Letter from Lockroy - March 6th 2010

Last of the season - 6th March 2010

This week we have mostly been stock-taking – closing down the base and leaving it ready for next season’s team. But in honesty we have all really been ‘taking stock’ – of all that has happened over the last four months and all that we have seen. Tonight is our final night at Lockroy and this time tomorrow we will be at sea – heading north aboard Antarctic Dream for our last few ventures south of 60 degrees.

Our final ship is aptly named, as we have been thinking over the summer we have spent together in this other-worldly existence. Illusion and reality come in equal measure in Antarctica: an apparently empty and desolate landscape in fact teems with life and activity, and white snow as far as the eye can see is injected with blues and greens in almost every berg that drifts by. The past and the future have lived side by side at Lockroy too this summer, with a living historic monument and the reconstruction of the Nissen hut.

We have been living side by side too, for four months, in one room, on a tiny speck of rock, which have been some of the happiest months of our lives. Under Anna’s careful leadership and the team efforts of all, life on base has been egalitarian, fair and fun. We have shared all our food, all our knowledge and all the daily chores, but we have also shared our highs, our lows and everything in between. The continent is one of extremes too – the coldest, windiest, driest, highest, often described as the most hostile environment on earth – which we know to perhaps be the friendliest, simplest, most innocent and uncorrupted continent, where everyone is welcomed and the sunshine does exist.

We have been thinking this week about why we wanted to come, about what we thought we would see and hoped to achieve, and have realised that perhaps not all that much has changed since those first Tabarin boys came down themselves, for what Vivian Fuchs writes in ‘Of Ice and Men’ could just as well be written about the four of us: “For them it was exploration it its true sense, new lands, wild country and extreme conditions. Whatever part they played, every individual has enjoyed the sense of battle with nature, the wonder and beauty of an unknown world, and the achievement of survival and success”.

And it has been a greatly successful season, which would not have been possible without the help of so many people. We are indebted in the first place to the UKAHT for giving us this incredible opportunity, in particular to Rachel and Tudor Morgan and Philippa Foster Back, for putting their faith in us, giving us the chance to come South, supporting us throughout and allowing us to see and feel for ourselves what makes Antarctica so special. We know now how important Antarctic heritage is – to tell the stories of all those who came before us and who have helped shape all that Antarctica stands for today.

We are also deeply grateful to all the suppliers and sponsors who have made this season possible, through logistics, transport, food, kit, building supplies and more, and all the passing ships and yachts and familiar faces at Lockroy who have fed us, showered us with hospitality and let us use their hot showers on numerous occasions to ‘de-penguin’ for a welcome few hours!

Thank you also to all the visitors to Lockroy this season, who, simply by coming, have helped to save the base and all the other bases which have just come under the custodianship of the UKAHT, each with their own fascinating tales to tell, which can now be told to others through visitor help and support.

If the past informs the future, we are all certainly leaving Lockroy with an inheritance of our own that will shape our paths ahead. Antarctic history is still a relatively recent field, and as the last team to live in Bransfield House, and having witnessed ‘living history’ with the Nissen hut rebuild, we feel we are a tiny part of the story too. But where will we go now and what will we do next? These are the questions we have been pondering over the last few days, and will continue to think on for the next few weeks to come. We are all heading off for a few weeks’ travelling now, scattered between South America and New Zealand, but will be reunited at a debrief weekend in April when we look forward to seeing the Morgans to swap stories and catch up.

But tonight will be the last night anyone will spend in the bunkroom of Bransfield House. Rick, Joe and Graham are kindly cooking us dinner and we’ll spend the evening with them in the cosy new Nissen Hut, before climbing back into our sleeping bags one last time. But although this season is coming to an end, I have no doubt the next one will be even more exciting, and contribute to the next chapter of Antarctic history yet to be written. The constants at Lockroy will still be there for whoever comes to the island next: the weather, the wildlife, the ever-changing moods of the Antarctic Peninsula and the building which a few have had the privilege to call ‘home’. We will be taking with us only new friendships, new experiences, a sense of Antarctic responsibility, and a final line from Fuchs which epitomises our season together:

‘The wonderfully clear days, the sight of new rock beyond the snow rise, the tremendous feeling of freedom among the mountains and glaciers, the close comradeship which develops in isolated groups from shared experience and the growth of mutual confidence: these are the lasting memories’.