Humphreys : Final Thoughts From the Ice Base

Published on 08.05.2010 - Catlin Arctic Survey - 2

The Ice Base is now no more after 40 days on the floating sea ice. Rather than try and describe what life has been for the team out there, we thought we'd leave it up to Alastair Humphreys, the Communications Manager in the second phase of the expedition, in his final blog post.

Al Humphreys writes in his last blog on May 1st : "This will be my final missive from the Ice Base. As I look out of my tent window I see tents being dismantled and gear being packed. Nero played his fiddle as Rome burned. I type one last blog post as I wait for my last video clip to be transferred down our very slow, satellite internet link.

The Science tent is already down. It seems to have left a deep hole, though in fact this is just the four feet of snow that has drifted up against it in the last seven weeks. Boxes of science gear lie piled waiting for the aircraft, reminding me of the logistical and organisational difficulties of getting this project up and running.

Behind me Paul is hammering, drilling and - occasionally - swearing. His nemesis, the camp's heater, has struck one last time. He has to repair the heater as this tent is the one being used to store the scientists' hard-won samples that must be stored above freezing temperatures. The samples that have to remain frozen sit out by the makeshift runway, though temperatures are fast rising above our usual deep freeze conditions. Spring has come. Indeed we have all suffered greatly over the last few days as temperatures became too warm for Malin to make any more chocolate ice cream. It is definitely time to go home.

Our strange world has become normal to me. I haven't seen a tree in ages. I haven't used money or chosen what to eat. I haven't showered or watched TV. But I haven't missed any of that either. All of us have been working hard, all day every day, since we arrived. Yet I haven't heard cross words exchanged nor grumbling about wanting to go home. In the last day or two thoughts have turned towards fresh salads and socks, cold beers and hot baths, and getting back home to our families. But I suppose that is only natural.

This has been a very different expedition for me. I have never simultaneously been so remote and yet spending so many hours on my laptop trying to get the internet to work. I look out at jumbled sea ice, remember I am living on top of an ocean, and then hear the clanging pans that are our dinner gong and I go to tuck into roast beef or teriyaki prawns.

It has been interesting for me to be on an expedition whose aims are the gathering of new knowledge and the sharing of information with a wide audience. This has made the project feel like a really worthwhile one to be involved with, if only on a small scale. I look forward to seeing the scientists' reports over the next few months. They have worked hard out here, making the most of their rare opportunity to work out on the sea ice during the interesting winter-spring transition period.

It is with sadness then that I will finish this piece, dismantle the Comms tent, and wait for the distant sound of the Twin Otter airplane that is coming to take us home, back to the world of trees and grass. So I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, "What is the use?" for we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. And you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a copepod."

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