Sled hauling to the Rauer Islands
A Davis station tradition of many years is the winter traverse, an overland trip utilising Hägglunds, or 'häggs' which involves leaving the relative safety of the Vestfold Hills and crossing the Sorsdal Glacier to the Rauer Island group. This small collection of islands lays a mere 40 odd kilometers to the south of Davis, yet the safest route via Hägg is a whopping 100+ kms.
This is due to the limited access up and onto the plateau, the crossing of the treacherous crevasse fields, seemingly endless Antarctic icy wasteland and negotiating the access ramps hidden amongst the steep cliffs protecting the Rauers group. This year, in addition to this traverse, a small group of expeditioners decided to do it the hard way, man-hauling sleds on foot.
In what was the culmination of over four months of planning, training, modifying and fine tuning equipment, and a 17 page safety analysis; Rick, Boj and myself set out to do what apparently had never been done before and walk over 105 kms to the Rauers group.
Setting out a few days before the second Rauers Hägg traverse team, we took a shortcut and walked the 40+ kms across the sea ice, up Ellis Fjord, Lake Druzhby and Crooked Lake to access the Sorsdal Glacier via Flanders Moraine, dragging our gear behind us in customised RMIT uni sleds. From here, we left our sleds at the base of the glacier, continued on foot with packs up the long uphill section of blue ice to meet the traverse team at a pre-designated checkpoint, the Russian fuel dump. Roped together in standard mountaineering three man team formation, we maintained visual/radio contact with the traverse team through the most potentially dangerous 10 km section of crevasse field; a requirement included in our operational plan, and we thankfully crossed without any major mishaps.
From here, we were on our own, and set off for the remainder of the trip with sleds in tow. Each 50 kg sled had been customised and packed with all of the necessary equipment, including a polar pyramid three man tent, twin MSR cooking kit, personal sleeping kit to handle the potential - 40ºC temperatures, ropes/rescue/first aid gear and enough supplies to last over a week, in case bad weather set in. At the end of our first day on the plateau, we set camp at the base of a large slope and settled down to a hot meal of dehydrated lamb casserole, watching the sun set over the distant Rauers.
After spending a chilly & windy night out, we broke camp and set out to make the most of good weather and cross to the base of the Sorsdal Glacier in a day. This proved to be epic, covering nearly 30 kms of undulating and at times, bloody steep terrain with katabatic winds, which whilst mild by plateau terms, blew our sleds in all directions, with a number of frustrating roll overs. In fading light, and unable to locate the access ramp into the Rauers, we set camp in the strong winds, and settled down for a restless night.
The following morning, with the wind increasing from a constant howl to a near deafening roar, we rapidly broke camp and set off to find the ramp, to escape the approaching blizzard conditions on the plateau. Several hours later, and a hundred or so metres lower in altitude, we thankfully made it to the sea ice and into the Rauers. From here, it was relatively easy going, and we wandered the last 20 odd kms in mild winds and sunny skies to our rendezvous with the traverse team at Hop Island. A well-deserved feed and a few drinks with the crew helped celebrate both our successful crossing and Boj’s 40th birthday in the relative comfort of the Hop Island 'Smartie' (hut).
We were lucky enough to be given another day to sight-see and explore the Rauers, as the weather conditions had deteriorated to a blizzard on the plateau, sealing off any return path until it had passed. The following day we returned, this time more sensibly in the Hägg with the traverse team, and with blistered feet, frost nipped fingers and tired bodies, started planning the next adventure.