Station progress - © International Polar Foundation

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Live from Antarctica: Snow Over Utsteinen

It has been snowing for two days now. The Inmarsat and the Iridium only work sporadically; the feeling is that Antarctica is finally showing its real face. Since the 16th (and last) traverse returned from the coast on the evening of the 8th, the wind has picked up steadily. We had intimations of this change of mood already at Crown Bay, as a thick grey sea mist arose under our eyes and flying conveyor belts of snow accompanied our drive back. At camp, the wind whistled an eery tune on the bamboo posts used around the place, like the giant pan pipes of Aeolus.

We were four Prinoths: Jesko and René, Didier and Philippe, Thierry and Vincent, and Alain and I. The first leg to Breid Bay to recover the remaining drums of Polar diesel was carried out with only two vehicles. It went almost without incident. The Bay was totally clear of sea ice and several large icebergs were visible off-shore.

In the evening, in the crepuscular light of one of the first sunsets at 70°S, we were turned back from our intended reconnaissance of the seaward ramp of 2006-07 by a large zone of irregular crevasses. We were forced to beat a hasty retreat after having to cross several medium sized snow bridges which gave way under our tracks, giving us a nasty jolt, and exposing deep blue cavernous holes where we had just passed. The mood remained jovial as Alain drove at full speed over the remaining exit points to avoid any unpleasant incidents involving getting irremediably stuck in a big hole.

Crown Bay, the next stop for us, was a big surprise for Alain as all the sea ice had disappeared, as well as large sections of the ice shelf. If unloading is to happen here next year we are probably going to have to prepare a different type of operation. The sea ice is unlikely to be thick enough to unload heavy items next season. We will have to examine the final situation of this season on satellite images when we return.

There is a gale blowing now at the coast and it has followed us here, like some mythical sea monster. The winds have picked up to over 50 km/h on the ridge, making work in the driving snow impossible.

On the station, modules 13, 16, 17, and 18 remain to be placed on the West face. The tower is only partially mounted, as is the roof, which means that the snow has managed to create enormous drifts in the interior of the station. Teams who went up to work found that even with shovels and brooms, they couldn't keep up with the rate of accumulation. The inox plates and EPDM barrier on the outside also remain to be finished.

Heavy drifts have built up around the camp and, in the lack of visibility, going outside inevitably means picking your way with care, as there is no way of telling what the whiteness in front represents in terms of terrain. The toilets were under a metre of snow this morning and answering the call of nature involved a certain amount of digging.

The sleeping tents flapped and shook violently all night long. Some people who had left small openings in their tents for ventilation awoke with a layer of snow over sleeping bags, clothes, i-pods, cameras, everything.

The next team rotation is foreseen for the 14th of February, St. Valentine's day and also Yvan's birthday. He will spend it at Novo with our Russian friends.

With this flight (weather permitting) we will have 8 people (including Yvan and of course my humble self) out and three in, which will leave 32 in camp. The next group will probably leave on the 27th of February. Final camp shutdown will follow, with the last team scheduled out on the 5th of March.

The mood in camp is resolute and upbeat. Nothing like a little adversity to bring out the Inner Boy Scout.

Author: IPF

Picture: Station progress - © International Polar Foundation

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