January 10th, 2014
30-knot winds and blowing snow…welcome back to the Ellsworth Mountains! We’ve made it to our field site in what felt like record time. We had just three full days at Rothera before flying out; enough time to train (Shasta and Kate) and pack (John and I), ready for the field. It wasn’t all rushed; we did have time to enjoy life at Rothera. The weather was ‘dingle’ with blue skies and no wind, and we made the most of it with walks around Rothera Point to see penguins and seals chilling out on shore. There were even Orcas spotted in Ryder Bay west of Rothera, which apparently Kate and Shasta saw but neglected to tell us! I took the opportunity to go for a run up the glacier to the ski way above. It’s not often that your morning run involves views of icebergs and ice-clad mountains towering above. Rather nice.
The weather elsewhere was not so good and for a while it looked as though our departure from Rothera would be delayed. The plan was for one plane to take us to our field site at the Patriot Hills, 800 miles further south, in two loads. Scott and I would leave on Wednesday. The pilot and co-pilot would return to Rothera on Thursday and bring the rest of the group out on Friday. Like weather, plans change fast in Antarctica! Wednesday morning we discovered that bad weather elsewhere meant we now had a second plane; this meant our whole group could leave immediately! In a bit of a scramble the others managed to send frantic emails and pack their bags in time to get out on the second plane by mid-day. Nine hours later, after stopping to refuel twice, our pilot Ian landed the plane at our field camp at the Patriot Hills. As it turns out, this was just the start of our day.
The depot of supplies we created at the end of last season was completely buried after spending a winter exposed on the glacier surface. This meant that the four skidoos, four sledges, all our food and fuel had to be dug out before we could do anything at all. We couldn’t even eat until we’d recovered our food boxes! So, the four of us on the first flight, including the pilot and co-pilot, set to work on the skidoos and found the snow had set like concrete. It was the kind of snow that you had to hit as hard as you could with your spade about three or four times before a small chunk gave way. It was demoralizingly slow and painful, and in the end it took 5 hours just to free the skidoos! You can imagine how relieved we were to see the others arrive that night to lend a hand until we all finally gave in to hunger and sleep sometime in the early hours. The following day was spent clearing the depot and setting up camp in preparation for our first day of science.
With blowing snow and gusts over 30 knots, I get the feeling this season’s weather is going to be a little different to last season. Perhaps our view of this camp as ‘Costa del Patriot’ after last year’s balmy weather may be about to change.