Saturday 28th January – farewell Halley, hello Rothera

I woke up early to my room-mates’ VHF radio at 0600. I had breakfast, swapped email and mobile details with a few of the team. I saw the team off on the Snowcats, whilst I spoke to the BAS Station Leader about getting over to site VI for my flight.  The final ride across to site VI was great because the night had been down to -22 C and the snow sparkled as the morning sun reflected off the crystals as we sped past.  We soon passed the Snowcats trundling slowly along the relief road on their 3-4 hour journey to Creek 6.

I arrived at the temporary camp at site VI and met the pilot and the co-pilot. Around 9:30am we got the okay at the Three Ronnie’s site and decided we would pack whilst we waited for the weather update from Rothera, which operates on Chilean time three hours behind Halley and therefore was too early at that point.  Whilst my time at Halley was really enjoyable, the re-location project had very little left to do.  I was therefore looking forward to getting home and the journey there.  The pilot got the okay around 10.30am and shortly afterwards we took off from the well-groomed runway.

The flight to the Three Ronnie’s base was good with views of the Brunt Ice Shelf and then the bay with lots of ice bergs in different states of break up and melt. They became less evident as we neared the end of our 3.5hr flight.

As we neared our destination the sea ice became denser with less cracks and spaces in between. The Three Ronnie’s base will be where the RSS Shackleton will go with the 40 people from Halley to off load the fuel barrels.  The sea ice had few open channels and the ice shelf cliffs were reasonably high.  One of the experienced managers was left at the base with the local team to inspect the ice shelf and sea ice, and to discuss both feasibility and ramp construction for the relief operation.

I took the opportunity to co-pilot for the next stage of the journey to Fossil Bluff. The first hour or so was pretty dull due to cloud cover obscuring the scenery below. Eventually the clouds cleared to reveal changes in the landscape, with the flat ice shelves now punctured with the occasional black rock outcrop, which grew into mountain ranges.  As we neared Fossil Bluff the pilot explained that the black mountains heat up under the long sunlight hours and melt the ice, and within the valleys these join up to form watery pools and  streams.  After a while as I looked out the cockpit window I could see these deep turquoise areas of melted snow starkly contrasting against the white in the low lying areas at the base of the rock faces.

We then flew on to Rothera where the range of mountains grew taller and denser. As we neared our destination the ice shelf and dark mountain ranges rapidly changed to a still grey sea punctuated with white and occasional blue ice bergs.  It was really stunning seeing these three landscapes coming together.   On the far side of the sea we skimmed across to a narrow low lying shingle runway where we landed for once on wheels rather than skis.  The runway is surrounded by snow covered black rock mountains and the bays of water with frequent icebergs.

It definitely feels strange to be back on terra firma. The scenery is totally different, more interesting with the contrasts of snow and rock, but also ice-bergs, wildlife and density of buildings. I was met by the friendly BAS Station Leader.

We were given an initial briefing, which will continue on Monday and then made way to our shared rooms and got rid of our bags. I then had a wander around the main buildings to both orientate myself as well as find things like the computer and telephone rooms.

We had a drink or two in the bar and then called to the dining room for the evening meal, which was celebrating Burn’s Night.

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