BELARE 2006/2007 - The coast party as arrived: first traverse completed!

For two days the brooding sense of ominous change was carried to us by the evershifting inconsistent winds, while we sat and waited for the calls from the traverse. Gradually the convoy coming from the sneaked closer. Finally, the call arrives, and I throw the Iridium to Jos to talk as my voice is still not back. Apparently they are one and a half hours from arriving. We nonchalantly finish our meal, pretending that we aren't excited.

Then we all troop out in one's and two's to the ridge. Dieter has set up his camera near the GPS reference point to film the triumphant entry. He rigs Johan up with microphone and all those gizmo's for the "first exchange". I try to set up Alain's HD camera to film, but my hands are frozen, so I'm rather pleased when it refuses to focus. One less thing to do. Jos points out the little blinking lights on the horizon by Vesthaugen, but it looks like a trick of the fading light. The sun is dipping behind the nunatak, and the shadows are speeding out to meet the convoy, stretching out dark fingers towards the North. We wait in the cold, but unable to contain my impatience and in order to keep warm, I decide to walk to the end of the ridge, which is still in the sunlight. I set out across the stones, trying not to stumble in the oversized boots. However, by the time I get to the other side of the ridge, the sun is also on its last legs, and the cold is chilling. I determine to wait it out, and find a rock outcrop which is less exposed to the wind on which to sit. I focus on the horizon, and very gradually, I begin to make out the two lights of the Prinoths and one smaller blacker dot, which I suppose are Alain and Benjamin on the skidoo.

They are about 10km away, which at their current speed would mean that they would reach the camp in about an hour or so. You have to be a little mad to sit out in the elements when it is -15°C, and so we have to acknowledge that we have become a little unhinged. We wait, and gradually the forms begin to resolve themselves: two Prinoths. What, no sledges? No. There they are. Hang on, there are four, including the white container belonging to the military. They look like toys in the distance, dwarfed into insignificance by the vastness of the Antarctic spaces.

The convoy storms around the west side of the ridge towards the camp. I race down the soft side of the ridge towards them, and suddenly all is noise, colour, excitement and joy, mingled with relief that they have made it. The World is suddenly moving faster, and everyone is talking and laughing and one tractor sticks deep into the soft snow, giving everyone the excuse to make ribald remarks.

The machines look so small against the landscape, the camp appears barely to change with the new additions. Is this the vanity of man to imagine that we can come to such a place and be more than just another passing skua?

The work begins almost immediately, the containers are opened and we take stock, and begin to plan. After a quick dinner the traverse party is happy to find their tents, and have the first really good night's sleep in a week.

And as expected, the work begins in the morning, with the sun warm on our backs. Unloading sorting, checking equipment. Vaska, Jos and I set up the Weatherhaven tent to become the new mess tent to hold 14 people. All the food has to be organised for the next year, and stored in one of the containers. The generator container has to be set up on the ridge to allow the construction team to begin with the anchoring points. Alain spends all day on the ridge with the Prinoth flattening out a working space where the container can be placed.

The team for the second traverse is identified: Jos, Bernard and Philippe and Frank from the Army. They will leave on Monday and so set about preparing the vehicles and their personal equipment (tents, cooking implements, food). Alain has marked the GPS points along the route, and now they have to return along their own tracks to the extent possible, collect four new containers (including the one with the wind turbine) and return.

It should take about 4 days. It is unlikely that we will be able to move everything this year as had been planned, but this is a minor setback, as the transport can be completed early in the next season. We have everything we need on site.

The new tent has a gas cooker with an oven, although the cold keeps freezing the valve preventing the gas from flowing. We also have an oil stove and a snow melter, but this will take longer to set up, because it requires someone to cut a hole in the Weatherhaven, and so we hesitate on where to position it, because the chimney will have to be supported. Ah, decisions, decisions. Dinner in the new tent, without heating is a cold affair and not as cosy as our meals in the little mess tent. But this is progress, and we have real chairs to sit on. So, onwards and upwards. When the wind turbine arrives, we will have to set it up, and then we have our first clean energy on site.

Alain has brought back hundreds of pictures and as soon as we can shrink these to a reasonable size you will have you first images of the unloading and the traverse.

Until then, I leave you to celebrate this success against the odds, dream of heroic deeds, and remember us on the light side of the Earth.