With 'Team 1 Traverse' limping back to station for repairs to the Blue Hägglunds tracked vehicle, 'Team 2' leapt into strategic planning as a weather window for a couple of good travel days could be two days away. Pre-cooked packs of food, water, survival packs, safety equipment, summer and winter sleeping bags, snacks and extra equipment filled the two Häggs close to the brim.
An early start rolled the Häggs towing the RMIT van and a sled of fuel, complete with a portable toilet, down the graded slope out of the station. The blue Hägg led the way with Aaron, Millsie, Ducky and Birdman, and the Yellow Hägg followed right behind with Sealy, Vicki, Kev and Damian. Eight intrepid expeditioners set off for an adventure over the Sørsdal Glacier to lands and islands rarely visited in the Rauer group.
Our journey will take us 130 kilometres the long way around over the Sørsdal Glacier to islands just 30 kilometres away as the crow flies. Well into the trip we could see in the distance the mammoth Sørsdal Glacier, a gleaming block of ice scraping its way to the ocean. Our task was to crawl over the top and down the other side to pocked glistening headlands of deep blue ice. As we bumped and rolled our way to the massive edge of the glacier, team leader Aaron walked ahead in his harness probing for crevices hidden by fresh snow in sections where towers of ice festooned like shuffled playing cards, seemingly ready to swallow a Hägg and its contents.
With roaring diesel engines, the blue and yellow Häggs towed their reluctant trailers to the top of the glacier. Behold: a scene to the east, an intense naked and raw wilderness of boundless ice to the South Pole. To the northwest, sea ice and islands of icebergs like Lego blocks bobbing in a cream caramel only to be broken up with the islands off the Vestfold Hills nurturing Davis station, our home for winter.
Pushing further forward over the glacier, Millsy and Sealy steered the Häggs slowly over a precipice of ice to a panoramic view of distant coastline and more glaciers jutting into the sea ice like cream coated meringue. Down and down we travelled, chains deployed to keep the trailers from leading the procession to the icy headland. Our next challenge was to find the route down the 400 metre long Macey Headland, one access to the sea ice and then onto Hop Island. With our hearts beating to the tune of the diesel engines, a steep snow covered ramp some 500 metres long was no challenge for our tough tracked Hägglunds. Once on the sea, we set the waypoints for Hop Island, our home for the next six days. It was now ten hours into the journey and we were keen to reach our destination.
Steering our way through arched icebergs and a few seals, our Hop Island retreat was finally reached. A melon and a smarty were home for the next few days. The next day we were blessed with good weather and took off around the island group, checked on Filla Island apple hut refuge and continued on hopping to inspect the north ramp access to the islands. After some time travelling amongst sea ice locked islands we found a 100 metre bank of snow leading to north ramp. Up the blue Hägg went easily reaching the top of the bank. Soon we were on the pimpled ice headland and followed a route up to another waypoint. So, with successful access to the north ramp now proved we turned the Häggs around and headed back to Hop Island.
The next two days, we were held hostage by 50 knot winds and blowing snow, huddled inside the smartie hut drinking lots of tea and eating our hearty meals. Day five saw Birdman and Sealy venture out in light winds to change the memory cards in special cameras taking photos of rookeries and nesting sites for Antarctic petrels and fulmars. Aaron tied on the crampons and practised on a nice gentle slope next to the smartie.
With light winds and a favourable forecast, we packed the Häggs and headed for station. Halfway up the north ramp, katabatic winds picked up and slowed our progress to crawling. Occasional glimpses of the way ahead decided our fate for the night and that was to camp on the headland in the Häggs. After a great night’s sleep for four of us in the RMIT van, we headed off at first light up the icy slope. The squeaky clean rubber tracks scrambled for a toe hold on the unforgiving pimpled texture of the deep blue ice - at times the tracks broke traction - then we slowed the revs and inched forward once again. Once back en route we pushed on to Davis station for hot showers and comfortable beds.
An amazing adventure was had by all, and the Rauer traverse was completed yet again by Davis expeditioners.