Over the last week, our conversations have revolved around the practicalities of leaving Antarctica. Communications with Swedish Polar indicated that our original plans of returning to Cape Town on 8th February were not going to be realised, and the prospect of a delayed departure started to look like a real possibility. Through careful negotiations, seats were secured on a flight leaving Troll on the 8th of Feb for the 4 scientists. The logistics team would have to wait for later flights from Novo (Hakan, Calle, and Fredrik) and Troll (Andreas). Transfer from SANAE to Troll was to occur with a Twin Otter which put severe limits on the amount of cargo we could bring with us (35kg personal equipment of which only 15kg was allowed on the flight from Troll plus 200 kg rock samples and science equipment). While we were preparing for leaving SANAE, we kept an anxious eye on the weather forecasts, especially as a storm arrived 3 days before our scheduled departure. For the next 36 hours we had near whiteout conditions with strong winds and drifting snow. The forecast was for a short spell of better weather a day before the original departure date and, it was decided to use this weather window and get flights completed a day earlier.
In stark contrast to the previous 36 hours, the morning of 7 Feb was sunny with only a light breeze. The Twin Otter was on its way from Novo to Neumayer Station III to pick up one pax and then collect us on the way back. SANAE staff prepared a snow runway while we did some final checks on the equipment, which we cleaned and packed into metal boxes to be left at SANAE for eventual shipment back to Cape Town with the icebreaker Agulas II next summer (2019). The radio room at SANAE kept us informed as to the progress of the Twin Otter, and eventually we had a solid ETA. We said our good-byes and were driven to the landing strip in a caboose towed by a Challenger.
After a lot of uncertainty, it was a relief to hear the buzzing of the incoming Twin Otter and see it land. We quickly transferred our cargo into the aircraft, said good-bye to Will (the SANAE station leader) and then we were on our way.
We arrived at Troll an hour later. Troll runway is where this seasons MAGIC-DML team finally split up. After heart-felt hugs Hakan, Calle and Fredrik took off for Novo in the Twin Otter. We said good-bye to Andreas two hours later as we boarded the executive jet that was taking Jenny, Sarah, Robin and I away from Antarctica, back to Cape Town.
It was only after taking off that we finally relaxed about being able to get off the Antarctic continent. We arrived in Cape Town at 0230 rather tired but happy after a comfortable 5.5 hour flight.
Our Antarctic adventure is almost over, but not until our Swedish logistics colleagues have also returned from the frozen continent.
(Photos provided by Derek Fabel)