Text and pictures © 2005-2013 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/11/27
"— What's the name of that film which happens in the woods...
— Robin Hood ?
Yes, that's it !" — Michel reading Claire's mind.
October 16th — We have new neighbors: this morning Roberto managed to place a radio call to the Italian base of Terra Nova, he must have been missing Italian companionship, being stuck here with a majority of frenchmen... About 20 people arrived 2 days in C-130 ago and started summer operations. More will be coming soon, and the Twin-Otters are currently on flight somewhere on their long trip from Canada to here: they fly through northern America, then along southern America, then hop across the Magellan Straight to the british base of Rothera in the northern part of the peninsula. It's one of the few stations with a hard airstrip where it's possible to land with wheels. There they change the wheels for skids and take off again via the blue ice airstrip near the Ellsworth Mountains, to South Pole, McMurdo, Terra Nova and finally here. It takes them at most 2 weeks to do the trip, but currently it's impossible to land at South Pole where they've been experiencing the worst windstorm of their history for the last two weeks. A few days later the first C-130 lands there and their winterover is... over.
Right: Stef cleaning the dirty trapdoor leading to the double ceiling of the 1st floor. Nice color change, ain't it ?
Left: Roberto, official member of the Cleaning Sport Team...
As part of the preparation to the incoming summer campaign we have another session at cleaning the station, 6 months after our previous and sustained effort. This time it's limited to about 3 afternoons of common activity cleaning the walls of the corridors and common rooms, removing the stuff accumulated in certain storage area, loading up on wine from outside...
Right: The slippers of one member of the technical team, after a winter of abuse welding, painting, sawing off metal...
Left: Downloading CR23 data from inside the cramped and cold shelter at its base.
Right: Self portrait while cleaning the sensors up the CR23 mast.
A month after the first try, I go again to the CR23 shelter to download the data from the instrument. Claire is at the summer camp and switches the power on. I walk to the mast with the laptop in its carry bag, just like any yuppie going of to work in the morning, or almost... Once in the shelter I put the laptop against the small heater to avoid loosing the screen like last time. I connect the serial cable, one end to the laptop, the other to the CR23, and start the download, interrupted several times for unknown reasons. In the meanwhile I climb the mast to clean up the instruments, but this time there's not too much snow and the cleaning's easy. Grabbing the rail with one hand I take a few pictures...
Left: Michel, our mighty all-powerful boss, distributing Champagne for his birthday.
Right: Jean-Louis sorting out the remaining eggs to eliminate the rotten ones.
A few days away from the end of the winterover we've now completely finished all the 'fresh' products. Jean-Louis brought out the last of the onions a few days ago. The garlic has been so dry as to be unusable for a while, fruits like oranges or apples are only a long lost memory. The only thing remaining are eggs, but to the price of regularly checking them out one by one to remove the rotten ones. It's always risky to prepare a dessert, you have to first break the egg in a cup to sniff it out before pouring it into the mix, otherwise you might end up throwing the whole thing out if what came out turned out to be a black stinking mess...
Left: Michel and Claire bringing supplies inside Concordia, i.e. wine.
October 28th — The Astrolabe has arrived to Dumont d'Urville, or close enough (18km) to be able to unload its passengers by helicopter and some of its cargo. The winterover is finished for them. Part of the people on board went straight to Prud'Homme, the tiny coastal outpost a few kms from Dumont d'Urville, and they are already starting to prepare the vehicles and equipment necessary to start the Traverse which will bring us supplies and hardware in about a month. We don't have much more fuel left, but that's exactly according to forecast.
On the very same day the two Twin Otters arrive at the italian station of Terra Nova Bay. The pilots now take a few days of well deserved rest after their 2 weeks long flight from Canada and in a few days they will fly a few times to Mid-Point Charlie, the halfway point between us, to stock it on fuel as well as prepare the airstrip. Their first flight here is scheduled for friday, if their weather is good.
Right: Jean-Louis preparing an new bedroom by removing the plastic covers off the mattresses.
Left: Stef replacing the temporary wooden handrail above the power plant stairs with a more serious, and definite steel set.
In the meanwhile we finished cleaning up the station, Jean-Louis has prepared the empty bedrooms within Concordia for their future tenants, and the sleeping tents at the summer camp are being heated slowly. There's plenty more activity to polish up the station. Makeshift jobs like wooden frames around the stairs are replaced by serious protections. Pascal and myself print lots of pictures which we scatter throughout the station to give it a more homely feel.
Right: Human chain bringing supplies in the station.
Left: Pushing as much garbage inside the containers as possible, here Claire's doing the dirty work as usual, hidden behind the box passed by Pascal and Michel to the back of the top row of garbage drums.
We also remove as much garbage as possible from the station, cramming it inside the already quite full containers sitting in front of the station. We do a human chain from inside the station, down the stairs, across the plaza and into the container to pass the heavy boxes of compressed garbage to Claire who's crawling on top of the pile of already stashed drums to try to fit them in the back. She's always doing the worst jobs on the station. While we are doing the chain, we also remove some supplies which were sent to us by mistake from our coast sister station, and but bring in most of what's left of our winter supplies, to be eaten by the first summer people before the main resupply arrives in the first days of december on the first Traverse.
Left: Monthly fire exercise, this time the fire 'victim' is Claire, but still taking notes on how things are going.
Right: Emanuele sweeping the floor of his laboratory of all the water leaked during the fire drill...
And among the last preparations, one more fire drill, this time right after lunch while several people are sleeping. It's the usual setup of running away with pipes, finding and removing a casualty (Claire, still taking notes while on the stretcher), dripping water all over the place and complaining that we aren't enough people to do this seriously.
Left: Claire folding the large tarp after it's been used to protect a vehicle during heating.
Right: The Kassbohrer, now operational, hooked to the garage tent just below my bedroom window, with the summer camp in the background.
Jean is busy restarting most of the vehicles on the station. He starts with the Kassbohrer which is used mostly to prepare the airstrip and level the field around the station of all its wind drifts. For a vehicle that's spent the entire winter outside, the starting procedure is not so easy: first they put a large tarp over the entire vehicle and bring a large blow heater to send hot air for an entire day. Then they can check the engine for accumulated ice or other potential problems. After it's successfully started, it's brought next to the garage tent where Michel has just installed a row of power plugs that will keep the engine warm. Same goes for the snowmachines which we haven't used at all for the entire winter, partly because they are not reliable below -50°C, but mostly because we were out of spare parts. They now run again but as long as we don't receive the spare parts nobody is allowed to ride them !
Left: The Caterpillar removing snow off the base of the buildings.
Right: The Caterpillar pushing back the stairs at the base of Concordia after they were temporarily removed to better clear off the accumulated snow.
Left: Stef, Jeff, Michel and Jean-Louis packing up to free some space in the bedrooms.
Right: Jean packing up his room.
When the summer people arrive, there's a strict organization on how and where they'll be housed. The new winter people will share room with the old ones (in the bunk beds). The women sleep in Concordia, as well as the medical and radio communication people. All the rest will sleep at the summer camp. So we have to free up some space in our rooms and there's an afternoon of activity as we all bring cases and fill them with the stuff we won't need in summer. Well, the only exception to the rules above will be me: I don't know why but they don't want to place my successor in my room. Is it because she's a woman ? That's discrimination !!!
Left: Very colorful sunset seen through the partly frozen window on the first day the sun doesn't actually set.
Right: Very colorful midnight sun behind the quiet building.
According to calculations the first night where the sun won't disappear should be on november 1st, but tonight as I monitor the descent of the sun for signs of the green flash, I see it move slowly to the left and get increasingly thinner, but never go away for real. That's it, the spring is over and summer's here with its days of continuous sunlight. The 'sunset' lasts for a good 3 hours, where the sun is nothing more than a thin line on the horizon, with some mild green flash activity. But at the same time the colors in the sky are spectacular.
Left: So we are preparing to go back home, but where's home again ?!?
Right: Stef signing the PhiloSphere built from one of my panoramas.
October 29th — With only 6 days to go before the arrival of the first 'summer people' this is the last week-end on our own. So it's party time tonight as we celebrate the end of the winterover. And as an additional tradition we celebrate the birthdays of the people unfortunate enough to actually have them during the summer. So we start with a great dinner by Jean-Louis, and continue dancing through the night. Since there's no more darkness we need to cover up all the windows with black trash bags to get somewhat of a 'night club' atmosphere !
Left: Jean doing the DJ during the end of the winter party.
Left: Vertical panorama showing the gap between the buildings.
Right: First trial of the self-service restaurant.
November 2nd — Another change that will happen with the summer campaign is that we'll no longer be served lunch and dinner on the table 'restaurant style', but with the increased number of people we'll use a self-service system. On tuesday we all test it to see if the heater and the disposition of tables and dishes is convenient.
Right: Michel fixing flags on the roof of Concordia for the arrival of the first airplane.
To turn the arrival of the first airplane into a more official looking event (there'll even be a stamp released just for this opportunity), Pascal and Michel build 3 flag poles on the roof of Concordia. In the past the flags were on the roof of the summer camp but there's not much left of them: a couple winters of cold and a couple summers of smoke from the nearby power plant exhaust turned them into dirty rags. So we pull out new flags, the problem being that there's no spare Italian flag. So Roberto and Emanuele spend an evening trying to repair the torn italian one, first with the sewing machine, then giving up and doing it by hand.
Left: Roberto and Emanuele trying to fix the torn (and only) Italian flag.
November 3rd — The italian station of Terra Nova Bay has been open for about 2 weeks, but most of the summer personnel was supposed to arrive today from Christchurch (New-Zealand) in a C-130 carrier, including the people coming to join us at Concordia tomorrow. The weather was cloudy on the coast so the flight has been delayed till tomorrow. It means one more day of winterover... In the meanwhile the Astrolabe, having performed the personnel exchange and unloaded its cargo at Dumont d'Urville left 2 days ago to head back to Hobart, Tasmania.
Jean and others spent most of the day outdoors driving the Kassbohrer and other construction vehicles to prepare the airstrip and level the many wind drifts on the platform, between the summer camp tents and in the parking area of the Traverse.
Left: Pascal taking a TV-dinner with him while he monitors the radio calls coming from the plane.
Right: Emanuele and Michel writing a large welcome in the snow... with wine
November 5th — After the one day delay of the C-130 flight, the first Twin-Otter is scheduled to arrive here at noon. In the morning we call Terra Nova and they have strong winds. The situation is not that great here either, in a matter of hours the wind picks up and the visibility drops to a uniform whiteout. Flight delayed, we'll see in the evening if things improve.
In the afternoon the wind abates and the visibility improves. We give the 'Go!' to Terra Nova and the Twin Otter takes off. But since the winds seem to be changing, Michel and Jean hurry to go clear up the secondary air strip, at right angle with the main one. A bit more than two hours and the plane stops a Midpoint Charlie for refueling and a tentative radio communication to get the latest weather conditions here.
Left: With the crowd watching, Claire pointing at the airplane, still some distance away.
Right: The Twin-Otter circling Concordia while we watch.
Pascal has to stay in the radio room to monitor the communications coming from various origins, even during his off duty-hours, so he's brought up his personal PC and a stack of video games. As the plane is on the last leg of its flight during dinnertime, Jean-Louis prepares him a 'TV dinner'. After dinner I go out with Michel and Emanuele and we write a large 'Welcome' in the snow with two boxes of wine.
Left: Jean waiting for the arrival on his faithful Caterpillar.
I'm in the radio room when the call comes: "Concordia, Concordia, ETA 10 minutes". Everybody goes outside and watches the sky when Karim yells: "Look, there's smoke !" and a tiny black speck at the forefront of it. The plane circles the station slowly while we wave before taking its marks for the landing on the main airstrip. It disappears in a white cloud and then taxis to the base of Concordia where we are all waiting. The door opens and we see Carlo, who was also the last one to board when they departed on February 10th.
Right: Jean somewhat guiding the airplane to the parking area between a container and the raised snow platform of Concordia.
So 269 days and 12 hours after it started, the winterover is now... over. We made it through the first Concordia winterover fairly unscathed.
Left: Welcome to the summer people: we made it through the winter.
On board of the plane are the two Canadian pilots, eager to fly back to Terra Nova after their long day, Carlo and Giacomo who were on the last departing flight 9 months ago, a technician, and two psychologists coming here to see what's left of our brains after the winterover. I don't think they'll be disappointed...
Right: Jean bringing a crate to unload the plane.
Left: Michel, Claire, Christophe and others unloading the cargo: personal bags of the arriving people as well as fresh veggies and fruits and a surprise cake from Terra Nova !
From then on there's about a plane a day. On sunday morning 4 more people arrive just at lunchtime, so we have to delay a little our first bite of salad. And then 4 more people arrive on monday afternoon. There are 3 teams of 2 pilots and 2 planes in Terra Nova from where they fly the various missions. On sunday it's Bob's birthday (the pilot) and we half-force them to stay for lunch instead of jumping back in the plane as soon as they are refueled. The pilots have funny stories about their two week long trip to reach us, like when they landed at the british base of Rothera in the peninsula and the people there were half out of their mind, looking at them goggle eyed and speechless. In Antarctica slang they were toast. They said they found us fairly normal in comparison; I guess this is a compliment. Maybe they were like this due to the fact that a lot of the british personnel does 30 months stays in Antarctica !
Left: First lunch with fresh vegetables: salad, tomatoes, lemon... And the extra summer chef: Vincent the swiss.
Right: Birthday of Bob the pilot in Concordia.
Among the newcomers it's a bit of a disaster. Several of them are under oxygen and stay in bed for 2 days after their arrival. Fortunately the 3 women among them don't seem overly affected by the altitude and are exploring the place and socializing while their male counterparts are nowhere to be seen. In the few days they are all up and running, ready for the activities of the summer campaign.
Left: Panorama from the restaurant window, 3rd floor of the noisy building, with the clearly visible smoke from the power plant going over the astronomy platform and other instruments farther away.