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Mairi Nicolson's Antarctic Pages

Mairi Nicolson's Antarctic Index Where Caithness Folk Went
Rothera, December 2001

Itís been a while since Iíve written but the summer has just been non-stop. Thereís only five months to complete all the work before the sun starts to disappear and the winter begins. Not that weíve been blessed with good weather this year, calm days and clear skies have been few and far between. On the good side though the skiing is excellent and the slope opposite the base is in great condition.

              Ready For Work
I have just come back from my summer field trip on Alexander Island. These camping trips take a huge amount of planning and preparation, as we have to be prepared for every eventuality including the risk that you may be stranded for weeks or months with no support. The planes were filled with tents, skidoos, food, medical supplies, rescue equipment, science gear and a few luxury items. Finally it was time to put on our deep field clothing, get in the plane and relax after several weeks of frantic preparations. Two hours later we landed on Utopia glacier, unloaded the plane, set up the tents, checked the radios and then the plane left. Three women with one tent standing on a glacier, 300 miles from Rothera, and 35 miles from the our nearest neighbours, Ian and Will at Fossil Bluff fuel depot.

                                                                                                                                                 Apple Hut
The peace didnít last for long when the next flight arrived bringing more equipment, food and supplies. After two days and four flights we had seven people, four tents, two skidoos and large stack of supplies all safely delivered and it was time to start the science. My main job was to extract last years data from our automatic weather station and carry out some routine maintenance. The field hut, known as an apple hut (see picture), sits at the bottom of some beautiful sandstone cliffs and in front of giant ridges of ice. These pressure ridges are formed when the ice shelf moves across George VI sound and pushes up against Alexander Island. During the summer small ponds form at the foot of the cliffs and it is here that life thrives. Active sites like these allow us to study the effects of extreme environmental conditions on biological life. What a surprise it is to find orange lichens and green algae and in such a barren area that is covered in snow for most of the year.

                          Camp A
Life in the field is very simple and I just loved having nothing more to worry about than whether I was going to ski to the hut that day or take the skidoo, what science to do next and what to have for dinner. We had daily radio contact with Rothera and several conversations with other field groups to catch up on some news and gossip. Meals were basic because there are only so many things you can do with dehydrated beef. Luckily Marie-Francois my French tent-mate had brought some little luxuries including some very stinky cheese, smoked sausage, and a small bottle of port.

                                                                                                                                                     Mairi's Bus
One of the highlights of the trip was receiving an airdrop of post and fresh bread. The Twin Otter flew low over the camp and someone pushed the bag out of the back door. The next day the weather turned bad and we were stuck in the tents all day. Luckily I had received four John OíGroat Journals in the airdrop so everyone had something to read. Lie-up in the old days meant a day of reading or cards until the weather was good enough to go out again. Nowadays we have laptops and generators to power them and we were able to watch a DVD. Daveís choice was dreadful and the orange colouring of the tent blanched the screen but we persevered just for the novelty of it.

Iím back at Rothera now and I am enjoying the luxury of a shower, normal toilet facilities and fresh food. Iíll write soon with more of my summer exploits.