Dyer

Antarctic place names are often a bit haphazard. There were so many new features to be named by the first surveyors that when they had named a few mountains and glaciers after each other, their parents, friends and huskies (and, for all the early, privately funded expeditions, after their financial backers) they would get bored and name things after whatever happened to take their fancy. A range of 3 large mountains that we flew by on the way back from Brennecke nunataks are rather endearingly known as the Eternity Range; Mt Faith, Mt Hope, and Mt Charity - although oddly, the greatest of them isn't Charity. There is an island off the peninsula rather about the size of Wales on which all the features are named after composers: Monteverdi and Shostakovitch have been given peninsulas, as has Beethoven (some lesser promontories off the peninsula are named after his symphonies). Elgar gets some Uplands near the Hornpipe Heights; Boccherini and Bach, Schubert and Stravinsky are all inlets; Sibelius has to make to with mere glacier whilst Handel gets an entire Ice Piedmont.

Anyway, that's all just a bit of a ramble to introduce my next field site, which happens to have a singularly apt, though imperfectly spelt name: the Dyer Plateau.

To be fair, it's a lovely enough spot when the weather is fair. But that seems to be rare enough, even in summer. When we arrived we could see lovely steep nunataks rising to the north, the south, and the east, perhaps 15 miles away and gleaming in the slightly lower sun of late evening. We haven't seen much of them since. At the moment visibility must be all of 50 metres.

I had been mightily relieved when Mark, the pilot, leaned over to me as we approached and pointed out a target on his radar a few miles ahead. It meant that at least some of the Automatic Weather station we were looking for was still sticking above the snow surface, unlike at Gomez. It turned out to have a mammoth 1.5m of mast still showing, so we were able to make fairly short work of the hole to the remaining 3.5m to get to the instruments at the bottom of the mast.

We had less luck with the GPS poles, of which again there were four - one at the central site, and three outliers a kilometre away, The central pole had just 16cm showing, and one of the others was sticking out by 50cm. Of the two others there was no sign, and though we tried setting up the Ground Penetrating Radar again, we found nothing. With little to do at the outlying GPS stakes, and only the relatively shallow pit to dig at the central point, we were pretty much finished the science work within two days of arriving.

Unfortunately the next day we had thick low cloud - not good enough weather for the planes. The following day we had a blizzard. The next the weather here wasn't too bad - but sadly, there was fog at Fossil Bluff, where the planes would have to refuel. Then it manked out again, and we're into the third day of another blizzard. It gets a bit tedious after a little while. Luckily I brought a couple of books with me, but even the thick Tilman anthology I borrowed from Rothera library isnt going to last me a great deal longer.

Life isnt too bad in the tent, wrapped up in a thick down sleeping bag, with the primus roaring away to melt snow for cooking or drinking. But BAS tents dont come with a toilet compartment, so occasionally we do have to brave the driving snow outside. Pyramid tents dont have zips (BAS doesnt trust anything invented after the turn of last century), so there is a sort of canvas tube for a door, tied up with tapes. You pull on your mukluks (thick insulated boots) undo the knot (which is frozen), struggle through the tube (impossible without getting covered in all the snow that has accumulated in it no matter how tightly you tie the tapes), run along to the pee flag (never forget the pee flag when setting up camp, so you know where not to collect snow for cooking from), and try to get back to the tent before you turn completely into a snowman. Marks technique is to dress up to the eyeballs in all his kit before he goes out, but Ive found the least sticky items of clothing are actually my thermals, so I go out in them: it might be a bit chillier, but the snow brushes straight off them as you crawl shivering back into the tent, so you dont bring masses of it back inside with you.

There is nothing to see outside other than swirling snow, and the hole we dug has disappeared, filled within a few hours by the blowing snow. My little depot of science kit is rapidly getting buried too. Rumour has it the weather might be clearing tomorrow, so were hoping for a pickup soon. Ill be reduced to reading my books for a second time if we dont get lifted up soon.

Click on the pictures on the right to see the full image.