BELARE 2006/2007 - An Utsteinen Summer

It's been six days since the second traverse party set out for the coast landing site, and things have been less than easy for them. As expected the Prinoths had to cross the crevasse zone on the way to the coast camp, and then again on the way out, but the passage of the machines has caused a lot of deterioration to the route used and so alternatives had to be found.

This is a tricky business requiring the area to be crossed to be sounded out on foot, using a long pole. Going in was easier, than getting out again, but finally a route was found and the convoy consisting of the two Prinoths each towing three containers was able to set out for Utsteinen.

The heavy load has meant that they have to travel much more slowly over the sastrugis, and so they are taking no chances. We expect them back here some time today.

Meanwhile, back at Utsteinen, things have been progressing and Dieter the Topographer has finished his profile of the footprint area for the base, and has started on the air strip. Johan has been in feverish consultation with Brussels and the e-mails have been sizzling back and forth from the draughtsman to him, as the final design alignments and integration points are detailed. This is a crucial phase for the implantation of the Base on the site.

Vincent meanwhile has been working hard on the anchoring points for the wind turbine which should arrive sometime today. The resin which fixes the anchor point has been hellish to mix, and apply at the ambient temperatures, as it is more suited to warmer climes. To ensure the polymerisation process happens, he has had to rig up a system of resistance wires to heat the resin once it has (with difficulty) been poured into the holes containing the mechanical anchoring system. Very messy business under the present conditions. Yesterday, he moved the main generator up on to the ridge to meet the heavier energy demands of the heating of the resin, and the operation of the large drills and compressor.

Today, Vincent is busy playing with (his words) the Windy Boy excess energy dump load which will be connected to the wind turbine. For additional manpower he is looking to Benjamin, who has been blessed with a large frame, which to date it appears he has had little use for. Perhaps he has found a new vocation in the manipulation of heavy loads.

Back at the camp, with the generator gone, Vaska has lost the use of the electric oven, but still manages to cook up incredible meals for us: sea food rissotto, ostrich with pasta and mushrooms, nasi goreng. He really is amazing, and manages to remain fresh as a daisy, every day. No beard and smelly clothes for him - he maintains strict military discipline right up to the end. He really is a god-send, and has taken over management of the kitchen and stores, and is busy preparing an inventory of the frozen foods for next year, even as I speak. Today, fresh container loads of food will arrive, so we are going to be busy tallying up everything.

It snowed on Tuesday, and so we expected to be holed in against the elements for a couple of days. Luckily, the weather cleared, and yesterday we were able to carry out the survey of the Dry Valley at the end of the Kettelerbreen, behind the Vikinghogda. The lichen harvests were slim, but what a landscape! Imagine a phantasmagorical world dreamt up by Hollywood circa 1950. Sharp crennellated ridges, and acres of glacial detritus stretching out into the distance like a geologists candy shop. Every conceivable "déclinaison" of granite, macrogranular, microgranular, basaltic, gneiss, speckled, striped, pinks, greys, and greens, milky quartz, volcanic lava as fresh as the day it flowed lying incongruously in the snow, heavy metallic chondrules, all gathered up and dumped here in the rough embrace of the glacier of which there is little vestige today.

While we were gone, the Dornier from AWI, bound for Neumayer from Syowa, stopped to refuel, two days early. Apparently, bad weather is expected, so they came through sooner than we thought they would. The visitors took a quick tour of the camp, and were quite enthralled by the fact that it was a "real" camp.

Three days ago we surveyed the Teltet nunatak, and the far side of the Utsteinen nunatak, which holds some impressive hazards for the unwary. Teltet yielded a couple of promising specimens, and Dieter Camera was amazed to see a book lying frozen unden the surface, a remnant from the old Belgian camp.

The East of the Utsteinen nunatak rises in an imposing wall in which there are scooped out several wind holes, which I suspect must be used by nesting birds in the season, but there are none around now. At its base, this wall has an immense wind scoop, which is topped in parts by an unstable overhanging lip of snow. Under my unknowing gaze, Dieter Camera from the VRT blithely filmed Alain and poor Damien riding the snowmobile at the top edge of a gigantic snow wave on the far ridge, totally unaware that he was himself on an overhang. But he is a cool chap, and had no angst following this incident. Same cannot be said of Damien, who was a totally reluctant extra in the daredevil ice-surf sequence.

The South and West of the Nunatak holds a fine blue frozen lake, which revealed a few interesting melt pools. Damien managed to find some interesting lichens in a rock fall at the base of the South wall. He promptly marinated them in ethanol. (This interestingly enough is the only alcohol on the Base - military rules apply - no alcohol on mission. While this rule has some detractors, they are powerless to offend. The closest Mall is in Cape Town, some couple of thousand kilometres to the North).

Alain has been busy working on the ridge with Dieter Topo, Johan and Vincent, when he has not been guiding us safely through the crevasse zones in the survey areas. Apparently, he has uncovered a large and quite deep gap in the ice in the working area of the ridge. Another hazard to be managed, if people are going to work safely in this zone. Alain is completely in part, the Polar guy much burned by the elements, beard, sunglasses, and fetching scarf. With his craggy physiognomy he looks like he has been hewed out of the nunatak itself. However, when we had a sunny day, he was induced to break his image of the stone man and wash his hair.

Joris and Benjamin have been helping out around the camp with various jobs and chores. We have shown the journalists no mercy. They have been added to the work roster alongside everyone else, and have been busy washing dishes, fetching snow, and changing toilet bags with the rest of the expedition team. This has been a traumatic experience for them, as the media are more used to being onlookers than actors. But they are surviving, and even shaping up quite well.

Those in need of entertainment have already watched a number of films (on the computer) including "Tomb Raider", "Kingdom of Heaven", one vampire schlock horror, and a couple of war films.