This week the BAS race Antarctica started where teams of 6 from all bases and HQ can log their activities to add up an equivalent distance to a return journey from the Antarctic peninsula to the South Pole, i.e. around 4860 km. As part of this I decided to kill two birds with one stone and make my weekly trip to the snow stakes contribute to the team’s score by manhauling there and back instead of taking a skidoo. The temperature was on the limit of skidoo use anyway, around -35 °C to -40 °C, but the wind was calm and the visibility good. We use expedition style sledges called pulks which we loaded with emergency clothing, comms, shelter, food and hot tea, as well as some extra weights.
With a slightly delayed start we set off in the darkness and found the flagline leaving the perimeter by the light of a rising half-moon. Double flags mark a corner in the flagline and we made sure to follow the correct line to the snow stakes and not the one going to the new station site 6a. This took us around an hour after which the GPS batteries had already ran out, however my iPod battery was still going strong. Following the flags and also lots of my previous skidoo tracks we finally made it to the site where we donned down jackets and hid under the shelter whilst sipping tea and eating frozen chocolate. We quickly measured the height of the poles sticking out of the ground, which gives an indication of snow accumulation and got ready for the return journey. By this point our goggles had steamed and frozen up to the point that I could only see the tips of my skis, so I took them off. It’s ok when there’s no wind, but you have to keep an eye on each other’s skin to spot when it turns white from frost nip. By now the moon had risen high in the sky and was casting shadows as we hauled our loads back towards the welcoming lights of the station some 4 km away. Although we could see the station from far away, we couldn’t head straight for it as the terrain in between has not been checked for crevasses, but navigating using our sledge trails was easier than on the outward journey.
During the whole trip we maintained communication with Halley making sure to check in when arriving and leaving the site, as well as comms letting us know that they were happily munching away at dinner while we were still 1 km outside of the perimeter. The whole trip took us 3.5 h including breaks and science, in total covering a distance of 8.5 km. All this is good preparation for a potential manhauling trip to windy bay caboose some 35 km away on the coast. But even so, I doubt many people can claim to have manhauled in the middle of the Antarctic winter.