Given a few hours of rest after our adventure chasing the Hanse Explorer through ice floes in the Zodiacs we set off on an excursion quite different from any we'd had thus far in Antarctica.
We stopped just off Detaille Island. Our destination: The abandoned British Survey Base W established in 1956 to conduct survey work on the local glaciers and geology, and meteorological study.
At the time that the base was built, the site was chosen in part because of the beautiful sheltered bay, largely free of sea ice. This is a critical feature for Antarctic bases because without access to the open sea the base is entirely cut off from the rest of the world.
As fate wold have it, Base W's location was its downfall. The year that the base was built turned out to be a particularly mild year in Antarctica, and the bay was very clear of ice. This however turned out to be atypical for this area. Three years later in 1959 the relief ship John Briscoe arrived at the end of the Summer with the base's supplies for the coming overwintering, and they found the bay completely impassable, filled with icebergs that not only made it impossible to unload, but also presented an urgent danger to the ship even staying in the area. The John Briscoe had to get out of there.
The ship sent word that there was no way to deliver the critical overwintering supplies, and the staff of Base W were given just one hour to pack up, make their way to the Briscoe and abandon the base.
Nearly a half-century later in 2004, the British attempted to return to the base with a "Abandoned Base" team whose objective is to either clean up all traces of the base or repair and preserve the abandoned base as a historical site. However again the British were foiled by bad weather and the team found it impossible to unload any gear and they had to skip the base and instead went to Base O on Danco Island (also unmanned since 1959), which they dismantled and removed.
Thankfully, this has left Base W virtually untouched over the last 50 years. Nearly everything is exactly as it was left by the residents scrambling to gather all items of value before they had to evacuate. The result is an incredible snapshot into the past. There are no velvet ropes, restored diorama or placards, just the reality preserved by the respect of the very small number of people who have had the good fortune and cooperative weather to facilitate the journey to this outpost.
Thanks to Antarctica's cold dry climate and the protection of the icy bay, most of the contents of Base W remain exactly where they were left. A few things have been pulled out of drawers and laid out by past visitors, but according the the visitors log the last visitors to base W arrived almost one year ago, 1/16/08: 11 passengers from the Delacio Australis.
It was true magic to walk through the past captured inside this base.
Read the next chapter: Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Telling the Story posted Jan 10, 2009
Day 0: Positioning posted Jan 12, 2009
Leaving, on a jet plane posted Jan 12, 2009
Day 1: The Herc posted Jan 15, 2009
Day 1: Penguino posted Jan 16, 2009
Day 2: Chicken posted Jan 17, 2009
Day 2: Leopard posted Jan 19, 2009
Day 2: Snow Day posted Jan 22, 2009
Day 2: Shipwreck posted Jan 26, 2009
Day 2: Totally Tabular posted Jan 27, 2009
Day 3: Gentoo Cute posted Jan 29, 2009
Day 3: Lichen Shag Glacier posted Feb 3, 2009
Day 3: Palmer Station Visit posted Feb 9, 2009
Day 4: Icy Penguins posted Feb 11, 2009
Day 4: Adelie Awesome posted Feb 15, 2009
Day 4: Leopard Seal Attack posted Feb 17, 2009
Day 4: Kayak posted Feb 19, 2009
Day 4: Vernadsky Station Visit posted Feb 23, 2009
Day 4: Vernadsky Sunset posted Feb 25, 2009
Day 5: Antarctic Circle posted Feb 27, 2009
Day 5: Polar Plunge posted Mar 5, 2009
Day 5: Mouth of The Gullet posted Mar 13, 2009
Day 5: Ice Camping posted Mar 18, 2009
Day 6: Flamingos on Ice posted Mar 20, 2009
Day 6: Mountain Climbing posted Mar 24, 2009
Day 6: Ice Textures posted Mar 26, 2009
Day 6: Antarctic New Years posted Apr 2, 2009
Day 7: Crystal Sound Icebreaker posted Apr 9, 2009
» Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1 posted Apr 17, 2009
Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2 posted Apr 21, 2009
Day 8: Bird Watching in the Fish Islands posted Apr 23, 2009
Day 8: Icee Day - Part 1 posted May 5, 2009
Day 8: Icee Day - Part 2 posted May 11, 2009
Day 9: Port Lockroy - Base A posted May 20, 2009
Bonus Chapter: Baby Penguins! posted May 21, 2009
Day 9: Antarctic Humpback Whales posted June 3, 2009
Day 9: Dallmann Butt Sliding posted June 11, 2009
Day 10: Birthday Whales posted June 23, 2009
Day 10: Hannah Point Part 1: The Birds posted July 15, 2009
Day 10: Hannah Point Part 2: Elephant Seals posted July 22, 2009
Day 10: Deception Island - Part 1: Walking on the Moon posted Dec 11, 2009
Day 10: Deception Island - Part 2: The Martian Chronicles of Oz posted Dec 15, 2009
Day 11: Emperor Penguins posted Jan 8, 2010
Day 12: Black and White and Pink All Over posted Aug 4, 2011
More chapters posted every few days...
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