Friday, 19 December 2014

Work/Jolly - Jork/Wolly?

So I have an inclining that this blog will be primarily about being out in the field as I feel that's all I have been doing lately. If I'm not out there for work, it is for recreation. I don't know if it is because I am at a completely different station but I have the 'Jolly crown' firmly affixed to my head at the moment...

Another part of Mawson's uniqueness is its accessibility to the plateau and the numerous mountain ranges that are piercing through the boundless Antarctic ice cap. Nestled among these giant peaks are three totally contrasting field huts.

Closest to station and with arguably one of the greatest views is Hendo Hut which is flanked by Mt Henderson and Onley Hill. The hut itself is situated 700m above sea level, majority of the way up the 900m high Mt Henderson.

Henderson Hut

The hut looks out over Mawson station itself and Holme bay. It's a view you would never tire of.

The view from the Hendo dining table

Next on the list is the interestingly named and situated Rumdoodle Hut. The hut is in the lee of the North Masson Range of mountains. It is literally sitting at the base of the ranges with Rumdoodle peak towering 400m above it (875m above sea level).

Rumdoodle (it's the little green thing right in the middle)

Located all around the hut are giant boulders that have dislodged from the cliffs and have slowly started to melt their way into the ice.

Looking from Rummy to the David Range

The final destination for this tour is Fang Hut, which surprisingly, is huddled alongside the 1032m Fang Peak in the David Mountain Range. This hut is different as it faces out to the wild endlessness of the plateau which makes it the hut of choice if you want to experience some of that famous Framnes Mountain weather!


This sign speaks the truth

This next shot is from the saddle at Fang, to the right of shot in the distance is the North Masson Range with Rumdoodle hut, just to the right of centre is Mt Henderson and Henderson hut and to the left behind Mt Parsons is Mawson Station!

That gets the jollying out of the way, now for the work side of things...

Rumdoodle is also home to our summer skiway which needs outfitting with equipment and commissioning. This year we decided to capitalize on having another leftover from the 'golden days', one of Kathy's old friends, the Foremost Pioneer!

So much leather. And Gnomes.

The convoy at the top of Gwamm

Our destination, the North Massons

This Canadian built monster is powered by a Caterpillar 3306 (the same turbocharged engine that we use to supply power for the stations) and is fitted with a large HIAB crane. It is perfectly suited to a task such as the Rumdoodle skiway, with the help of this Antarctic colossus and 2x supporting Hägglunds we managed to get two sleds full of ATK aircraft fuel, one windsock/flag sled, one fuel pump sled, one emergency response sled and two Honda quads up to Rumdoodle to prepare the skiway. Again its a shame but this could be one of the last times this old girl is used 'in anger' in Antarctica as it is earmarked to continue keeping Kathy company and return to Australia this season.

We did do some work!

Luke admiring the Snow Petrels on the cliff face

The skiway team!

That about sums up that. Ill try to write about some station life next time if I actually get the chance to spend some time on station in the near future...

Friday, 5 December 2014

An ode to Kathy.

Mawson has quite a few reminders of a bygone era of Antarctic exploration such as old heritage buildings, hallways adorned with memorabilia and some interesting old equipment. Today I want to introduce you to one such piece of equipment.

The big girl.

Meet Kathy. She is a well loved (I could never call her archaic or obsolete) machine, a Caterpillar D7H Low Ground Pressure 'Traverse Special' bulldozer which has been specially modified for back in what I believe is the golden era of exploring where teams used to spend months at a time driving thousands of kilometers with 3 or 4 sleds per tractor with up to 20,000kgs on each sled around the most extreme and inhospitable parts of Antarctica all in the name of science.

The Traverse Special tractors, which are so rare, you could count the amount of machines in existence using one hand, are heavily modified from standard. They run on ATK Jet Turbine fuel, they are fitted with special direct drive 6 speed manual transmissions, extra monitoring gauges for the engine, provision for titanium ice spikes to be fitted to the tracks, an ingenious warm air induction system which pre-heats the air for the engine, ability to fit a lifting jib to the blade, blizzard protection and covers for any cylinders, an emergency escape hatch in the roof for those "quick getaways" if needed and not least painted in the seemingly long forgotten 'ANARE Orange' colours.

In the past Mawson station has been used as a staging area for this big traverses and luckily Kathy has managed to hang around on station since these expeditions have gone by the wayside. She is typically now used as a station dozer, clearing snow and towing other machines from places that they shouldn't be but she also still has one other special job...

Mawson is situated at the base of the plateau or Antarctic ice cap and occasionally the need to use the plateau for operational requirements is needed. At the moment the sea ice around station is too unreliable for landing fixed-wing aircraft so we need to prepare a site up on the plateau. Unfortunately there has been very little snow here all season so the ramp up the hill is too icy and slippery to use.

The control room.

Here is where having a machine that was designed to operate in these kinds of conditions can come in handy. So we bought the old girl into the workshop and began converting her back to her former glory. Part of the blade cutting edge was removed and we fitted a plate from a 'drag beam' which should cut into the smooth ice and give some traction for the other vehicles. The tracks were also prepared for the ice spikes as driving a 28,000kg machine on ice so steep that it is impossible to walk on isn't my idea of fun.

Getting her ready for a 'birthday'.

Prepping the blade.

Titanium ice spikes.

The 'buck' tooth.

One all the modifications were completed it was time to tackle the road up the ice cap, affectionately referred to as 'Gwamm'.

Bottom of Gwamm back to station.

José testing the route.

Kathy and a Hagg at the top of Gwamm.

We found the mods worked perfectly and are looking forward to using the road next week to get all our fixed-wing equipment to the Rumdoodle skiway. Stay tuned for that blog..

To finish I just wanted to mention that I think it's sad, but Kathy has been on the RTA (Return To Australia) list for the past couple of years but as the Aurora Australis has struggled getting close enough to the station, she lingers on, still working hard and never complaining. It will be sad to see a piece of Australian Antarctic royalty leave the continent but I am very grateful to have the chance to spend a few months getting to know her and hopefully she will finish her tour on a high note.

These were the days...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Well I have been thrown in the deep end a little here. I don't mind it at all when the water is this perfect though!

On Monday the opportunity arose to head out to the Auster Emperor Penguin rookery to see how the chicks were doing before the sea ice is closed for vehicle travel. Of course I jumped at the chance and was appointed driving duties in one of our Hägglunds over snow vehicles. It was quite a big party heading out for the evening with 2x Häggs and 4x Honda Quads.

The trip itself is a 120km round trip to the east of Mawson along the sea ice and past the field hut at Macey Island. The Macey hut is interesting as it looks like it is constructed from an old railway carriage and its smack in the middle of an Adelie Penguin rookery!

Macey looking toward Auster

We left Macey and headed out to sea to find the Empies. They have moved over a kilometer from their original winter huddle and have now broken into 3 separate groups.

At the moment the Penguins are 'Creching' which is when the chicks stick together in groups and are looked after by a few adults while most of the parents head out to sea to feed. That is why the ratio of chicks to adults look wrong at the moment.



And a nice big berg we found on the way home. The dot on the left is a quad bike about 3/4 the way between myself and the berg for scale.

The next day involved an early start in preparation of a trip to another Emperor rookery! This time to Taylor Glacier and one of the only Emperor rookeries to be found on dry land!

Taylor Glacier is to the west of Mawson and is a 220km (including sightseeing) round trip. Conveniently located close by is Proclamation Point which is the site where Sir Douglas Mawson first raised the British flag and claimed that gigantic slice of Antarctica.

The cache

A copy of the Proclamation

Here is a transcript of the proclamation if you cant read it from the photo:
In the name of His Majesty, King George the Fifth, King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions across the Seas, Emperor of India.
By Sir Douglas Mawson. 
Whereas I have it in command from His Majesty King George the Fifth, to assert the Sovereign rights of His Majesty over British land discoveries met with in Antarctica. Now, therefore, I, Sir Douglas Mawson, do hereby proclaim and declare to all men that, from and after the date of these presents, the full sovereignty of the Territory which we have discovered and explored extending continuously from Adelie Land, westwards to MacRobertson Land being that part of the Antarctic Mainland and offlying Islands (Including amongst others, Drygalski Island, Hordern Island, David Island, Masson Island, Henderson Island, Haswell Islds and and Island in Longitude 103° 15' East shown on our charts) situate between meridia 138° and 60° East of Greenwich and south of Latitude 64° as far as the South Pole, vest in His Majesty King George the Fifth, His Heirs and Successors forever.
Given under my hand at this spot in MacRobertson Land on the eighteenth day of February 1931.
Douglas Mawson
(British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition)
This in particular has been a highlight for me and I feel very privileged to have step foot on such hallowed ground as this. To date there is only a couple of hundred people to ever visit this location.

My name in the history books

The view was pretty spectacular too!

Where Mawson raised the flag!

We stayed in Colbeck hut which has recently been renovated and relocated by the wintering team this year since it had a bad habit of getting buried under snow. The new location should stay snow-free and has a pretty amazing view.

Refurbished Colbeck

New location

View from Colbeck

As mentioned before the Taylor Emperor rookery is one of the only on dry land and is the site of Australia's first ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area) which limits the impact of humans by only allowing one person at a time to enter the zone and only when in possession of a special permit. Unfortunately I wasn't the holder of that permit but we found that the Penguins had moved a large number of their chicks onto the sea ice which allowed a photo or two.

Under the glacier

Waiting for their parents

And that's about it for now, I have a feeling my next post might include mountains!!..