Saturday, 27 November 2010

antarctic portraits

Our Team










antarctica prt 3

To try and bring it to life I used tracks and Steadicam. 
Ben's passion was wonderful. To hear him read diary extracts of Christmas day 100 years ago as we stood at the same table was haunting. Tim the director had tracked own the most wonderful diary entries from all the old house mates.
One evening a penguin turned up from nowhere. He handled the adoration quite well and just lay there looking slightly bemused. A week later a seal pitched up from the Icy horizon. He was a bit more bolshy and shouted a bit before heading off to only he knew where.
Life in camp fell into a pattern and we all found our place. Nick pretty much gave up sound recording and went off hitting bits of metal with John.
Ben told us where he would like his picture taken that day and Tim and I discussed light any time something needed lifting or tamping.
We had a few forays out onto the ice. the first was to see the work of Dr Tim Haskell. His camp was on the ice beyond the trapped iceberg at the end of our promontory. We all trooped towards an unpromising poli tunnel ( the sort of thing we grow tomatoes and marijuana in in Devon). We walked inside and were first hit by the heat from the stove , then we saw a vast seal lying in the dining table sized hole in the ice. I grabbed a shot before he snorted and disappeared.
The hole had been cut to allow the teams ROV access to the magical world beneath.  As Ben chatted to the guys they released the robot sub with camera down Into the hole. As it sunk our friendly seal ascended and lay possessively in the hole. I hope it will be a nice sequence with Ben watching the seal from above and the robot sub filming the seal from below.
A really really lovely experience.

We finished at Scott's hut and headed back to Base.
On the last night i had walked out onto the frozen sea. There was complete silence and complete clarity. I could see forever.
i will  never forget being given this opportunity.

Back in 'civilisation' we showered, ate salad, and drank frothy coffee. we even sat on a normal loo , although Nick seemed incapable of letting go of his pee bottle and called it his 'noo noo'.

Our last foray was special. we had a helicopter for the day and we headed out to 'cape Crozier'.
This is the destination for 'the worst journey in the world' , often sited as the best travel book ever written.
Three of Scott's party before their dash to the pole headed East.
As opposed to Amundsen , whose sole purpose was 'pole bagging' , Scott's expedition was also a major scientific undertaking.
There was a believe that Emperor penguins provided a vital link in the evolutionary story and by collecting penguin eggs and studying their embryos, it could be proven. 
So in complete darkness, mid winter, Bowers, Garrard and Wilson headed East. It was a journey of indescribable hardship ( quite well described in the book).
It was so cold they had to get there bodies into sledge pulling position, before they froze like that for the day.
I wont go into it, but we landed on this desolate volcanic ridge, with the wind howling. It was the coldest we had seen. 
Ben and Nigel did their best to tell the story and Nick and i did our best to stand upright and keep our digits.
From here we headed onto the Ross ice shelf. A vast slab of ice the size of France. Under which somewhere lay the bodies of Scott's party.
We filmed a very emotive piece then had Ben walk across the snow and ice as we thundered overhead in the Helli. I got to hang out on a harness with my excitement only tempered by the loss of feeling in my face!

We flew back over the most impossible cracks and crevasses with the wind rising.
I asked the pilot to fly over a promontory to reveal the sea beyond. He tried and admitted he couldn't go higher and  was losing power ( in fact the tail rotor had stopped earlier!), when a pilot says such words you listen and go home for tea and biscuits. we went home for tea and biscuits.
We packed our kit, handed in our pee bottles, cleaned out our lockers and thanked our New Zealand hosts.
It had been remarkable.
The journey home was very very long, broken by Nicks birthday and a shopping frenzy in Christchurch. 
On arriving home the colours of the trees and grass looked ridiculous, everything was too colourful and too loud.
but i guess all hardened Polar explorers say that.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Antarctica prt 2

We were hosted in the New Zealand 'Scott Base', which sat on the shore looking out over the frozen sea. With pressure ridges throwing up spectacular ice formations.
The base consisted of about 70 people during the summer and during the 7 months of continual darkness it dropped to 14.
It was surprisingly well equipped. the food was excellent, coffee marvelous, there was a gym, bar and fancy dress room ( with a fine line in dresses).
Before we could do anything we had to go through our Antarctic field training. So we headed out in the articulated Haglans about 5 miles from base out into the white.
Here we learnt to fill and use stoves, layer up our clothing, avoid frost bite, how to pee in a bottle and keep it in your sleeping bag to stop it freezing and other dark arts of the seventh continent.
We built a snow shelter - great fun. sadly ran out of time before we could construct doric columns and graceful arches!
We erected our Scott tents, basicaly unchanged since.....Scott.
We were then left to have our first night in the snow. We had a little snifter and then it hit us.. We knew the sun wasnt going to set, but nobody really believed it! its true it doesnt! very strange and it took a good week to get used to .
I managed to sleep though with the help of pills and eye pads.
Awoke to furious wind (climatic) it was an interesting morning, derigging tents and practicing search techniques.
A debrief later and an emptying of pee bottles and we were fully qualified arctic explorers.
We now prepared to head off to the wild white yonder.
We met the 'conservators ' we were to be living with and filming. ' lizzy, cricket, diana, john and nigel', all lovely people who couldnt have been kinder or more accomadating.

We filmed the loading of 2000 artifacts into crates and suppervisied the loading of a similar quantity of survignan blanc into our luggage.
Then we set off. It was a few hrs away by hagland and it was wonderful to shoot the low light over the glacier and ice bergs as the wind whipped snow around our feet and our norwegian transport trundled through the epic landscape.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

antarctica prt 1

What an amazing trip.
Antarctica is one of those places I had always wanted to go and never thought i'd get the chance.
Our four man team headed off for the long haul south in October.
30 hrs later, a couple of bottles of white and only the wonderful air crew to entertain us, we found ourselves in Christchurch, the main jumping off point for expeditions South to the ice.
We had a day here to blearily film in the local museum packed with Scott and Amundsen items.
Our film was to look at Scott's hut on Ross island and the efforts to preserve it, also we wanted to look at Scott's dash South from the point of view of those left behind.

We were to be hosted by the New Zealand Antarctic guys and so we found ourselves in a room full of thermals and coats trimmed with rabbit.
We were issued 6 pairs of gloves and -100 degree boots!
all very exciting, I've never been anywhere that requires such preparation and specialist equipment.We flew out very early in the morning with a bunch of Americans, suited in vast boots and coats in case of an unscheduled plunge into icy wastes!

Our team consisted of Ben Fogle, veteran antarctic traveller and lovely fellow, Nick the sound man and Tim the producer. both were friends with whom I'd filmed with before.