Washing Up Bay

sent in by Mix Dixon


The story of WASHING UP BAY. I hope we do it justice.    Mick Daly wrote a wonderful classic Franglais version of it in Halley Comet. ("je ecoute un grand cracking dans le ice..........")

Halley 4, perhaps November 1984. Not sure of the timing ?

  Four of us away on a weekend trip to the sea, (Gin Bottle actually).

Mick Daly, James Broadway, Nick Quinsey, Stevie Lloyd.

  Woke up one morning, ...sunshine, ....lets go exploring !. OK Brekkie, clear up and do the "washing up".

Then we suit up, Harnesses, all the gear, and amble off to where I heard some distant ice cracking, earlier on.  (Gin Bottle is always noisy)

At the ice edge to the east of Gin Bottle, all is calm.  Dark blue sea up to the Shelf cliffs, (shore lead), with some lumpy ice bits at the foot.

  We sit on the edge, (no cornice, and not actually feet dangling over the sea, but close), and enjoy some chockie, relaxing, taking in the view, looking to the west over the chossed mound of Gin Bottle.

To the east, a little headland was visible jutting out to sea.  We said, lets go to that headland for a better look at the view.  Up and amble off again.

A small crack came visible on the surface, as we walked back from the ice edge.  In jest, I stuck an Ice Ax into it and there was a bang.  Oops we thought, best move back from the edge. All silent again for 5 minutes, as we strolled along to the east, on flat smooth wind polished bondu.

At some point after that, memory fails, and I cannot recall how it started but here is an analogy; we found ourselves as if running on a railway track with a locomotive thundering up behind us, and yet turning to see the source of the mind blowing noise.............there was nothing !!!!!!; Just bondu, sky, sea.

  We ran for our lives.

As much as one can run, in Mukluks, FId Gear, Harness belt clatch clanking and jangling, we loped, bounded, galloped, we flailed.

I ran assuming that there would open a Chasm in my path, and retained an extra reserve of strength that I might leap that Chasm.

I looked up as I ran, searching left right and ahead, for some sign, some visual evidence, some reason for the ear numbing noise.

I thought, maybe this is the Brunt Ice Shelf collapsing, maybe the subject that occupied many a Smoko was coming to pass, Halley and our Ice Shelf were breaking off and floating away into the Weddell Sea. 

I frantically twisted behind, to see my companions running as fast as I. (well of course they had to be, we had all roped together at some point prior to this!!!)

  It would have been comical for an all wise observer, to see these four guys lolloping along tied together.

I looked back to fourth man Stevie Lloyd. He was running to keep the rope taut, remembering training, ready to hold anyone who fell down a hole.

  I gestured for him to abandon that laudable aim, and just sprint for it, to gain as much distance from the ice edge, and the perceived source of our tormenting noise.   

The noise was the most frightening, the most all-encompassing, ear-blasting, mind numbing thunderous cacophony I have ever heard, even to this day. The loudest thunder you have ever heard in the sky directly above, yet continuous, booming, growling, grating, on and on for I suppose a minute or more and .......

Whaaaaaaat ! I had twisted in my stride for another look back, to see the source of the noise and there it was, the flippin ice edge was rising, a whole section of Ice Shelf was rising.

  There was a step in the bondu now 10 ft high toward and parallel to the sea, with I seem to recall the most bizarre white fountains of snow, ice, water, steam, I know not, shooting vertically up from the opening chasm.

  Loooooooooook I yelled !   Looooooook aaaaaaaat  thaaaaaaaat !  

  Heart pounding, lungs gasping, legs quivering, we all turned to look at the extraordinary spectacle. A (relatively small 300 x 200m) section of our ice was rising 15 to 20 foot now and opening up a gap. The thing was also tilting, the seaward cliffs side rising faster, revealing to us the "coastline profile".

Right in the centre of that seaward profile, as the tilt increased to 30 deg, the little headland was prominent. The very headland we had been ambling toward, only 3 minutes before ? 

Cameras clicking, we shot rolls.  Closing together, but continuing to walk backwards away from the sea, we exchanged the first words since the "world was about to end".

Laughing and giggling uncontrollably at the relief, we shook our heads in disbelief, uttering profanities. "We were there, sat on that edge eating choc, and we were headed toward that headland. We could have been .................."

We watched and wondered, as the noise subsided, the noise that had represented 800 feet of Ice Shelf thickness shearing, parting, tearing, from deep down under the sea, up to the surface of the bondu.

  We thought, well of course it would have been OK, we would have been fine, if we were up there sat on the headland, when hell broke loose.  We could have run down the tilting slope, reaching such speed as to leap the opening Chasm and land back on the bondu.

Just as well, for the newly calved Iceberg was too small to remain stable. It tilted and fell over, rolling upside down, revealing a dark and muddy underside, and falling apart, rumbling and banging for an hour or more, the sea covered with multicoloured lumps of ice ! 

We walked back to the Caboose hoping surely that area was stable...wasn't it ?

  We noticed an even larger iceberg calving off from further east, leaving an embayment, we named "Washing Up Bay".  Had we not stayed to do the washing up.....etc, etc.

  Footnote.

What we witnessed (somewhat close at hand), was simply a piece of the Brunt Ice Shelf calving off. Something that must happen quite regularly, yet I have never seen any description of the event before, nor seen photos. Has anyone else seen such? (my photos were disappointing  - white on white).

Looking at the Dynamics of the Brunt Ice Shelf, it appears the Shelf upstream and east of Gin Bottle, is under compression.  Once over the GB, the Shelf pressure is relaxed and the creeks thus form as spread fingers. I wonder therefore if the calving process taking place in the compressed area, is more noisy and spectacular, than a similar event west of Gin Bottle, where bergs probably just quietly drift away with no drama. 

Any ideas ?

[12 March 2007]


13 March 2007
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