A trip to Robbos May 2003

11 am Saturday morning, I’ve just finished doing the 'gash' run – which means collecting all the garbage from around station and taking the burnables to the incinerator, the aluminium cans and bottles to the recycling container, and the non-burnable rubbish to the RTA (Return To Australia) container – I’m now on my hands and knees scrubbing the toilet bowl in my own bathroom to finish off the Saturday morning chores, what could possibly be more fun. A trip to Robbo’s perhaps?

Before you start thinking that this was 'Dr Jolly' just heading off for some fun in the field, let me explain that this was an 'operational' exercise. All the field huts have a variety of survival equipment including portable generators, search and rescue equipment, medical equipment and food rations. As Andrew is the primary search and rescue person, it is his responsibility to ensure that the huts are kept up to scratch. I had made up a new medical kit ready to exchange with the one in the hut.

Our 'mission' was to changeover the gear at Robbo's hut and if possible to reach the Apple hut on Herring Island and check out the equipment there. The 'Apples' are small fibreglass shelters capable of holding 3-4 people either working, or stranded on some of the offshore islands. We were hoping to reach the Herring Island Apple by skiing over the newly formed sea ice from Robbo's hut southwards.

Off we go. The Yellow Hagg pulls out of Casey Station.
Off we go. The Yellow Hagg pulls out of Casey Station. May 2003. Photo P. Lovell

With stomachs bursting from Trent's offering of fresh cream buns from morning tea we (Andrew, Ivor and I ) packed up the yellow Hagg and headed for Robbo's hut. This is a field hut situated on Robinsons Ridge, 15 kilometres to the South of Casey Station, overlooking Penney Bay to the South and Sparkes Bay to the North.

Leaving station on a calm but cloudy afternoon we threaded our way through the Casey ski fields (a few of the guys taking advantage of the settled weather to practise their downhill ski technique) taking care not to obstruct the quad ski towing service!

The Hagglunds follows the cane line down onto Robinson’s Ridge.
The Hagglunds follows the cane line down onto Robinson's Ridge. May 2003. Photo P. Lovell

Leaving station we head up past the moraine line onto the plateau following the cane line (bamboo canes drilled into the ice every 300–400 metres to form a path or roadway) before turning right onto Robinson’s Ridge and on down to the hut. Travelling at only 15 kilometres per hour we do not reach there until nearly four o'clock and darkness is already descending. The Hagg trip has as usual been as rough as guts and as noisy as hell despite wearing headphones to drown out the noise and driving as slowly as possible to smooth out the bumps.

Into the hut, turn on the outside gas cylinders, open the vents, get the kettle on and most important of all TURN THE GAS HEATER ON because the hut is freezing cold! Several hours later and the hut is still so cold that Ivor and Andrew are still wearing their freezer suits inside – it seems that a week of sub minus 20 degree days have taken their toll on the hut.

Crayfish served and ready to eat
What a feast! Yes, the crays were real and the champagne chilled to perfection by spending 15 minutes in the cold porch. May 2003. Photo P. Lovell

Andrew went through the survival gear and I repacked the medical kit and then we got down to the more important things – dinner. In a typical team effort, Ivor and Andrew got the crayfish cooking in the oven and I opened the champagne. Antarctica is hell, but someone has got to do it. After dinner (and a bottle of red) we read our books then hit the sack early in anticipation of the big ski to Herring Island in the morning. We were also still cold and the sleeping bags were appealingly warm.

Peter L. reading book.
Yes I really did read it, note that I'm already half way through and still awake. May 2003.

Sunday morning, the hut is vibrating, there are metre long snow trails extending inside the hut from the tiny openings of the vents and it's still very cold – there is a blizzard raging outside. We're going nowhere. Back to the books, the hot chocolates and grilled cheese and salami on toast. At least with the blizzard the temperature is rising and the hut gradually warms up so we have a cosy day with our books. Andrew is into a suspense-filled novel, Ivor is on his way to the South Pole with Scott and Amundsen and what am I reading? What's so amazing about Grace– I thought it was going to be an emotional/inspirational story about a girl named Grace but it turns out to be a theological treatise about the act of giving grace! In what can only be a bizarre Antarctic phenomenon I actually begin to almost enjoy reading it and the day passes relatively quickly.

By late afternoon the blizzard has abated and Andrew and I head out for a quick recce of the route we hope to take the following day to get down onto the sea ice. Keeping our feet warm in the deep snow and on the ice is not difficult – knee high Mukluck snow boots with heavy lambswool liners, inside which there are polypropylene liners followed by thick hand knitted woollen socks (thank you Aunty Faye) followed by holeproof explorer socks!

Skiing in soft , ankle-deep snow.
Skiing in overcast conditions with light snow still falling. Visibility was poor and ground definition non-existent. May 2003. Photo P. Lovell

Back to the hut and alas! We have exhausted our supply of crayfish so we have to make do with camembert cheese and red wine before our curried sausages followed by backgammon, cards and more red wine. Not so early to bed (the hut is now warm) and we crash out until dawn on Monday morning. Up at the crack of dawn (9.30 am, the Antarctic winter does have some advantages) we are disappointed to find that there has been 20-30 cm of snow overnight and that visibility is less than a kilometre. Not to be deterred, we head off on our skis and the visibility improves slightly. After about an hour of pushing our skis through ankle-deep soft snow Herring Island is still lost in the snow but we come across a small hole in the ice and are surprised to sea a Weddell seal. This provides a pleasant diversion and time to stop discuss the merits of pushing on.

Herring Island Apple - a fibreglass survival shelter.
Herring Island Apple - a fibreglass survival shelter. May 2003. Photo P. Lovell

After a few minutes of discussion Ivor is outvoted (after all he is only the station leader) and we push onwards to Herring which is now appearing out of the snow. We reach Herring and ski along the coastline a couple of hundred meters offshore until we sight the Apple and then head upwards to check it out.

Inside and out it is a bit of a mess needing some basic repairs and a good clean out. Ivor soon has the kettle on and gas heater running as we make lists of what will need to be done.

Homeward bound. Ivor and Andrew strut their stuff on skis.
Homeward bound. Ivor and Andrew strut their stuff on skis. May 2003. Photo P. Lovell

Back onto the skis again as we need to make tracks to reach Robbos hut before dark. A brief stop at the seal hole on the way back sees the weather clearing, the scenery become stunning again with dark islands and brooding blue ice cliffs as our thoughts turn to next time… Will there be blizzards? How cold can it really get? Is our gear going to be good enough? Will there be more crayfish…

This page was last updated on 28 April 2003.