feeling sore after a few minutes

outside big mitts.. and just tying knots, lashing sledges, doing anything really

was hindered by either cold or darkness. Plus, of course, it’s much nicer sleeping

when you’re warm even if it’s light!

So, I’m coming around to the advantages of warmth and light though wouldn’t

have missed the winter for the world.. it’s still nice to know that Scorpio

is up there even if I can’t see him!

I’ve just re-read this and realised that much that I’ve written to you I’d

probably repeat to Felix to put on his webpage. If you don’t mind, I’ll send

this to him as well and he can maybe post it for a dfferent angle of my life

here (weekly letters to Granny are actually big events for me!).

I’ll write with more news as soon as I get back from wherever I’m going!

lots and lots of love


2 thoughts on “Back at Halley, briefly (we hope!)

  1. Loved the photos, R! Spectacular icebergs and ice cubes, and well – ice. Glad you got out and had some fun, you look well!

  2. Rhian, you look like the ultimate mountaineering woman -wedged between two ice sheets with your ice-pick shoes! Somebody should submit this to Adventure Magazine or something! Glad to see you’re there enjoying yourself to the fullest. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading your descriptions on the scenery and the ‘midnight light.’ Lots of love, and stay warm! -Abby

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