Friday, 11 February 2011

Tomorrow it all changes

Back to DC
I had a private plane back up to Concordia ? I suppose the only time
in my life a company is going to arrange a plane just for me! Of
course once it was planned the twin otter got absolutely loaded with
freight and I found myself in the seat at the back with a wall of
every kind of box and container between me and the flight crew.
Dustin leans in the cabin door and gives a full safety briefing,
refreshingly brief ? ?door, other door, seatbelt, here?s a bottle of
water for you.? I?m grinning from ear to ear as he shuts the door from
the outside. I like flying with these guys. Apparently he grew up on
a ranch in Canada, and can lasso a skua from twenty yards (gently).The
takeoff from enigma lake was breathtaking. We took off towards
the ocean and climbed slowly parallel to the shore along a wall of
cliffs rising out of the sea. And then turned towards the interior,
skimming very low over the clifftops. Then, still slowly climbing we
crossed a kilometre wide glacier flowing through the valley behind. I
could see through the opposite window that it was making its way
toward the ocean where it met others to form ice a wide ice shelf.
Over it and then the higher, 2,500m steep mountains that buttress the
vast, high, flat sea of ice behind. And there, just right there, is
where Antarctica is at its most spectacular and unique. Vast cliffs
on one side and a smooth flat sea of ice lapping at the level of the
peaks on the other. And just behind that dam you can see occasional
fins of rock, inconsequential little crests alone in flat ice
stretching unchanged to the horizon, the only signs of a buried
mountain chain twice the size of anything in Scotland. In breaks
between the wall of cliffs, glaciers from that ice sea pour steeply
down, cracked into staircases of crevasses, tributaries to the
kilometres wide indolent rivers of ice winding between the mountain
Once it?s left behind there is only flat ice for thousands of Kilometres.
North and south gets a bit confusing here. As an aside, Dome C sits
almost directly between the magnetic south pole (near Dumond
D?Urville) just off the coast, and the geographical south pole (Where
the American?s have Amundssen base). Which means that from DC you
would follow a compass north to go, in fact, south. To be honest I
couldn?t work out in my head which direction we travel in to go from
MZS to Concordia. And I was really trying.Middle station was the
same, certainly the bleakest place you?ll find
a pisten bully in the entire world. I wandered round taking bleak
photos until Erik waves me to say they?ve finished refuelling the
plane. And then, two hours later, I was back.The weather had
caused huge frustration here. The Astrolabe had docked
at Dumond D?Urville, waited, and then had had no choice but to leave.
But several scientists from Concordia could not get there for their
return to Tasmania because of the same bad weather that had grounded
us in MZS. And because the berths are calculated so tightly, several
scientists in DDU were told they had to leave their projects a month
early. If the berths went unfilled this rotation, there wouldn?t
enough capacity to take everyone off in the next. Can you imagine the
frustration and disappointment there? But hey, TIA. What else could
we do?

In French that means, amongst other things, ?daring, bold?. And it
certainly is that.It?s a convoy of massive, specialised Cat tractors,
and I would gues sabout
ten or eleven people that make the 1000km journey from DDU to
Concordia in -40 temperatures, from sea level to 3,200 above. And
they drag 200 tonnes of supplies in containers on skis. Really, the
same containers you see on the roads pulled by articulated lorries.
On skis! It?s a superb sight as they crawl over the horizon. There
are fuel tanks on skis, an accommodation block on skis, a crane on a
flatbed on skis, and container after container after container.
I get a lift on a skidoo driven by David, a Frenchman, and we, along
with several other skidoos, zoom off to greet the convoy when we see
it appear on the horizon.It?s taken me a couple of days to recover
from my return to high altitude. No headaches or vomiting this time,
but I feel the same complete exhaustion for a couple of days. The raid
arrives the day I start to feel better. And thank goodness I do because we are
seriously going to work hard!The Raid has brought all the food and
fuel we will need for a whole year ? not just the winterover but also
next summer?s campaign. And,
joy, it?s brought the aluminium cases full of personal things I gave
to a freight company in Glasgow in October. IPEV's
organisational prowess is just beyond any superlative I have to offer.
I find a couple of the unloading team lifting them into the base,
and I just can?t believe my eyes. All I can think of is...a proper
towel, after two months of that travel fleecy thing, a proper towel!
Happy days.Well, temporarily. It?s the job of the hivernauts, us fourteen
winterover crew, to unload all the food. Everyone is working at a
furious pace as the Raid will depart just three days after arriving.
It takes two and a half days and, I have to say, was really good for
the winterover team. For me, I?ve hardly spoken to some of the guys
on the team ? the ones who speak very little English and attempts to
make any but the most simplest conversations end awkwardly, and it?s
good to work with them again where language doesn't matter so much.
The base?s numbers swell to eighty or so with the Raid?s crew. The
place is buzzing again. Especially as the raid crew are so pleased to
have reached an outpost of civilisation. It's really fun.A couple of days
after that, though, the delayed scientists leave.
And the base gets noticeably quieter. A day later, the Raid departs.
And then, two days ago the Italian technical crew left. The numbers
have gone down to about thirty. In the space of less than a week the
summer campaign has abruptly come to an end. And the mood amongst us
winteroverers is changed too, as you might expect. Much more
serious, our eyes fixed on the challenge ahead.And tomorrow, a plane
will come to collect the French technical crew,
the last of the summer crew, and we fourteen will be the team again
that we prepared to be, months ago, in Paris. Tonight, though, there?s
a party in the workshop. Lets forget the future for a couple of

Something more. It?s one in the morning, and I?ve been looking out of
my window. The snow is purple. Except to the north where the sun is
just hovering over the horizon. The snow?s orange over there.
I?ve never, never seen anything like this.--

Satellite uploads at: 00.00, 09.00 and 14.00 UTC
Concordia station 75°06'06''S - 123°23'43''E
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