After 8 days filling fuel tanks and playing Tetris with the merchandise in snow sledges, I was finally ready to go out and meet where my new toilet was going to be.
Shackleton’s relief became officially finished two days after Christmas. This year, the solemn celebration was very stealthy. With consecutive 12 hour shifts, the energy level around the ship was not enough for big parties. It end up being just a longer night than usual but before midnight had arrived I was already in a knife fight with Sandman.
My last day at Shackleton’s was spent cleaning and tidying up the rooms. Next “morning” (again, a subjective concept around here), Shackleton was schedule to depart from N9 to continue its visits around Antarctica, before setting sail North.
When we got out to the deck, later in the afternoon, we had 2 snowcats waiting for us.
These are a kind of all terrain jeeps, with threads for running over snow. The ones we got around here are quite old but well maintained. The suspension system is less than optimal, which made the trip to Halley long and uncomfortable. I ended up spending the whole time doing the only thing I could: listen to some tunes. There were ones that tried to fall asleep, only to find themselves thrown head first into the ceiling after a minute or so. I tried to take some pictures but it would be easier task if I did it from on top of a mechanical bull.
The ice shelf surface may seem smooth and uniform from afar but in reality is ridden with small lumps. Around here they are called “sastrugi” and are mini snow dunes created by the wind. They are quite interesting true, but they made any travel over the antarctic surface a roller-coaster ride. During the Summer, most of these sastrugi fall apart once you go through them with something heavy but in Winter the snow gets solid and going over these things with anything is like taking a nap inside a working washing machine.
A 50 kilometer drive took more than three hours. Snowcats ride at about 15 km/h average, maybe 20 km/h if we get a patch of smoother snow, but even so, any small bump on the road translates as a massive shake for anyone inside it.
I was literally the last person getting out of the ship. I was the last one inside the last snowcat leaving N9 that year. I wasn’t the last one getting into Halley because somewhere in the road, we were able to go by our friends that had left earlier. But an overtake between two snowcats going at 15 km/h is as exciting and a live feed of a walrus taking a nap.
Truth is, we didn’t even realized it. Halley was under the thickest of fogs at that time and as we got near it, this one got so mushy that we struggled to see the black flags in front of us marking the route.
Which made the arrival to Halley even more interestingly weird. During three hours we were shaken merciless in the back of a snowcat, without even any indication to which direction we were facing. Then, out of nowhere and just a couple of meters from us, the first structures started to emerge from the fog. A container line, followed by the garage and the summer accommodation, then the workshops and equipment storage and finally, like a monster coming out of the mist, one of the blue modules.
There aren’t many things as impressive as the first contact with a structure such as this one, specially considering that we are in the middle of nowhere, literally. And when that happens almost suddenly because of the fog, well, its one of those things that you will never forget.
My first reaction? I was surprised in how big it was. I had seen tons of outside fotos of it until that point, some of them even with people in the frame so that a scale could be established, but even so, by some reason, I always thought the modules were smaller. Now that I was face to face with them, I was impressed without question.
After months of speculation, its confirmed, Halley doesn’t disappoint.
It was a clearly shared feeling among everyone that was visiting for the first time. Even all banged up from the trip, and with more than a week carrying boxes around the place, when we step foot in the base we looked like children at the zoo for the first time. It was all so strange and we want to stick our finger everywhere.
The base inside is even more surprising. Considering that we were in one of earth’s more murderous environments, its impressive how technology can make us so comfortable in this small oasis of civilization.
My first hours around there were another avalanche of information and new faces, something that I though I was used to after 4 months working with BAS. I was taken to my room almost immediately, again, surprisingly spacious considering the context, and the rest of the “night” was spent losing myself in the corridors with my mouth wide open and tracking down last year’s winterers. I was curious with these ones. A year from now and I will be in their place.
Halley is quite an improvement from the wooden shacks from the fifties.