Greetings from Fossil Bluff 71’20’S 68’16’W

Letters from Antarctica

Greetings from Fossil Bluff 71’20’S 68’16’W

January 30, 2021
min read
Alec and Jan Forman
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British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
20th December 1973

My Dearest Darling Jan

As you see I’m writing this from Fossil Bluff, a small Base some 250 miles south of Adelaide Island, it is the most southerly of the British Bases.

Dave and I are here for a two week holiday! Well we’ve nothing to do while we’re here anyway! The reason we’re here is to support the Glaciologists who normally live in the hut here. I think I’m going to get ‘us’ confused if I don’t start from the beginning. The story starts just over a week ago when we were to come down here, but were held up by several days of poor weather, was OK at Adelaide, but the visibility here at the ‘Bluff’ wasn’t good enough for landing.

Thursday 13th the weather was good enough to set out south, loaded up with our cargo of fuel drums, various bits and bobs and Malky, who we dropped off after landing of course! at Ablation Lake where he joined two Biologists who are drilling holes in the ice on the lake which is 10–12ft thick to see what animal life lives in the water underneath. From what they said they’ve found quite a lot, no big ‘animals’ a lot of them can only be seen through a microscope. They have a ‘field laboratory’ set up in a tent like ours Jan, being in a sheltered valley they don’t get the high winds like elsewhere.

From here we flew low level 50ft! along George VI Sound, a frozen strip of water between Alexander Island and the mainland, to Spartan Cum another sheltered valley. This time the floor of the valley is occupied by a glacier which is long studied by John, a glaciologist accompanied by Roger, the weather man. The main thing the glacio’s measure is the glaciers movement, they do this by sticking a pole into the ice and then measuring the angle between it and the point on nearby mountain, noting this down they come back to the pole several weeks later and again measure the angle between it and the same point, because the glacier is moving the angle will be different, using the difference in the angles they can calculate how much the glacier has moved! Clever hey?!

From there we flew down to here, Fossil Bluff where we were greeted by the four residents, two glaciologists, a geologist and a GA (General Assistant). After tying the aircraft down to two big sledges loaded with 12 x 40 gallon fuel drums each — if that blows away I don’t want to be near. We then returned to the hut to have ‘afternoon tea’ and exchange gossip! As it was a pleasant evening Dave and I went for a stroll up the valley, the mouth of which the hut stands at. The floor of this valley is very interesting. At first glance it looks as if it’s made up of piles of loose stone, but in fact underneath is an old glacier which is completely covered by this loose stone varying from several feet thick to a few inches. At intervals across its width are streams of water rushing down from the snow melting higher up the valley. But the most fascinating feature, which is rather difficult to describe, but I’ll try :-

During the ‘winter’ here (when the temp is about -30’C to -40’C as opposed to only -4’C today) this loose rock is covered by several feet of snow, when the melt starts its rather uneven with so many things causing the melt, water underneath, direct sunlight, warm winds so what is left are columns of frozen snow all different shapes some so thin you can see through them, delicate arches of ice crystals giving the same appearance as a crystal chandelier. Really beautiful.

I wish you could be with me Darling to share the beauty with me, everything of beauty I see down here I think of you My Darling Jan wishing you could be seeing it with me. Everything in our life together will be shared, My Love. It is so unfortunate that this part of our lives will only be shared by my description and showing you pictures of what I see. I look forward to that so much. Life will be so wonderful when we can physically share things together, at the moment I miss being able to reach out and touch you when a particularly strong loving thought passes through my mind, to hear your voice which conveys so much love to me not only in what you say but how you say it, to look into your eyes and see the warmth they hold. Whenever I have a loving thought for you I want to tell you and show you my love at that moment. But even though we are separated by great distance now, I am sure I can feel your love over the miles bringing me the feeling of being wanted, this is something I will always need, no one could give me this feeling more than you my darling and no one but you Jan, could bring me more happiness in giving my love. I love you completely and eternally My Darling Jan.

During our stroll Dave seemed calamity prone, like someone else I know! First of all while stepping across a stretch of snow it gave way and he disappeared up to his knees in a melt stream underneath! Then not satisfied with that, he stepped down off a ledge onto what looked like a slope of loose stones, but was in fact a disguised slope of ice which he went shooting down gathering speed until he hit one of the columns of snow, luckily suffering nothing more than scraped elbows.

We arrived back in time for dinner after which we sat and chatted and listened to BBC World Service News, first time for several weeks, was amazed to hear all about the energy crisis of course helped by the miners and electricity workers going on strike all bringing 3 day working for everyone. This won’t have affected you, can’t tell babies to arrive on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays only! I expect it affected your Dad making the money situation tight, things must be getting desperate for everyone with 3 day working, rising food prices and high mortgages. I really do sometimes think we should find ourselves a nice desert island somewhere to live on away from the rest of the world and it’s constant problems. Most of them are caused by people clamoring for the ‘greener grass’ on the other side. Why don’t they stop sometimes and look around themselves and appreciate what they’ve already got for free. I hope I can always keep my biggest aim in view and that is your constant happiness My Jan. As long as I can keep you happy and happy with me that will be my most important ambition achieved. If you ever feel

I’m straying from this My Love, remind me of my words here, because I never want you to experience unhappiness caused by me, you are too precious to me to ever cause you to be sad.

I don’t seem to be telling you much news, only how much I love you, of that I will never grow tired My Darling. I will spend my life telling and showing you how much I love you, just because I do!

Next day was quite exciting, not as exciting as making love to you Jan. No that’s enough of that, get on with the news!

We got up to find the weather was good, after breakfast we went up to the A/C (aircraft) to load in a skidoo and sledge. With nearly a ton of equipment and the two glaciologists loaded up, we took off for Wilkins Sound, a very big permanently frozen bay on the opposite side of Alexander Island where we landed like landing on a billiard table (only bigger of course). We were about 40miles from the nearest land, but as I’ve mentioned before the air is so clear the mountains of Alexander Island looked quite close. Very few of which are mapped, very little exploration has been carried out on the island. Having unloaded all their ‘clatch’ Dave and I took off again for the 45 minute flight back to here, beautiful scenery the mountains here are much smoother looking with the occasional rock faces which expose the distinct layers of which they are made up of, the layers varying in thickness and colour, black through browns to almost white. The mountains separated by vast areas of snow which is in turn broken up by the crisscrossing of crevices, making patterns across the terrain, added to by the shades of blue the ice takes on when light shines through it.

Back to Fossil Bluff again we refueled the aircraft and loaded up with much the same as before this time belonging to the geologist and his mate. Then we took off to a place called Snick Pass, a very wide slightly rolling valley of snow, surrounded by impressive peaks. Here Dave deserted me, leaving me in the wilderness while he took off and went back to the ‘Bluff’. Not that bad really, the Geologist and his mate had two sledges one skidoo drawn the other drawn by the dog team. In the first load we brought the skidoo and sledge with ‘driver’ who I stayed with for safety reasons while Dave flew back for the dogs and sledge. No one is ever left alone down here out in the field, the weather can change so quick, if he’d been left on his own the weather could have changed in leaving him on his own for maybe a week or more, not a very pleasant experience I would think. No problem if bad weather had come in while there were two of us, as we would have just camped up and waited till the aircraft could get back.

As it was, no problems, the hour Dave took to fetch the other sledge was spent putting up their tent and a skidoo ride to a nearby food and fuel depot. Seems strange in that wilderness to come across boxes the only sign of there having been human presence as far as the eye can see. Having unloaded the dogs, some of them reluctant to get out of the aircraft they get quite excited when they know they’re going flying, Dave and I flew back here quite low, hopping over mountain tops, swooping down valleys a real birds eye view passing the six glaciers pointing like fingers into George VI Sound all named after planets from North to South, Jupiter, Pluto, Uranus, Venus, Neptune and Saturn. They name things down here in groups with a common theme, another example near here an area named after composers i.e. Mendelssohn Inlet, Mount Tchaikovsky, Beethoven Peninsula, Rossini Point etc. Well having flown everyone out Dave and I have the base to ourselves, I wish it was you love instead of he and I know from remarks he’s made he wishes it was Delyse instead of me!!

After a busy day it was my turn to cook and on the menu was Oxtail Soup, Meat Pie (you should taste my pastry mmm!) followed by rhubarb and custard. The evening was spent listening to BBC and the ‘Goon Show’, no the Spike Milligan version but BAS’s! At 10pm every night all the bases and BAS ships are on the radio to pass any messages they might want to, to each other. It’s called the goon show because of the funny messages that get sent, like, when the A/C is down this way could they bring me a toothbrush please! — ‘Would anyone like to buy my camera?’ — ‘One of our dogs has a poorly foot, does anyone know a cure! Sometimes when communications are poor, the answers get crossed causing some laughs!

I think I will now describe my new home to you, well looking from the outside it’s painted the most ghastly orangey red with yellow trim and black roof, a lean-to either end, one home’s a generator, the other clothing, ski, sledge bits, cooker bits etc. On the right of the only door is a small workshop for making things. The main hut consists of one room measuring 15ft x 20ft in which is everything! I’m writing this at the table on the end of which is the ‘bar’ well a bottle of whiskey, gin, brandy, soda syphon etc. On my left are the 4 bunks, two top, two bottom, toe to toe! In front of me the cooking working surface is a wooden construction covered in lino! Above and below which are shelves with cooking ‘clatch’.

On my right standing on a concrete plinth is the Rayburn Cooker which went out on me this afternoon! Behind that is the shower washing area, with shelves and cupboards with all imaginable junk, also part of the paperback library is round there. Behind to the right is the ‘radio shack’ a small partitioned area about 4ft square, in which is the radio typewriter, shelves of files and weather records. Directly behind me is a cupboard again full of ‘clatch’ (junk) on top of which a ‘Fossil Bluff Sounds System’ record player, cassette tape deck and radio, all wired into a speaker over my head. Above the record player is the rest of the ‘library’. Plenty of things to read about and learn during the long winter, looks like teach yourself Persian, Icelandic, collection of Chekhov Plays, Mathematical Analysis etc etc. Well that’s your tour of the hut complete. I’ll finish off here, ten sheets is enough for these envelopes. It’s my turn for dinner again, tonight, tuna fish with mayonnaise, sausages, onions and fried potatoes followed by fruit salad and coffee. I feel quite hungry at the thought, I hope I still do after preparing it.

Finish off as always by saying

I Love You Jan

Eternally Your

Alec x

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