BELARE 2006/2007 - Close of another chapter for the Utsteinen Saga

Despite the poor weather report from Neumayer, the flight to Novo on Sunday will go ahead as planned, ALCI informs us. The preparations for closing down the camp for the winter are in full swing.

It is time to pack. The floor of the Weatherhaven is buckling as the underlying snow melts and refreezes in a new configuration. The water melter sinks lower each day, its chimney clinging precariously to the tent wall, and the shining inox Electrolux cooker is beginning to tilt rather alarmingly. Tomorrow, we pack up the kitchen, and go back to the MSR stoves for cooking.

This morning Jos assembled a team and began by taking down the Press Lounge tent (because they generally lounge around there gossiping) and also sorted all the waste produced this season into cardboard, plastic, kitchen waste etc for evacuation via ship in a couple of years. Phil and Frank have kitchen duty but are so efficient that they can immediately get back to servicing the machines, one of which had an unfortunate incident with hydraulic fluid from the snow blower, which we spent the best part of four hours yesterday clearing up, en masse. Johan called today to find out from the suppliers how to fix the problem, and we will give it a last shot before leaving.

Alain and Dieter C drove to Vesthaugen yesterday morning, to survey the blue ice for a potential landing strip. They eventually found something suitable around 34km away and spent the whole day with the Leica D-GPS preparing a grid for analysis. They only got back to camp at 2.30 this morning.

Benjamin and Bernard are in the doghouse, as Vaska spent all morning cutting up vegetables for dinner, and they cheerfully scoffed the lot when his back was turned, under the strange delusion that someone had miraculously prepared them a salad bar. In the "fin fond de l'Antarctique". What imagination. To make matters worse it is their turn to cook today ...

The wind turbine produced 3kw as the wind picked up, which Vincent had unfortunately to dump, because we have no cable long enough to bring the current into camp. It can be used to heat the the workshop on the ridge which is a welcome development, as the stiff wind up on the ridge makes working outside painfully cold.

Being in a place like Antarctica, where every small action requires advance preparation and planning, has made me more aware and appreciative of the massive quantity of manual work that is being done silently around us every day, making our comfortable lives possible. Digging, lifting, boring holes, shifting immense weights, building, laying down pipes and electrical cables, heavy work with heavy machines, an army of people are out there allowing our civilization to exist in blissful ignorance of the immense toil underlying the facility we take forgranted. Everything we do here from sending an e-mail to making a cup of tea requires the whole process to be set up in advance: fuel, generator, charge your computer, your Iridium, the works.

Work is in full swing to construct the shelter for the two Prinoths for the winter. Alain has pulled together a team, which I will go and join when I finish here. (With a bit of luck, I might even get to try out the Komatsu which is working up on the ridge now). We will have to go fast as there is snow and bad weather forecast for tomorrow, and already the days here are getting appreciably colder, quite rapidly. Last night it was -16°C in our tent, but as you get acclimatized it isn't too bad, and so long as you are out of the wind it is quite manageable.

The containers have to be packed and parked on the ridge, the inventories have to be completed and all the tents have to be down and put away by the time Brian comes to pick us up with the Basler, on Sunday afternoon. The buzz of excitement at going home is already in the air, and there is a particular enthusiasm being brought to the task of packing up, as the talk turns to Cape Town, getting a shower, wearing clean clothes again, and having lunch at the Ocean Basket on Long Street.