Miss Hilton returns from Antarctica

January 3, 2011

Lyndsay on a peak in the Buchanan Hills

Lyndsay on a peak in the Buchanan Hills

After 18 months of planning, fundraising and training my Antarctica expedition got underway in November last year.  The first stop was Chile, with 5 days planned to buy the food for the expedition and organise the kit ready to be flown into Antarctica.  Unfortunately the weather in Antarctica delayed things since there was a lot of snow at Union Glacier, which prevented the Illyushin from being able to land on the blue ice runway.  We therefore had to wait over a week for the weather to settle down and the runway to be cleared, but we finally landed in Antarctica on the 24th November.  We stepped off the plane into gorgeous sunshine, immediately faced by stunning scenery of snow, ice and mountains. Out in the sunshine it felt relatively warm but the air temperature was actually quite chilly at -16 degrees.  We spent the first night at Union Glacier base camp, where we had to start getting used to sleeping in bright sunshine.  The next day, the six of us headed straight out on expedition into the Nimbus hills.  We travelled for three and a half weeks on cross country skis, man hauling our sleds behind us and setting up camp each night.  The scenery was absolutely stunning in all directions, and the fact that so few people have been to these places before made it all the more special.  We managed to climb several of the mountains in the range, often having to use ropes, harnesses, crampons and ice axes to get up safely and avoid hidden crevasses.  Occasionally we even took our empty sleds up so we could sledge back down, which was great fun and made us get back for dinner much quicker! 

Whilst exploring, I was always on the lookout for patches of ice to take samples for analysis.  Unfortunately, these were fairly sparse due to the extremely deep snow covering the glacier. Even digging down could often not get us close to the ice layers at times.  I did eventually manage to get 8 samples though which are now with the British Antarctic Survey ready to be sent for analysis to determine if they do contain nanoparticles of iron oxide.  I also carried out the students’ experiments to compare the effectiveness of different base layers: ones made of merino wool against polypropylene base layers which contained silver nanoparticles. The nanoparticle layers came out top in terms of UV resistance but their thermal properties were not as good as the merino.  The initial smell test on the nanoparticle socks suggests they are more smell resistant that standard hiking socks, but are not as good as the merino.  Early this term, my classes will be comparing the bacterial levels of the different socks to complete the comparison.  Unfortunately, it seems I haven’t found the secret to getting socks that don’t smell no matter how long you wear them (I did still last a full week before changing them though!).

Overall, the expedition was the experience of a lifetime.  Even when temperatures got down to -36’C (with wind chill) and we had to ski into a headwind of 25 knots, I still enjoyed every minute.  I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to carry out science research in such an isolated and hostile environment and want to thank all those who made it possible at The Thomas Hardye School and those people and businesses who sponsored me: Dorset Cereals, Icebreaker, Badger Ales, Ringwood Brewery, The Piddle Brewery, Petzl, Thermarest, Great Western Camping, The 3 Compasses Pub, Chestnut House Nursing Home, Waitrose, Tesco, The Plaza Cinema & Get On Board.

Signing off for now!

Miss Lyndsay Hilton

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