The Cave

“I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.” – Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), Airplane

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One month gone, already. It’s definitely been a bit up and down emotionally. Every so often, mostly whenever I’m outside and it’s incredibly windy, cold, and I’m tired, I think to myself “What the hell am I doing here?!” (censored version, as requested by mother). I mean, the arctic is a pretty hostile environment anyway. It’s not easy to live here.

On the flip side, the more permanent thought running through my head is how incredible this place is. It’s so unique and absolutely stunning. I’m studying some great modules out here in a beautiful place. It’s such an incredible opportunity, and one that I was really keen to be given as soon as I heard it was possible all those years ago on the Aberystwyth University open day.  I feel even more excited that, in nearly 7 weeks, I get to show my family and Tom what an amazing place I’ve been living in.

I spent the first 3 days of this week barely being able to walk properly, thanks to the plateau hike destroying the top of my calves with every step that I tried to lift my tired feet out of the snow. I made use of the free swim that the gym offers to students Monday-Wednesday from 7 to 8am on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was pretty important I started to make use of this offer after buying a new swimming costume and goggles last week. It’s great, but does make an early start!

Thursday was pretty special. It was the last day of lectures for the next two weeks, we had Friday off and we have two weeks of field work starting Monday. After the lectures, I was allowed to finally move back to Barrack 11, for good this time!

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Image Credit: Jack Jenkins

Whilst I’ve been here, I constantly check the KHO all sky camera to see if there is an aurora visible. Thursday evening, we saw an incredible aurora. I unfortunately don’t have the camera and equipment out here to photograph something like that, but I went outside in my pjs for about half an hour just watching it. I was out the back of the barracks and lost a lot of the light pollution, I’ve never seen so many stars! Above is a picture by Jack taken that night to show the beautiful aurora and stars that evening.

The images below show screenshots from the KHO skycam taken just before I went outside. This all sky camera can be found here. Best to check it after about 4pm when it’s darker.

Oh yeah, “Lucy face” has now become a thing. A lovely, gormless face which I seem to naturally pull. So any photo taken of me when I’m not expecting it tends to show classic “Lucy face”. Thank you to Kieran.

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The Friday mini trip out the back of Longyearbyen.

Friday was great because we had the day off. I got to lie in, go for a wonder out the back with Kieran, Jack, Lloyd and Heather and get some good photos then come back and a few of us had pre drinks before Friday Gathering. Tip: No matter how fun it seems, do not put a bottle of wine in a water bottle with a built in straw. (Especially when that water bottle can hold an entire bottle of wine).

After a great Saturday of laziness in the barrack 11 kitchen watching rubgy and airplane and complaining about the take away we ordered, Sunday was a lot more eventful. I went with Jack, Heather, Noel and Alex to explore the ice cave on the glacier Larsbreen. On the way up, we discovered a little man made snow cave which we took a little coffee break in.

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Mini snow cave

I must admit, after seeing photos of people who went to the ice cave before, I thought there was no way I would be to do that. It looked incredibly small and the steep downhill (and narrow) entrance looked terrifying. When the suggestion of going to see an ice cave came up, I didn’t realise we’d properly be going into this same ice cave (I guess I’d hoped it would be a different, more spacious cave). But no, we arrived and I saw this small cave entrance with a steep downhill and began to get very scared.

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The ice cave entrance on Larsbreen with Longyearbyen below

A few encouraging words from Noel and a slow decent in the middle of the group, and I started to feel much better. Once I begun to head down it open out slightly and it wasn’t too far until it flattened out. I then realised my toes were far too cold and I was struggling to move them, so I got to spend the next 10 minutes lying on the floor with my feet on Heather’s stomach to warm them back up. It worked a charm, it was then onwards into the cave.

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Chilling in the ice cave. From the left: Jack, Noel, Alex, Heather, me 🙂

Noel (geologist, loves glaciers and rocks) was running around having multiple “geogasms”… He was like an excited puppy, it was incredible. He would regularly disappear round a corner and we’d just hear a strange combination of noises as he spotted more features. It was absolutely beautiful in there, so who could blame him anyway.

There were multiple occasions of ducking and turning sideways. We also had one opportunity to head off course and climb up a small ledge. It was pretty narrow, but it was pretty high which made it feel a bit more spacious. It’s only possible to go to a certain point without your own climbing ropes, and so after about 45 minutes we’d gone as far as we could. We came back up to have a small amount of light and walked back down to Longyearbyen. This was a fantastic trip, made even more special by the fact that I felt like I achieved something after being a bit scared of the cave beforehand.

Jack also put a lovely video together of our day in the ice cave, find it here.

The next two weeks are field work! All day off so that we can stay up late in the observatory. First stop, KHO!

Skål!