This morning was an early start after an extremely busy afternoon and late night yesterday. Our flight to Troll had originally been scheduled for Wednesday 22nd Feb, but yesterday an email told us of an update to the flight schedule due to a storm forecast for Tues-Thurs/Fri. In this updated schedule our flight had been moved forward to today (Monday 20th Feb). By 07:00 we had enjoyed breakfast, and everyone was busy completing the final steps of closing down the station to leave. Just as everything was pretty much in place for us to begin shuttling the team and our equipment to the runway down on the ice sheet below Basen we received a call on the satellite phone telling us that our flight was cancelled for today.
Figure 1 Looking down to the ice runway at Wasa. ‘From what we could see it was perfect weather for our flight to Troll Station. Apparently the weather is not quite so fine at Troll hence the cancellation of our flight.’ (Photo credit: Jennifer Newall)
This resulted in a complete reversal of the frantic work pace and there is now something of a deflated atmosphere here at Wasa. About half the team returned to bed to make up for lost sleep, and for those of us who had already woken up beyond being able to return to bed, there is little to do but ‘fika’ – the traditional coffee break of Sweden.
Apart from unpacking the bare essentials for the coming days, most tasks for closing down the station for the winter have already been completed. Over the past few days we have made an inventory of all the food, equipment, tools, medical supplies etc. We have packed everything away in the storage containers, including the trucks (Figures 2 and 3) and the Haglunds bandvagns (tracked vehicles) which were a very tight squeeze to fit into the ‘garage’ containers. All the laundry has been run, dried and stored away. All the equipment, scientific samples and luggage that we take with us had been packed and was stacked outside ready to shuttle down to the airstrip. And last night we had enjoyed what we thought was our final group meal at Wasa.
The 6x6 truck in the garage container (Photo credit: Nat Lifton)
…and the 4x4 squeezed in too (Photo credit: Nat Lifton).
Anyone who has travelled in Africa will know the saying ‘TIA’ or ‘This is Africa’. The same sentiment is very true for Antarctica too, so much so that we adapted the acronym to ‘This is Antarctica’. Here, in Antarctica, one can guarantee that plan A will never play out. As such when planning, flexibility is crucial - we always have various options so that we can adapt to the conditions. The greatest factor to be considered in this respect is the weather. And of course the weather is the hardest variable to predict.
When it comes to flight schedules, the weather presents an even greater challenge for us than usual as it needs to be clear at three different locations; not only here at Wasa, but also at Troll (our destination) and at Novo (the Russian station where the airplane is based).
The continuing story of our flight to Troll is a great example of how, in Antarctica, the weather dictates all, including whether or not we make it off the ice and return to Cape Town in time for our international flights home. Now begins the waiting game… we have now been told that Thursday is the very soonest we will be flying. With most of the tasks for the winter shut-down of the station already complete, we have to occupy ourselves in other ways than the usual station maintenance. Of course, while we are all eager to get home to our families, every cloud has a silver lining… The delay in our flight means it might actually be possible to finish the book I am reading, watch a few movies, and of course we get to enjoy a few more days of Karin’s wonderful cooking.
Figure 4 Some of the many boxes of equipment stacked and waiting to be shuttled to the airstrip. Like us, they will wait a few days longer.