Japanese arriving in Utsteinen - Copyright: René Robert / IPF - © International Polar Foundation

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Live from Antarctica: Visitors

The 31st day of January was another radiant day on Utsteinen. I know you're probably going to get bored of hearing it but yes, it was absolutely splendid. The kind of blue of a blue sky which has no name it is so intense, verging almost on the violet. Oops, we probably got fried too - ozone hole and UV radiation be blessed....

As the 14th traverse left with Didier, Yvan, Philippe, Jesko, Thierry and Vincent, I planned on a quiet day, pottering around and finally completing some work on reporting and logistics which has been dangerously flirting with deadlines.

But it was not to be. It never stops moving around here. There is always something to be sorted out and yesterday was no exception despite the fact that it started out promisingly uneventful. As we fiddled with the technical specifications of various orders for the Fassi and other construction material after lunch, Alain called in on the radio from the ridge "Base camp, base camp. We have visitors. The Japanese are coming, and are only 20 minutes away. Go out and meet them, as they probably don't know where the camp is situated".

We scrambled into our gear, coats, gloves, best sunglasses and raced over to the skidoo, making sure not to slip on the again-iced paths which were to have been fixed before the visitors arrived. Darnation.

The skidoo started at the first touch of the ignition (some mistake surely). Perhaps the excitement in the air reached its electric circuits. I grabbed Joffrey as Adjutant, and Jos with his camera, slung them into the Norwegian sledge, and squeezed the throttle. The skidoo shot to life with my "cargo" hanging on for dear life as we raced out to meet our visitors.

What an incredible sight met our eyes. There they were with seven skidoos stretched out in a straight line, coming from Bratnipane, lights on, riding towards us flying the Japanese and the Belgian flags together. Many were the distant onlookers on the ridge who were suddenly fighting a lump in their throats. What wonderful guests to make such a gesture of friendship here in the middle of this icy desert.

http://www.antarcticstation.org/pics/news/alain_yas_osanai_200x134.jpgWe dropped Jos off at a good vantage point and pulled alongside the lead rider. It was Yasuhiro Osanai, with who Johan and I had had dinner in Brussels in September. Tomokazu Hokada was there as well, also one of our agreeable dinner companions from September.

Among the group of seven geologists was Tsuyoshi Toyoshima, Sotaro Baba, Nobuhiko Nakano, Tatsuro Adachi, and Mikio Abe (research assistant and cameraman).

After the preliminary greetings, we led the group back towards the camp on the South West side of the ridge. They deposited their gear and then we went up to the ridge to see Alain who was busy helping the crew lift a large module into place as the crane needed a helping hand or two, or ten.

After scouting around the site, in the hangars around the tower basement, we finally located Alain who leapt down off the platform with a graceful bound to greet us with his brilliant smile.

We then returned to camp and had a civilised cup of tea with the guests, before allocating them a patch on which to put up their tents.

They will, apparently, only stay with us to the 3rd of February as they wish to try to get home on an earlier flight.

With all this excitement, one would have thought that the day was complete, but it was not to be so.

Hoping that in all the hubbub Alain would have forgotten his promise to "take me climbing", I got down to a few urgent e-mails (are there any other kind?) and was sliding into a lower gear when suddenly he poked his head into the office and said "We're a bit late. Be ready in 15 minutes".

My heart raced and sank simultaneously, if that is possible.

The second peak of the Nunatak sat there and surveyed me with a little enigmatic smile playing around its icy mouth. My heart sank even further.

What is it with these alpinists? Isn't it enough to do one nice gentle-ish peak and then rest some? They always want more.

So with leaden feet, I filled my thermos grabbed my woollen hat and third best gloves, some chocolate bars, and watched with growing unease as he put crampons, ropes and harnesses into the rucksack.

As a special favour we were to ride out (to meet my doom even faster) to the wind scoop in the skidoo.

For those of you who have no dealings with wind scoops, try to keep it that way. These beautiful beguiling and curvaceous creatures are full of treachery, holding untold perils in their icy blue hearts. Things can fall on you, you can fall on things (from great height) down these polished blue mirror slopes.

The polished ice cracks, with gun shot type noises as you cross it, and the ice slivers from your cramponned passage tinkle delightfully to the bottom of the scoop with little musical noises. They would make you chuckle if you weren't so intent on trying to prevent a precipitous slide to the base of the wall-like thing you are pretend-nonchalantly trying to cross.

"So, was that the most difficult part," I ask, hope blossoming in my heart? "Not yet", is the laconic reply of my accredited mountain guide. And so it went, until after what seemed an eternity of fighting granite blocks, hyperventilation and hysterical laughter (mine not his), we finally emerged at the top. Two ice white petrels swooped in low over our heads, in greeting, like in an early Flemish painting where white doves poise over religiously favoured heads.

Perhaps the last petrels of this season, as the days begin inexorably to shorten again.

"Two for joy", says the Magpie Rhyme. But joy was short-lived as, with picture session over (Rene and Jos filming us from the second peak, as we peppered them from the first), going down required a whole new technique of hyperventilation and sarcastic laughter.

Down again, we find that our Japanese guests, being in another time zone, two hours removed from ours, have already dined and taken themselves off to their sleeping bags.

I discover that Alain and I have just opened a new route. Oh, goody. Maybe that means that now he will stay quietly at camp, do his stuff at the construction site and go to bed early.

Thankfully, the next project is too difficult for a neophyte like me. I listen in fascination to them plotting of Petzl and "friends".

Exhausted from the emotions of the day, oblivion comes as a happy release after a last painful encounter with a cold sleeping bag.

Due to my hectic schedule, I have no pics of the day. You will be treated instead to the visual feast of René Robert's pictures of events, which are far superior to my humble attempts to keep you abreast of "News from Da Ridge".

Author: IPF

Picture: Japanese arriving in Utsteinen - Copyright: René Robert / IPF - © International Polar Foundation

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