Place names around the iceshelf


Phil Anderson

This is just a start of what will hopefully compile into a more comprehensive history. I suggest others kindly add their own knowledge, both to the pre and post history of this story, and to clarify my memory when it has gone awry.

Routes into and through the Hinge Zone...

Local features around Halley tend to be transient. Exceptions such as Gin Bottle (McDonald Ice Rumples) and Christmas Box Hill (Lyddan Ice Rise) are areas of grounded ice, whilst the Hinge Zone, although effectively fixed in place, changes from year to year, and names of features tend to live a decade or so. Some of the features are so large, however, as to merit names that become part of the local folk lore...

I have little information regarding the years prior to 1986. Some places on the few hand drawn maps indicated a hidden history, "Black Flag", "Crossroads Depot" and "Bob-Pi". Our history is made from legend, and who knew the heroes of yesteryear.

In 1986, my first winter, the route to the plateau rise was through a modification of the Bob-Pi route. The overall method was to follow the Precious Bay coast and then find a way through the rapidly changing choss near the Hinge. The modified route, known as the Gill Route (after Steve Gill, 1984-1985) , proved unworkable by autumn 1986, with a number of winter trips unable to make it past a camp site in the middle of the hinge known as C____ (I understand the word was Spanish and very rude).

Things were about to change. In the official mail the previous summer (1985/86 season) were the first high resolution satellite pictures of the ice shelf. These showed enormous features in the Hinge Zone further inland from Precious Bay, and the last winter trip before sundown went to investigate the area. They camped to the north of the first of these features which became known for a few years as "Jelly Chasm", thanks to the evening celebratory pudding; it was the first of The Chasms. More than just large crevasses, these were deep inland splits in the whole ice-shelf with ice-cliffs leading down to sea-ice at the bottom, their widths measured in kilometres.

Over the winter darkness the "Sat. Pics". were studied with high interest, and plans made for an further investigation. The wedge shaped chasms run almost parallel to the Hinge proper, with the thin end pointing slightly to the north, and the wider end nearer the plateau. The second chasm especially appeared to provide a clear route to the plateau by travelling along the sea-ice floor towards the plateau rise, and, we hoped, out the other end.

I was lucky enough to be on the first trip out after winter, along with Graham Wood, Toby Clark and Paul Aslin. I felt a bit of a tag-along, with my only experience of winter travel being a pre-winter trip of two days of double heading the Gill Route, and 8 days blown in.

This post winter trip was blessed with day after day of cloud free skies and calm winds, and can be firmly placed as the start of my Antarctic addiction.

We drove Alpine I's into, across and out of Jelly Chasm making use of gentle wind tails, easy travel with none of the twists and lurches of the Gill route. The far side of Jelly was gentle undulation, bondu again, but with a darker rise in the distance of unknown size, reminiscent of a breaching whale. Thanks to a song by Nic Jones, Penguin Eggs, the perhaps unfortunate name of Whale Meat Sausage was given to the feature. The name has fortunately faded from most people's memory.

We continued on South to the edge of the second of the chasms, WMS slightly to our left gradually disappearing from view. The second chasm was huge, and instantly became "Monster Chasm". These names, Jelly and Monster, were replaced over the years, to become the less fanciful "First" and "Second" chasms. I'll use these latter names henceforth.

We camped on the iceshelf within a few 100 m of the northern cliffs of Second Chasm. A day was spent Alpine linked probing a route down to the chasm floor, followed by some four days or so on skidoo trying to find a drivable ramp up and out on the south side. This failed, the southern cliffs rising clean from the sea ice and without windtails. A steep ice fall allowed an alpine pair to climb up onto the south-side shelf level again. A longish walk continuing south initially looked promising, and we briefly thought we were actually through the Hinge, but eventually we met with a third small chasm, at least a very large crevasse, about 50 m wide and un-crossable.

Our allocated days were running out, and feeling slightly cheated, we made our way back for soup on top of a prominent berg trapped within the Second Chasm sea-ice. We had briefly stopped off at the berg on previous days as it afforded an excellent view of the chasm at the end of a day, with the shadows lengthening in the dusk.

And so it was that Graham Wood, bored with the chat of the Beakers, ambled over the brow of the berg, and discovered the vein of rubble that had sun-melted into the image of a miniature quarry. Grit, pebbles and small boulders lay on the surface, with the vein apparently dipping into the body of the berg itself. The berg proved to be an overturned section of chasm cliff, offering up its engrained underside, and providing the only "un-meltable" surface for hundreds of miles. Rock! At Halley... Amazing.

We thought of calling it "Woody Berg" but Graham was very firmly against the idea, and so it became "Stoney Berg". In the days before "denuding" was a watch word, we took a few lumps of stone each as keepsakes. One of mine is the door stop to my office.

In the trips that followed, other main features of the chasms were investigated, with the "Super Bowl" and "Matterhorn" favourite stops, a promontory heading onto Second Chasm being "The Finger", and a smaller chossed area "Monument Valley".

The area of Whale Meat Sausage appears to have remained unexplored during the late 80's. I know of no tales from the area before 1991, but I may well be wrong. I think at least one party made the trip beyond second chasm on foot, but again, I have not heard of any official record. Those were the days of quiet trips...


I was only allowed the single winter in 1986, thanks to the science contract, but was eager to return. My second winter was delayed until 1991, by which time-improved Sat. Pics. were available, and from these there was a firmer hint of a route through the Hinge. The WMS area was still unexplored, and so with a couple of plans (and a science project) I went to the Brunt Ice Shelf again.

My pre-winter trip team included Vivek Kulkarni, Neil Roster (Paxo) and Ian Smart. One tip I had learnt in 1986: go on winter trips with the chef: croissant for breakfast and frozen pre-cooked meals!

We spent a number of days alpine paired in the eastern end of Second Chasm: drifting snow from the shelf settles into the chasm to a greater depth here, and often the going was very slow. We rounded the south side of WMS some miles to its west, which showed the feature to be another trapped berg separated from the cliffs, and slightly tilted. We noticed an ice pillar some 20 m metres high broken away from the south face of the berg, and went to investigate, working from the north side due to difficult terrain to the south.

WMS proved to be split, a crack the full width of the berg running north to south about 10 m wide. This feature acted as a sun trap in summer, and the walls were a cascade of icicles, the floor formed from numerous frozen melt pools, like steps leading into a chandelier. At the far end, the ice pillar was a vertical sentinel guarding the south entrance. This became known as Aladdin's Cave, now shortened to just "Aladdin's", being not actually a true cave.

The pillar was climbed by Bob Weight, field GA, the following Spring and is still a popular area for recreation.

The 1991 post winter trip was planned to find a route through the hinge to the plateau, using an apparent un-crevassed area to the south of Second Chasm. Vehicle travel into and through the chasm was untenable due to the southern cliffs; the Sat. Pics. suggested the possibility of working round the east end of Second and then turning south west.

The trip included Pete Lens, Bob Weight, Russ Ladkin and myself. The crux of the route proved to be finding a way though the undulated bondu to the east of second chasm. Too far west and close to the chasm the risk is finding yourself over the feeder crevasse as the chasm continues to split the ice shelf. Too far east and the flow of the Stancomb-Wills Glacier rumples the shelf. A corridor about 5 km wide allows link pair skidoo travel generally south in a zig-zag along linked ridges. Finally, a last loop brings the route onto the flat featureless bondu on the southern side of Second Chasm, the chasm itself taking the stress out of the shelf. This long unbroken run is still a feature, called "High Street", after the similar featureless bog-stomp in the Lake District.

Our hopes of an instant route and success was thwarted again by a small chasm / large crevasse in our way. "Baby Chasm" is probably the same feature we stumbled across in 1986. It has now grown, and is visible on present day Sat. Pics. The route round Baby Chasm is a variation of the technique with Second Chasm: find the east end, go on a bit further, and then cut back south west. In the early 90's this was as simple as it sounds, as the feature was still within the High Street area; Baby Chasm is now extending into the more rumpled region to the east.

From the south of Baby Chasm, the route tracked under the large crevasse fields on the shoulders of the plateau rise itself, features that are visible from Halley on a clear day. Eventually, the natural course of the route reached a bowl in the plateau, with the shelf under compression and un-cracked, allowing skidoo travel up and unto the rise. We had HQ permission to go through the Hinge, but not onto the plateau proper, and so here the trip ended. We took our "here we are picture", named the bowl "Gateway" and planted a marker stake.

I used the route for three summer seasons (1994-1996) as access for two automatic weather stations, part of the katabatic flow studies of the Coats Land Mesoscale Project (CLAMP). CLAMP 1 was deployed at the foot of Gateway, and CLAMP 2 five kilometres further inland, the final part of the route initially lead by Tim Carpenter.

I am certain we were not the first. Others must have made their way through this area, but without the overall picture given by the satellite data, could not have known the significance of this cliff or that berg. The trip reports of Alan Precious from the early 60s hints at the features we saw.

In these days of satellites that can read a car number plate, of Iridium phones and GPS, some of the romance may have gone from the winter trip travel, but Halley remains the base where you can walk where no one has ever been before, and history can still be written.

28 September 2006
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