Monday, 30 September 2013

Colbeck Archipelago hut & RMIT van history

In 1987 approval was given for a hut to be sited in the Colbeck Archipelago. In that year sea ice conditions did not favour the '87 party, and no trips were made past Stibbs Bay. But fortune smiled on the '88 crew, who took the plunge. They towed the ex-Rumdoodle hut (replaced by Maxine's in 1986) down the coast and installed it on an Island in the Colbeck Archipelago on 12 July 1986. The sledge the hut is sitting on was used to carry the 1973 prefab Rumdoodle hut  and now serve as a rigid base for a positive guy-down job.  

In 1969 while parked at Gwamm, an RMIT van was blown down the hill and ended up in a big crevasse just short of the ice cliffs. In 1970 it was winched out and returned to Mawson, but it had to wait another year to be repaired and for the badly smashed side to be mended. It had been written off as a traverse living van, and two enterprising expeditioners, decided on its future: Macey Island.
On 1 August 1971 the van departed Mawson behind an old Snowtrac, accompanied by a Snowcruiser. They winched the hut into place but did not guy it down, and much to their dismay 2 weeks later found that the van had blown over in a blizzard. The side was damaged again, but was repaired in situ and finally guyed down.
Since that day it has not moved, although it has had a few revamps and cleanups to keep it in shape. An outside toilet was attached in 1983.
On 14 November 1988, the van and its wooden Norwegian sledge (which was dried out and fragile) was winched onto a Smith sledge and towed it back to Mawson. So ended its 17-year reign on the island, the longest continuous service of any field hut except for Alice's Restaurant.
Today the van is still in good condition and is still mounted on a Smith sledge and is used as a temporary field hut. 

Monday 30th September 2013

Today was a very quiet day as I had a lot of catching up to do with emails and what’s been happening while I was away. I also had quite a bit to do cleaning up from the Colbeck trip and returning equipment back to the field store. Cookie was hoping the trip out to Twintops might leave on Wednesday so I had to get my gear ready for that trip just in case we have to leave at short notice. After work I had a nice relaxing spa and after dinner we watched a few episodes of Trailer park boys.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sunday 29th September 2013

I got up very early this morning and as it was shaping up to be a great day, I woke every one up and after breakfast we packed up everything and were gone by 0800. We drove to Chapman’s Ridge as Darron had wanted to climb this striking feature for some time now.

Rising to 300 metres (1,000 ft) and extending southwest for 3 nautical miles (6 km) from Byrd Head. It was discovered by the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929–31, under Mawson, and mapped by Norwegian cartographers from aerial photographs taken by the Lars Christensen Expedition, 1936–37. It was named by the Antarctic Names Committee of Australia for P. Chapman, auroral physicist at Mawson Station, 1958

Trent climbed to the first summit; I climbed to the middle summit while Darron continued to the final summit. It was a hard slog but we were rewarded with breath taking views of the entire surroundings. Down below there was virtually no wind at all, but up on the summit the katabatic was blowing a stiff twenty knots and it was bitterly cold with frost bite a real danger.
Chapman’s Ridge

Tailor glacier in the back ground

After a few hours we were all back in the Hag and we set course back to Mawson. About five kilometres for the Jelbart glacier we came across quite a large tide crack mostly concealed by snow. There were seals and penguins along the crack as far as the eye could see so I knew it must have been open. We stopped and drilled a few holes and decided it was too risky to cross so I drove roughly to the point where we crossed it on Wednesday and it looked just as bad. On Wednesday it must have been completely covered in snow and we crossed it fast enough to not be noticed?

I drove several kilometres along the crack looking for a better location to cross but it all looked the same so I stopped and we cleared an area and did some more drilling. I had 500mm sides and about a three meter snow span which was about the maximum you would consider crossing in a Hag. I make the call to cross while the other watched by. I wanted to attempt it at high speed but the others convinced me to take it easy so I took it easy. The heavy cabin seemed to cross without incident, but when the caboose started to cross the whole span collapsed and the caboose fell at a 45 degree angle into the frigid water.

I heard and felt the ice break so I gunned it and managed to pull the vehicle out without incident pulling up at a safe distance and walking back to inspect the large hole in the sea ice. It was a good lesson and a wakeup call to remind up we are driving across water that is thousands of feet deep. Tide cracks are an ever present hazard and as long as you don’t hit one parallel you can usually winch yourself out without too much drama. This is why we keep all our emergency equipment tied onto the roof and we have emergency escape hatches in the roof or the vehicle. 

After this little drama we continued on towards the Jelbart glacier rounding it once more without incident and when we were several kilometres clear and I was starting to relax and breathe again I felt that sinking feeling once again. I had driven into a tidal pool covered in snow without realising it and we came to a complete halt.

I gunned it forward and make good progress until a bow wave of slop which came up to the windscreen height brought us to a halt once more, so I put it in reverse and gunned it reverse and make good progress until a bow wave of slop which came up just as high brought us to a halt once more. I repeated this procedure a few more times until I eventually got the vehicle out. By this time the hole had filled with about a meter of water.

Off we went again without further incident and after about an hour or so I decided to deter to some huge caves I could see in the ice cliff for a look. When we got there; there were two seals that had just delivered pups so that was a bonus. We took a few photos and then hit the road again. 

The going was pretty good although surface definition was still very poor. We passed an area about twenty kilometres west of the station that had absolutely no snow on the sea ice and the sea ice was perfectly smooth and a lovely torques in colour. We got back to station around five thirty, packed up, fuelled up, cleaned up and sat down to watch the AFL grand final. It was a great successful trip and everybody had a great time.

It was Keldyn's 27th birthday today too.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Saturday 28th September 2013

Today, after a very windy night we woke up to a very windy day with very poor visibility and lots of blowing snow. We were basically confined to the hut and there was nothing we could do but sit it out. Luckily we bought heaps of magazines and books to keep us entertained should this situation arise, but after a while the cramped conditions inside the hut, wearing all your polar clothing and the ice and melt water inside the hut began to take its toll and eventually Jeremy headed off to the RMIT van for some time out and a nanny nap wile I headed outside to try and get a weather report from Mawson.

I made contact with the station and the next few days weather looked like improving which made me feel better. After the radio sked I climbed up the very high hill near the hut to check things out. Visibility was so bad I could hardly see a thing so I body surfed all the way back down which was real fun, but I didn't have the energy to climb all the way back up again to do it again so I went back to the hut.

Eventually I got bored and retreated to the RMIT van for a nanny nap as well. I woke around dinner time and cooked up a bite to eat and then we cracked a few beers and watched a movie on Jeremy's laptop. I bet Scott and Mawson wished they had laptops !!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Friday 27th September 2013

Today we decided to visit Taylor rookery. As it is a special protected zone we could only view the colony from the top of a nearby Island. The colony is not as big as the Auster rookery, but it was nice to see just the same. There were many chicks and lots of birds coming and going.

While we were in the area we went for a walk along Taylor glacier and also spent some more time watching and filming the seals and penguins at the tide crack we visited yesterday. 

By now visibility was getting very poor but we decided to go for a long drive around the coast line to check things out any way. We found a long interesting ravine and went for a walk to check it out. It had some interesting ice formation at the end and the wind was really howling through there in a vortex.

From here we headed off towards a large frozen lake and near where we parked we found some old whale bones and then walked up to the large lake just below Chapman’s Ridge. It was quite a nice walk but a pity there was no blue sky.

Whale bone

It was now getting late so we drove back to the hut in zero visibility in what was now a total white out. I could not see past the windscreen and had to totally rely on the GPS to navigate through the maze of Islands, ice bergs and tide cracks about seven kilometres back to the hut. By the time we reached the hut my eyes were sore and I was pretty trashed from concentrating so much but after my second beer I started to feel real good again.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Thursday 26th September 2013

Today was another fine day, so we decided to drive as far west as we were allowed reaching Oom Island just into Kemp Land. (Small island 0.5 mi NE of Campbell Head, off the coast of Kemp Land. Mapped by Norwegian cartographers from air photos taken by the Lars Christensen Expedition, 1936-37, and named Uksoy. Renamed by ANCA for Lieutenant K.E. Oom, RAN, a member of the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), 1929-31) We then headed into the ice cliffs to work our way back to Cape Bruce. Some sections of the ice cliffs were a beautiful deep blue colour so we pulled up for a closer look and to take a few photos. The ice was so dense with all the air squeezed out it was like glass and you could see about a meter into the ice.

From here we weaved in and out of Islands and bays on our way to proclamation point at Cape Bruce. Proclamation point is where on the 18th day of January 1931 Sir Douglas Mawson rowed ashore with ten other men and claimed Mac Robertson Land for the Crown during the BANZARE expedition. The original plaque and some documents still remain along with a visitor’s book dating back to the 70’s with only a handful of entries. For a moment it was nice to walk in Dough’s footsteps and I even got a splinter off his original cane pole he left behind. 

We left Cape Bruce on a hunt for some huge jade bergs the previous expeditioners had come across but neglected to record their location. Along the way we found a little magic spot between the Taylor glacier and an Island where we walked into and enjoyed fantastic polished ice sculptures. 

By now the sky had become overcast which produced poor surface definition and made driving and photography very difficult; even so we still managed to find both jade bergs where we stopped for a while. 

Near the second jade berg there was a tide crack that seals and penguins were using so Jeremy lowered his pole cam underwater and got some awesome footage. 

We spent some time walking around the Taylor glacier area before deciding to head back to the hut. Once again we had a sun downer sitting outside on the snow in about minus twenty and the froth in my beer kept freezing. Eventually Jack Frost forced us back into the ice floor hut where we continuously had to bail out the melting ice. It was like living in a leaky boat. Every now and then the walls would groan as the crushing ice outside made its presence felt. Apart from all the ice and dripping water the hut was remarkably warm.