My last couple of days in Antarctica and Scott Base really feels like home. Everyone down here has become like family and I really wish I could stay here longer! I made sure I packed as much as I could into my last days here down on the ice.
Monday was spent finishing painting Hillary’s room. Walls to ceiling the room is painted Apple Green. Martin has finished the interior wall and we are positioning all the artefacts into the original positions using photographs as a reference. Geoff and Doug have finished the outside porch. There obviously weren’t many tall people when they designed the link-ways between the huts, as all entrances are just above my height (which is only about 173cm). The painters have been busy working away on the roof, sanding and prepping to apply the first coat of primer. Sue and Ciaran have been working overtime removing paint from the kitchen appliances and returning the artefacts to their original state. Because this process involves paint stripper and emits toxic fumes, personal protect equipment (PPE) must be worn so they have been waiting for us to finish our work inside the hut before they start.
Hillary’s Hut is the only original building remaining from the first Kiwi expedition and is an important part of our Kiwi heritage. Being able to be part of the team responsible for the conservation is a huge privilege and I am incredibly honoured to be able to be a part of this experience. Hopefully one day I will get to come back and see the hut completely restored, shining bright with its new orange and yellow paint job. Make sure you check out the photos on the Antarctic Heritage Trust Facebook and for live visual updates visit Antarctica New Zealand's website - photos of the hut updates every 15 minutes.
There are now over forty Weddell Seals in front of Scott Base along the pressure ridges. There are now melt pools beginning to form in the front transition, so the track is closed out onto the ice. The AFT team has been busy working to kept the track open from the back of Scott Base near the American Transition where there is the more permanent stable sea ice. The Weddell Seals are returning from winter after being out in the ocean and are coming back on shore to breed, give birth and moult. McMurdo Sound has a resident population of over 1000 seals, with most of these individuals tagged by the Americans for research purposes. Over the last six weeks I have been amazed at how quickly the seal pups have grown since I first saw them.
Monday evening I joined the Search and Rescue team (SAR) climbing Castle Rock. The SAR team include Molly, Andy and Mark (aka "Cellphone") who are wintering over and have volunteered for the position. Gearing up under the instruction of Tubs, we put on our harnesses, crampons and helmets, and jumped into the back of H2. Tubs has been training the team over summer, running through drills and getting everyone familiar with all the equipment. Although the temperature was warmish (-8 degrees) the wind chill was high making its feel like -19 degrees. Climbing up the steep slope, my breath kept freezing on my sunglasses and I would have to stop and scrape it off. In our buddy pairs, we each took turns climbing up the already laid line until we reached the top.
The view was incredible; I could see everywhere I’ve been on my trip. Looking over to the Barne Glacier where I camped in my first week, across the sea ice where I had so many adventures, over to the ski field and walking tracks and finally down to Scott Base and the TAE hut. I sat for an hour or so at the top just taking it all in.
Tuesday evening I had invited my two American friends, Lacy and Justin over for a Kiwi dinner. They work in the kitchen at McMudro Station and don’t have the opportunity to come over for American Night on Thursday. I will never forget their excitement when they found out we had real ice-cream for dessert. The Americans don’t have the same luxury as the Kiwis - they only get frosty boys for dessert. Dan Dan had organised a massive game of hide-and-go-seek where Jonny had the mission of finding the rest of the base hidden in every corner and crevice in Scott Base. Top marks go to Tim for somehow fitting inside one of the rubbish bins and thanks to Kurt who found me in seconds in what I thought was an awesome hiding spot behind the rock climbing wall.
My roommates, Laurine and Joanna have returned from the field after joining the K001C team. This year Victoria University of Wellington commissioned a Hot Water Drill (HWD) to drill through the Ross Ice Shelf. This summer at Windless Bight was a testing season for the drill and various bits of scientific equipment. The scientific equipment being used in the borehole includes oceanographic equipment, sedimentary corers, and ice physics equipment. If the HWD works, the team plans to sample near the centre of the Ross Ice Shelf next summer. The team hopes to gain a better understanding of the oceanic movements under the ice shelf, a paleoclimate record from the sedimentary corer, and ice processes and deformational histories from the seismometers and side wall corers.
Once we finished up on Wednesday evening, I joined my AHT boys for one last ride out to Williams Airfield. Al led the way, followed closely by Doug, while Geoff, Martin and I enjoyed the scenery. Having a quick pit stop at the American airbase for a nice cool drink of apple juice we were back on ice along State Highway 1, just in time for Al’s bedtime. Leaving the boys at the crossroads, I waved them goodbye before joining some friends out at the Ski Field. Putting my new skills into practice, I got in five great runs without falling over and even got a complement from El Presidente saying that I looked somewhat in control. Packing as much as I can in my last night, I finished off with a bouldering session almost completing the circuit I had been working on for the last couple of weeks.
Thursday morning came around to soon and I took my last photographs before meeting in the locker room for my departure brief. This was such a special moment as everyone came down to say their goodbyes and see us off. With only a couple of tears shed, Ash very kindly drove us to the airfield where we boarded the Hercules along with twenty other Americans. The US air force pilots allowed me to sit in the cockpit, looking out over the mountain range as we flew North. The vast expanse of Antarctica spread out as far as the eye could see and the view was breath-taking. I was glued to the window until we passed the final ice bergs. Although the highlight of my flight though was being able to make an international call to my parents from pilot’s seat through my headset! Can you just imagine saying… “Hi Dad! I’m just casually calling from 10,000 meters in the air, above Antarctica, in the cockpit of the US Hercules!!!” I think it took my parents a few minutes to actually work out what was going on and was a fantastic surprise that I would be home for Christmas.
I don’t think I have stopped smiling since landing six weeks ago and I have loved every minute of it. A huge thank you so much to everyone that has made my trip so special. To everyone at the BLAKE, Antarctica New Zealand and Antarctic Heritage Trust, I cannot thank you enough for making this incredible opportunity possible and my dreams come true. Being part of the AHT team, living at Scott Base and working alongside such inspiring people has given me a deep appreciation for all the hard work that goes on down here and ongoing commitment to research in such a unique environment.
Al and Lizzie – you guys are incredible, creating a team of fantastic conservators and carpenters doing an amazing job conserving such an important part of New Zealand’s history. Your drive, determination and focus towards the project has been an inspiration to me.
AHT boys – Geoff, Doug and Martin - Thank you for taking me on as your new apprentice and teaching me so many new skills. I will never forget using the Jack hammer for the first time, hammering in all 312 nails into the ceiling, singing along to the local radio station and of course our smoko breaks every day at 10am.
Ciaran and Sue – Camping out at Cape Evans is an experience I will never forget. I felt very privileged to have joined you and listen to all your stories. If only you guys had been my history teachers.
To all the Base Staff – You guys are awesome and I could write something about all of you! I loved getting to know everyone and I enjoyed every moment of all our adventures and memories that we have shared.
I have had such a wonderful time meeting everyone, making new friends and feeling beyond honoured to be a part of it all. As Sir Peter Blake said, ‘dare to dream’. Anything is possible.I don’t think I have stopped smiling since landing six weeks ago and I have loved every minute of it. A huge thank you so much to everyone that has made my trip so special. To everyone at the BLAKE, Antarctica New Zealand and Antarctic Heritage Trust, I cannot thank you enough for making this incredible opportunity possible and my dreams come true. Being part of the AHT team, living at Scott Base and working alongside such inspiring people has given me a deep appreciation for all the hard work that goes on down here and ongoing commitment to research in such a unique environment.
BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2016
In October 2016, I received news from the BLAKE that my scholarship application had been successful, and I was proclaimed the Antarctic Blake Ambassador for 2016.