54 17'S 036 30'W. South Georgia, Southern Ocean.

Follow Matt Kenney during his deployment in South Georgia, working as a Boating Officer and Coxswain for the British Antarctic Survey.

Read Matt's posts with news, reviews and extracts from his Journals, and see photo and video posts to show you some of the work the Antarctic Survey are doing in the Southern Ocean, and also provide an insight into life on a British Antarctic research station.

Matt will also provide accounts of his work at sea and ashore on Humber Destroyer RHIBs and 11m twin jet drive Pilot vessels along side the team at the King Edward Point research facility.

Matt arrived in South Georgia on the 28th October 2010.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Scielasko Ice Cap and Black Peak Mountain.

Here follows a tale of mountaineering. Real mountaineering. With ice axes and crampons. And rope. I don't have many of these....

BAS policy dictates that we are not allowed to do glacial travel due to the technical nature of the traverse, and the associated risks if you dont know your ice axe from your snow bridge. The same rule also dictates, however, that we are allowed to do such things if accompanied by a BAS field assistant / mountaineer.

By a sheer streak of luck, this years base commander, Mr James Wake, is an ex BAS field assistant with a number of Antarctic field seasons to his name, as well as a history of miriad mountain climbs since he was a child. Therefore, glacier travel has become a possibility this year.

There are a number of large, heavily crevassed and active glaciers in the area. The Nordenskjold is arguably to most impressive in the immediate vicinity of base (though, they are all simply stunning) but the Neaumayer glacier in Cumberland west bay is the most active. It calves enormous chunks of ice in to the sea almost on a daily basis, and measurements taken (some by me) have confirmed the ice face is retreating back in to the Allardyce mountain range at a rate of 1 meter per day - or around 360 meters per year.
We opted to go and explore a less often seen feature on the Barff Peninsula however - the Scielasko Ice Cap. 
Being an Ice Cap, its nature is similar to that of a glacier. In fact, it once was a glacier proper, flowing down in to reindeer valley and no doubt contributing to a larger glacier as it went. Today, it has retreated in to a rift up in the mountain range on the Barff peninsula, and has become a stable, and smooth feature, devoid of crevasses. At the head of the ice cap lies the highest mountain summit in our travel area - Black Peak mountain.
Black Peak summit is recorded at 812m (2,664 feet) high, and on a good day allows for simply spectacular views of the surrounding area, including the Nordenskjold Glacier and Mount Paget - the highest mountain in South Georgia (which stands at a lofty 9,629 feet high) as well as the beautiful scarred coastline, and of course the endless expanse of the Southern Ocean, stretching literally infinitely about the southern hemisphere of Earth.
Day one, we were deployed at Sandebugten bay and we loaded our packs, and a miriad of gear in to the pulk which James would be carrying behind him on skis.
A tough trudge through deep snow (even the snow shoes were sinking 3 or more feet in places) finally allowed us some altitude, which with it, reduced the temperature and made the footing more solid. Eventually we made it over a col and in to Reindeer Valley. The valley runs East West and offers one of the few easier passages to the far side of the peninsula overland.  At this time of year, in the depths of winter, the valley floor is totally snow covered and the lake and streams which striate the landscape in the summer, are all frozen and seem to have disappeared all together.

A few hours later, we eventually worked our way out of the valley floor and up in the hills in the vicinity of the Ice Cap. We found a suitable spot at the foot of the cap, which was not even visible in its entirety, partly due to the scud and poor visibility in the area when we arrived.
We camped the night on what we believed to be a frozen lochen. I think we were all thankful of the goose down sleeping bags as the temperature dropped to double minus figures over night.
Early AM on day 2, and we had breakfasted on hot porridge and tea. The camp was to stay in situ, so all unnecessary gear and supplies was depoted in the tent or pulk. Unfortunately most of the weight saved was then put back on in the form of our climbing racks (ice screws, carrabinas, prussicks, strops, cam clamps, pullys etc) which are worn on harnesses, plus ice axe and crampons (spiked metal shoes which fit to your boots and allow you to walk / climb on ice.)
The trek up the ice cap was simply stunning. The low scud and overcast dreariness of the previous day had cleared entirely, and to coin a well known (though less often used) FID phrase - we had a dingle day. We quickly got used to being roped up as a group and we made quick progress up to the base of the ridge line leading to black peak.
The view opened up to the east coast once we got to the top of the ridge. The view from around 2,200 feet up was just spectacular, but in places the ridge drops vertically in some places for what looked like a good 1500 feet sheer drop. We remained roped up.
The summit came a hour later, and the view, as well as an enormous sense of achievement, was incredible. 
Day 3 we struck camp and trekked back in to reindeer valley, making our way further east to a col at the top of a picturesque bay and natural harbour called Godthul.
Dropping steeply in to Godthul, down some steep gullys, we made camp on some rolling foot hills very near the disused whaling industry depot, surrounded by reindeer. We spent a wonderful evening on the beach, watching the gentoo penguins, which form a large colony at Godthul, return full-bellied from their day at sea, and scramble frantically back ashore, as the sun quietly set behind.

An unforgettable journey, and without doubt a superb way of spending the only sunny days we have had for a long while!

Catch Up - March 2012 web diary.

Most significantly this month, we have been joined by two new team members.  Paula O’Sullivan and Jo Cox are both familiar faces to BAS; Paula having worked as a boating officer for two previous consecutive winters at KEP, and Jo joining us from the bridge of the RRS James Clarke Ross where she is normally chief navigating officer.  Paula will be joining me in the boating department, signifying the end of a period of working alone, and Jo will be joining the South Georgia Government office where she will be working as a government representative on the island.  A huge KEP welcome to both ladies!
Paula arrived to begin her third winter in South Georgia
When talking of the traditions and orthodoxy of devoted couples who decide to get married, rusty landrovers, Nido tins, boiler suits and a ship’s fog horn are likely to get a rare mention, if ever mentioned at all.
However, KEP had the privilege of playing host and notary to the wedding of OTEP Ecologist Kalinka Rexer-Huber and her husband Graham Parker; a wedding which cast aside many traditions in favour of a most unusual, but very memorable ceremony.  Conducted in the shadow of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s memorial cross on the idyllic rock promontory of Hope Point, the wedding was informal in the extreme, with most of the congregation in boiler suits and rigger boots, and not a cravat or veil to be seen.  The result however was extraordinary, and the fine weather and spectacular South Georgia views made for a most romantic ceremony.
The Newlyweds at Hope Point

Everybody on base and aboard the fisheries patrol vessel PHAROS SG, who was alongside at KEP Jetty at the time, were invited to witness this special occasion, and join in on an afternoon of celebrations.  Kalinka has become a very popular and valued member of the King Edward Point team over the many months she has now spent on the island, studying the rats and surveying and treating the small number of manageable invasive plant species on the island.  The ceremony was conducted by the registrar of South Georgia, Sarah Lurcock, and the building team from Morrison’s construction decked out their Series II landrover with electrical-cable-marking tape for ribbon, and trailed a bunch of empty potato tins and milk powder tins.  With the rust and dents suitably disguised, the chauffeur-driven vehicle whisked the newlyweds from Hope Point to the front of Everson House, where they were greeted with a champagne reception and a round of applause.   Everyone here would like to wish the happy couple many years of adventuring together.
A wedding party, South Georgia style

Of course, the festivities could not last, and the work program for March started in earnest.  Katie Brigden, our resident fisheries biologist, accompanied members of the OTEP team as well as South Georgia Government representatives on a field trip to Ocean Harbour to study the reindeer movements in the area, and treat some sporadic invasive plants.  The work undertaken in these studies will help build an accurate and thorough appraisal of the reindeer population on the island, and how their removal might best be managed.
Once again, we had the pleasure of hosting the Royal Navy at KEP during a visit by patrol vessel HMS Clyde.  The ship docked alongside, where she remained for a few days to carry out some work on the island.  Amongst the crew where a small team from the Royal Air Force explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team, who were to carry out controlled detonations to dispose of any relics of the 1982 conflict, which still get reported in the hills surrounding the base.  It is a great time to be here, as often the teams are very friendly and willing to get base members (safely) involved, and what results is a louder and more explosive fireworks display than you may have seen before! 
Another controlled detonation echoes around the mountains 

Often the Navy will volunteer crew during a visit to South Georgia to any tasks which require extra pairs of hands.  This time, we had a rather large request.  The wreck of the fishing vessel LYN, which grounded and breached on rocks in the entrance to the Morraine Fjord during a severe storm in 2003, has unfortunately sustained more damage during a recent period of heavy seas.  The vessel has now broken up in to three sections which has breached the forward freezer hold and exposed a quantity of expanding foam to the sea, which had, by the beginning of March, been deposited on nearby beaches.  A large cleanup operation was launched with the generous help of the crew of HMS Clyde and some 20 RN volunteers (including the Captain!) equipped with their own landing craft, joined a team from BAS and GSGSSI in the cleanup.  We were overwhelmed by our success, and after a hard day filling sacks and ferry people to and from the remote beaches, we had recovered practically all of the beach debris.  It really made everyone proud to be able to ensure the island is kept as pristine as possible, and the team here laid on drinks in the base bar to thank the RN helpers.
Debris on the local beaches before the highly successful cleanup operation 

The cooperation with the Navy turned to competition however, and the next day, a football match was held on the old recreation ground at Grytiviken disused whaling station.  The Navy gave our team a fair walloping, but foolishly agreed to a ‘sudden death’ decider, and the golden toe of BAS Engineer Tom Whitfield secured a (somewhat un-deserved) victory!  The day was finished off by a fabulous talent show, organised by the rates mess on the warship, and KEP took part with a last minute rendition of the Dad’s Army theme tune, accompanied by some sub-sandhurst-standard marching and drills!

The science department has been busy this month, and education has continued to be a large part of our resident scientist’s roles.  As well as delivering seminars on board visiting cruise ships (including the National Geographic explorer among others) to raise the scientific significance of the island to the tourists; our team have also been delivering their expertise directly back to the UK.  This year’s Cambridge Science festival organised a live video chat between children at the festival and our scientists in their laboratory here in South Georgia.  The children asked may questions, some scientific and some more domestic, and the feedback was very positive.  It is hoped the base can participate in more educational and awareness opportunities in the future.
An eventful month ended on a high, as we enjoyed another visit by the tall ship Bark Europa.  The 56m LOA Barquentine rigged sailing ship is always a welcome visitor.  Not only is the ship beautiful to look at, and reminiscent of some of the ships which would have plied their trade in South Georgia a century ago, but she always has a welcome invite for base members to come aboard for a barbeque when she is in King Edward Cove.  It is of course a great opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences of the island with the passengers, and to help educate them about some of the issues the island faces and the successes the island enjoys, but the good food, good beer and (perhaps not so good) dancing is always great fun!

Lastly, our living link to Antarctic heritage, BAS Zoologist Alastair Wilson, paid homage to his families’ impressive and significant past on the 29th of this month.  Alastair hosted a church service in the Grytviken church to mark the Centenary of Captain Scott’s last diary entry, made shortly before his tragic death whilst attempting the return leg of his successful expedition to the South Pole.  The story, now famous among Antarctic enthusiasts, still rings stark and true to those who work south, as Captain Oates sacrificed his life in order for the others to survive on the remaining food rations, and to cease holding up the party due to poor health stating “I am going outside, I may be some time”.  These words he is said to have spoken to the three surviving men in his tent; Captain Scott, Bowers and Alastair’s Great Great uncle, Edward Wilson.

Senior Boating Officer, KEP – South Georgia.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

This blog is a copy of the January web diary for KEP, which I wrote for the BAS website:


With 2011 on South Georgia being cast into the history books, 2012 started in earnest and once again the King Edward Point gang enjoyed a busy, varied and challenging start to the New Year.
As always, BAS science and South Georgia government projects featured heavily on the agenda, and our fisheries biologist, Katie Brigden MSc, Bsc (Hons) continued her hard work collecting samples and compiling key data for the on-going fisheries monitoring program on South Georgia. A large part of Katie’s work involves undertaking plankton trawls aboard the Fisheries Patrol vessel Pharos SG, and the beginning of January saw Katie back at sea trawling along pre determined transects in Cumberland East Bay and Rosita Harbour some 40 nautical miles along the coast from KEP. The samples collected are carefully sorted, weighed and analysed in the James Cook laboratory and the data will contribute to an overall appraisal of the health of the local fishery, and its impact on the wider ecosystems. In addition to this, Katie has also been involved this month in a bird study on Prion Island in connection with the on going rat eradication project.

Further monitoring of the higher predator populations on the island, namely the Antarctic Fur Seal and Gentoo penguin colonies continued too and our other full time scientist Alastair Wilson Msc, BSc (Hons) lead a gang of willing volunteers to the study beach at Maiviken to undertake the first of this year’s seal pup weight surveys. This survey will provide important data about the health of the higher predatory populations on the island to the long term marine monitoring program, and again ensures that krill and fish stocks remain abundant for the animals that rely on them. Data so far this year is very encouraging, and a healthy number of pups have been counted and their food sources appear very good with lots of fat pups recorded. Alastair has also continued his work analysing scat samples which again will help closely monitor the state of the seal’s diet.

Visiting scientist Sue Gregory from the Cambridge based marine science department arrived in January, and en-route conducted this year’s ground fish survey aboard the fishing vessel New Polar. Around 30 trawls where carried out, and a large amount of data and samples where recovered from the Shag Rocks area on the different species caught, in particular Mackerel Icefish. Data was gathered on length, frequency, sex and maturity; and stomach samples were taken for analysis back at KEP to provide information on diet and feeding habits. Groundfish Surveys like this one have been carried out since the late 1980s, with the purpose to provide an estimate of the standing stock and age structure of the mackerel icefish and inform fisheries management in SG waters.

The GPS equipment set up on the Busen peninsula.
The science theme continued in other disciplines too, and Dr Kieron Fraser, one of our resident government officers carried out some further data collection on the Barff Peninsula to assist with the improvement of the BAS map of the area. The project, headed by Adrian Fox of the BAS Mapping and geographic information systems department (or MAGIC for short) is an SG government lead initiative to further improve the accuracy and detailing of some of the maps used in South Georgia, using detailed aerial photographs supplied by the Royal Navy, with the geo-referencing being done using a very sophisticated GPS system. Conspicuous and unambiguous sites are identified on the photographs and Kieron was then deployed via the base boats to set up the GPS to take positional data for the site. The readings take over an hour, such is the accuracy of the equipment, and a position to within centimeters is achievable. The maps will be an invaluable asset during phase two of the habitat restoration project which will be underway next year.

Phase two of the habitat restoration project, a project designed to eradicate all none-native species of plant and animal from the island, will concentrate on the population of reindeer on the Barff and Busen peninsulas. The reindeer have been monitored carefully over the past few years, and a detailed study in to their impact has been completed. The best option for the protection of native plants, animals and birdlife has been determined, and the complete eradication of the animals will be managed by a group of professional reindeer herders from Norway. Representatives of the Statins Nature Oppsin in Norway have been on the island throughout January, and the boating department have been busy deploying them using the boats in to various sites around the locality so they can study the herds and plan for their capture.

January was a busy month for shipping too, and 23 vessels came and went throughout. Most of these vessels are visiting cruise ships, and in total nearly 2000 visitors passed through. The weather made its mark for one of these tourist visits, and after landing some 56 passengers ashore, the zodiac drivers where unable to retrieve them as the wind increased to storm force 10, and 70 knot gusted ripped through the cove. Visibility dropped drastically in flying spume, and the ship was forced to weigh anchor and seek more sea room away from the rocky coastline. The team here pulled together and invited all 56 in to the base for tea and biscuits. Emergency blankets and beds where prepared incase the wind forced them to shelter overnight, but thankfully after a couple of hours the gale blew out and the passengers where once again re-united with their ship. The base staff where left to polish off the soup and pasta which had been made for them!
Another welcome visitor this month was the South African research ship SA Aghulas, who stopped by during her science cruise. The vessel stayed at anchor for the day and invited some of us on board for tours. It was a great opportunity for science workers from different national Antarctic programs to come together to share ideas and methods.

January saw the history books re-opened with the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Chris Nunn OBE Royal Marines and his wife Siobhan. Mr Nunn was the commander of ‘M’ Company, Royal Marines and was heavily involved in military operations in South Georgia during 1982. Mr Nunn gave a fascinating and very even-handed presentation on the islands tumultuous past, and the role of his company during the Falkland Islands conflict; and it was a privilege for base staff to host Mr and Mrs Nunn for a week and facilitate an important visit for a retired war veteran to see the eminent progress made by BAS and the Government of South Georgia since the end of the war. Mr Nunn commented on his satisfaction at seeing the island return once again to a place of peace and science, and was heartened to see the islands rich and diverse ecosystem return to the forefront of the agenda. He also bought with him a valuable archive of documents and artifacts which where kindly donated to the South Georgia heritage trust which has made a substantial contribution the recording of human history in the region.

The boating department where kept very busy running numerous support trips to the surrounding peninsulas for the various projects underway. It was also a busy month training this year’s incumbents in the safe use of the boats. When there is such a busy science agenda, much of the training comes ‘on-the-job’, but there was still time to carry out some dedicated training sessions, for example a towing exercise to simulate a broken down RIB. Despite some 50 hours of time amassed on the water, and the departure in December of Ashley Perrin (Mrs Boat) leaving me solo until the next boating officer, Paula O’Sullivan, arrives in March. I was still able to take a short weekend break to Harpon on the north coast of the Thatcher Peninsula — a fabulous place to spend a couple of days right next to the Lyell Glacier and tremendous views over Cumberland West Bay, with a small breeding colony of King Penguins situated on the old Moraine.

Lastly, this month KEP played host once again to the annual South Georgia half marathon. This grueling test of physical prowess takes the participant 13 miles through tussock, across rivers, up scree slopes and over the summit of Brown Mountain. This year’s winner overall was chief executive of the South Georgia Government — Dr Martin Collins — with an impressive time of 1 hour 47 minutes. In second place, with a very respectable 1 hour 52 minutes was the South Georgia post master Hugh Marsden, with SG Government bird biologist Andy Black coming in 3rd with a time of 1 hour 54 minutes. The ‘runkling’ class (those who intend on walking but running parts of the course) was won by base doctor John Weissmann with a time of 2 hours 27 minutes, and the winner of the walking category (by default as the only competitor in class!) was taken by Alastair Wilson with a respectable 3 hour 43 minute result. The wooden spoon went to Base mechanic Erny Duston with a time of 4 hours 58 minutes, but this was enough to see him take first place in the ‘nordic walking’ class, again as he was the only entrant, and there was some controversy over the validity of this renegade class. Erny, originally hailing from North Yorkshire, was pleased with the result however, and said afterwards “Well I had little chance in’t other classes, so I thought I would mek’ me own up… you know…”

December 11

So on in to December 11, in the second of my latest series of catch up blogs.  Looking back, December was a great month to be in South Georgia, and some exciting things were happening.

Firstly, the team here welcomed the arrival of Dr Jostein Bekke and his team of researchers from the Bjerkes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen.  The team had arrived with a considerable amount of equipment to take lake coring samples from some of the small lakes in the mountains of the Busen and Barff peninsulas.  The team had a vast amount of kit to transport to each location including an inflatable raft, lake coring equipment, drills, sample tubes, an outboard engine, a generator, aluminium cases full of sundry scientific instruments, and of course personal kit and supplies for up to a week in the field.  All of this equipment had to be stowed on the aft deck of the jetboat during passage to and from field locations, and this included strapping 20 foot long sections of drain pipe to the side decks!

Once again the Royal Navy dropped by to say hello.  The type 45 destroyer HMS Montrose rolled in to cumberland bay during her tour of the South Atlantic.

Another major highlight was the arrival of the Norwegian reindeer herders Karl Eric and Henrick.  Herick is a Sammi reindeer herder from the north of Norway, and is part of a traditional community of reindeer people in the region.  An unassuming, friendly and placid character, Henrick often belies his impressive strength, and agility as he hunts reindeer in the tradition method of lassoing the beast and wrestling the animal to the ground (including the large bucks!).  The process is very humane, and causes little pain to the animal as death is achieved quickly using a razor sharp blade and an intimate knowledge of which blood vessels are cut.  Henrick gave lassoing lessons, and showed us how to prepare the meat for cooking.  The meat itself is very tasty, though both Henrick and Karl Eric could discern a subtle difference in the flavour of the meat compared with the resident norwegian herds.  The team are here to begin planning for the eradication of reindeer from South Georgia, and there will be further updates on this.

Lastly, the outgoing winterers finally left the island after their year (or two) of adventure on South Georgia.  To mark the evolution of time, and in a way put closure on what was a fabulous year together, we took a fabulous overnight camping trek to Curlew Cave on the North coast of the Thatcher Peninsula.  Curlew Cave is a natural cave cut in to the rock, and features a lovely warm (ish) and dry sandy floor - perfect for bivvying out over night.  The weather was less than perfect on the walk over, which in the conditions took us around 4 hours and saw us navigating through thick cloud in the mountain passes.  however, once in the cave, with socks hung up to dry, and a blazing campfire permeating the frigid cold, we soon settled in to a few warming rums and some freeze dried beef curry!  As a consolatory gesture, the return journey the following morning was made in glorious sunshine and excellent views from the mountain pass.  Good bye (for now) and good luck to Rob, Matt, Ashley and Sam!
L-R: Ali, Me, Katie, Tommy,Matt H, Rob.

Matt Kenney 2010.