Antarctic Fox
The log of Rachel and Kevin Fox's trip to the Antarctic Peninsula in the Summer of 2008-9
Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1
January 1 - Abandoned British Base W, Detaille Island, the Antarctic Peninsula

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.

Navigating

Navigating - The bay at Detaille Island is notorious for being iced in solid so that you can't get in to reach Base W. Luckily we are able to make it in with our zodiac boats, but you can see just how much ice we traveled through. It was very bumpy and there needed to be a second crew member on the front of the boat to push us off some of the larger pieces ice and keep us from getting stuck. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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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.

Antarctic Refreshments

Antarctic Refreshments - So apparently someone in the group had the munchies and asked for a quick snack, and then we found out that we were heading out for an excursion before it was quite finished. Jerome had made us bruschetta and was determined we have it so he handed the tray off to Rob who served us as we are getting ready to leave. Actually the first zodiac (we were on) had already headed out and turned back and pulled up next to the second zodiac (where Rob is standing) so we could snag bruschetta. Yes, you could say they spoiled us. And if you said that, we couldn't disagree with you at all! - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Treacherous Beauty

Treacherous Beauty - Most of the snow bank all around Detaille Island was densely covered in these icicles. It was beautiful, but not something you wanted to be standing under. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Base W - Open For Business

Base W - Open For Business - The abandoned Base W, preserved in the cold, dry antarctic. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Discovering Abandoned Base

Discovering Abandoned Base - - Photo by Antarctic Fox
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Workshop
Just left of Entrance were two rooms made impassable by snow. They seemed to be a workshop, storage and possibly a bar as well.

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Brown Glass

Brown Glass - Old used bottles left in the abandoned workshop of Base W in Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Lime Juice

Lime Juice - Tequila and salt not included. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Together Forever

Together Forever - Nothing can wrench these two apart. Their marriage has lasted over 50 years! - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Entry Hall
At the entry a hall heads off along the building on the right. To the left is a door to the workshop shown above. The hall to the right has shelving all along the ceiling. Rooms only exist on the left hand side. To the right is the outer wall with several windows looking out on the snow and yard.

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Barracks
First room on the left in as you head down the hall from the front door.

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Fresh Air since 1959

Fresh Air since 1959 - Part of an abandoned bedroom in Base W, Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Ghosts

Ghosts - It was an eerie feeling walking through this base that few had visited since it was abandoned in 1959. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Attic Workroom
Second door on the left in the main hall is actually a small alcove with several supplies and a ladder up to an attic. You walk through a dark storage area to this bright workroom at the end with one window over looking the bay. This room contains items that lead us to believe the researcher, doing working in geology and studying glaciers was also possibly the doctor and/or a chemist.
In the Attic

In the Attic - The doctor's office was up in the attic, through a dark gloomy storage space filled with cans. The disarray here is plain: Sifting the valuable from that which can be abandoned. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Glaciology Work

Glaciology Work - I love the paperwork and research supplies left behind in this work room, part of the attic in Base W. Abandoned in 1959, this Antarctic base was left in much in its original condition as the researchers only had one hour to evacuate. You may be able to read this report from Kevin's photo: www.flickr.com/photos/person/3449865522 - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Pentothal

Pentothal - A general-purpose intravenous anesthetic, Pentothal was a staple of the remote doctor. Several phials were left behind. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Attic Storage
Leaving the workroom you have to pause to adjust to the dark in the main attic room which was used for storage. Mostly containing cans of food, but also some larger supplies like a gurney. Heading back the way you had come toward the middle of the large room there is a hole in the floor with a ladder. Descending this ladder will again place you in the main hall of the building.

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Stocking Up

Stocking Up - The attic and cupboards all through Base W contained stacks of cans, bottles, etc containing food and supplies of all kinds to keep the crew of base W well supplied. Even though there seems to be quite a few supplies left behind, there is not enough to comfortably survive a winter in Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Custard Anyone?

Custard Anyone? - A cot or emergency gurney is left laying on the floor below shelves of Duff's Custard line the attic of Base W. I'm not sure who thought, "What they need in Antarctica is lots of custard! And lots of different flavors too " It seems a strange item to have so much of (there are additional stacks of the custard on the floor too). Possible it was just a staple in 1959 Brittan. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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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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