This week at Davis: 3 November 2017

The last fortnight at Davis has been busy with recreational field trips, our 'End of Winter' dinner, building a sea ice runway and receiving our first plane of the season.

Station update

As we approach the end of our time here at Davis, things are getting busy both on and off station. Last week we were still clearing roads of snow, monitoring sea ice and getting in our final overnight recreational trips of the season. Last Friday we also had our 'End of Winter' dinner. This was a sumptuous feast created by our talented chef Kerryn, celebrated with much laughter and capped off with a performance from our band.

This week has been all about getting the Davis Ski Landing Area (runway), up and running and officially opened. Team Dieso has been working tirelessly on grooming a relatively flat airstrip out of the snow covered sea ice in front of station which is needed for our fixed wing aviation program early in the summer season. Once it was completed, then it was just about waiting for the plane to arrive.

The band (Version 3.0)

Wednesdays here at Davis are band practice nights. Both sets of fire door leading towards the SMQ (sleeping medical quarters) are closed to preserve the sanity of the non-muses and the amps are fired up – full blast.

2017 has had long musical history with this being the third band of the season. The first two, 'The Dingleberry's' and 'Seven Quads and a Hägg' played after the formalities of Australia Day and midwinter celebrations. The third group, yet to be named, will be playing at the 'End of Winter' dinner and promise to be a musical extravaganza with songs like Khe Sahn and Time of Your Life.

With Tony and Jock on guitar; Rhys on bass and vocals; Robert, magic lips, whistler and vocals; Fitzy on guitar and vocals and Ralph on the drums – here is a sneak preview of them in action.

Lötter (Roady and No 1 Fan)

A man playing a bass guitar.
Rhys 'Knofler' on the bass.
(Photo: Lötter Kock)
A man playing the drums.
Hard rocker Ralph drumming away.
(Photo: Lötter Kock)
A man playing the drums and another playing the acoustic guitar.
Tony busted out some rhythm.
(Photo: Lötter Kock)
A group of expeditioners with their instruments completing a sound check.
Sound check. Robert, Fitzy, Rhys and Jock.
(Photo: Lötter Kock)
A man sitting back in a chair playing a guitar.
Jock jamming.
(Photo: Lötter Kock)

Ralph land

I have spent a few weeks learning to ski, mainly just around station with a few attempts at Dingle Road. I had never done it before but figured it would be a shame to not try while I was here. Under the patient tutelage of Sharkey I can now sometimes not fall over. Finally overconfidence won out, and I decided I wanted to ski to a hut dragging a sled. A plan was made for station à Rookery, Rookery à Brookes, and Brookes à station.

My departure on this heroic trek was ruined slightly by a particular embarrassing fall in sight of the LQ, witnessed by many.

The first day had beautiful weather, and at one point our party increased to three when an Adélie decided to join us for about half an hour. We figured he thought we were just big penguins. I figured he was just an Adélie, and daft things are what they do. Day two and three were not quite as nice as an overcast sky meant loss of surface definition, making travel a lot more difficult. Overall I have decided I really like skiing, especially when you get the glide thing to work on cross country, and I will really miss it.

Otherwise I made another attempt at quad bikes and spent a day checking out Gardner Island, as well as around Rookery. I am yet to find the white penguin but I will keep trying. Their numbers have exploded over the last few weeks and it has gone from the occasional sighting, to hillsides covered by the affectionately named, 'Antarctic chickens'.

Station side we continue to dig out more snow, make beds and get things in order for the summer arrivals. It was exciting to see the ship leave, but it does mean everything truly is coming to an end.

More seals pups have been found, with twins even being recorded. More birds are being spotted as well which is nice.

We had our final formal dinner last week, with great efforts by the chief putting on a huge spread. The big table was also set up, upstairs for the occasion making it a rather special evening. The band, named 'This Is It!', put on a spectacular show with Rob’s improvised lyrics having the desired effect. I feel I will need to buy a drum set when I get home.

Hope all is well back in the real world.

Ralph (Doctor)

Jock's silhouette is seen on the edge of an island with a penguin colony seen beyond him.
Jock taking in the ambience.
(Photo: Christopher Darlington)
A penguin colony is seen in the distance. Icebergs line the horizon.
The penguin colony is filling up at Rookery Lake.
(Photo: Christopher Darlington)

A long weekend in the Vestfold Hills

Last weekend Kirsten, Rob and I had the opportunity to head out in the Vestfold Hills for a three day weekend. The weather was superb and there was a feel of Spring in the air.

First stop was the penguin colony at Magnetic Island. Just two weeks before we visited the island to find it devoid of any life. It is quite amazing that in two weeks some much wildlife has returned to the region. We then headed into Shirokaya Bay near Brookes Hut and found several Weddell seals all with pups by their side.

The next stage of our Vestfold Odyssey was a drive along Long Fjord, then crossing over Pioneer Crossing into Tryne Fjord. We deviated into the second little bay on the right and parked the Hägglunds on the snow. After a 500 metre hike up a narrow valley we came upon a mummified crabeater seal, well preserved by the dry cold air. A little further on, we stepped onto Lichen Lake.

The iced fresh water of this lake is something to behold. The surface is mirror smooth and one can see right into the blue ice to the rocky lake bottom. The intricate patterns of the cracks and suspended bubbles is a sight I will never forget.

Travelling further north we crossed over into Snezhnyy Bay made our way to a huge wind scour crescent that surrounds a rock monolith island. This scour has been formed over centuries of fierce winds that descend from the plateau. It appears like a giant wave frozen in time.

We stayed at bandits that night and the next day we went exploring the icebergs to the north. We also wanted to visit Mikkelsen’s cairn but it was surrounded by hundreds of breeding Adèlie penguins so we sat nearby and enjoyed their company.

While we were this far north we decided to pay a visit to Sir Hubert Wilkins cairn. After being distracted by some amazing colourful icebergs we finally located the cairn and hiked up the steep hill.

It was only when I saw this box that I became quite emotional. As we opened it and looked through its contents and then unfurled the flag, I realised a life's dream to be able to stand at a place that Wilkins had been in 1933.

I have read and heard so much about this amazing man who was explorer, aviator and Australian hero and legend. Please read the book The Last Explorer (written by Simon Nasht). You too will be truly amazed.

Barend (Barry B1)

The penguin colony at Magnetic Island.
The penguin colony at Magnetic Island.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A Weddell seal pup suckling.
A Weddell seal pup suckling.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The beautiful lake ice at Lichen Lake.The ice is as clear as glass with deep cracks through it.
The beautiful lake ice at Lichen Lake.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Bubbles trapped in the ice at Lichen Lake looking like abstract art.
Lichen Lake bubbles.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The big wind scour in Snezhnyy Bay, looking like a big wave.
The big wind scour in Snezhnyy Bay.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Bandits hut looking very picturesque perched up on a hill with icebergs all around it.
The very picturesque Bandits hut.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A candy striped berg.
A candy striped berg.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Mikkelsen's Cairn, marked by the white pole but surrounded by penguins.
Mikkelsen's Cairn, marked by the white pole but surrounded by penguins.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Barry B1 at Wilkin's Cairn.
Barry B1 at Wilkin's Cairn.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)

Making a runway

The biggest activity going on at Davis over the last two weeks has been the construction of the Ski Landing Area, or runway, on the sea ice just off station. This involves creating an area of 1.5 km by 50 m, which is relatively flat, heading into the prevailing wind direction, and marked out and flagged for use by aircraft.

Because the runway is located on sea ice, it is seasonal. It is created around late October when the first plane arrives ahead of the summer season and remains open until the sea ice starts to decline in quality or Woop Woop (the Ski Landing Area up on the Plateau) is up and running.

As we have yet to receive our summer crew, which includes the aviation ground support officers (AGSO’s), it’s up to the mechanics to groom the snow and create the runway. How much work it requires largely depends upon the weather conditions experienced over winter. In our year of abundant snow fall, our sea ice has a thick covering of snow on it, so this was groomed to provide a flat surface but essentially left in place. In some places this snow is up to half a metre thick, while the ice is over 1.6 m deep.

Part of the requirement of setting up the runway was for two people on station attend an aviation reporting officer workshop. Richard and I were the two people selected to do this course and attended the 4 am video link with the AGSO’s training in Hobart to become qualified to take on this role.

With three diesos who are perfectionists, the runway was always going to be done to spec. The hours spent grooming the site however, and the beautifully geometric result, is like a piece of art. Consequently, when Richard and I went around conducting the Serviceability and Condition reports in order to officially open the runway, the measurements were spot on.

Once open and during the flying schedule, the runway is checked daily for smoothness and any unwanted obstacles. Richard checks the smoothness of the surface by driving a skidoo up and down the runway. This is the highlight of his day. I think he’ll have separation anxiety from the skidoo once the AGSO’s arrive and claim the runway for themselves.

The obstacles encountered are mostly the occasional penguin who out of curiosity, walks over to check it out. Tobogganing on the groomed surface is also pretty effective, and they seem to enjoy crossing from one side to another on their bellies. They soon lose interest however and continue on their way.

Another activity we underwent in preparation of starting our flying season was to conduct an emergency response exercise with a plane in the scenario. This covered topics like how to evacuate a plane, and who would do what in a real emergency involving medical, mechanical and environmental factors.

Having got ourselves fully prepared to receive the Twin Otter that was due to arrive on Saturday it was now a case of ‘hurry up and wait’ until they got here. The team of three: Doug (captain), Jeff (co-pilot) and Ryan (engineer) are Canadian and very experienced at working in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

Their journey to Davis began in Calgary, they then stopped en route in Costa Rica, Punta Arenas, Rothera station, the South Pole and ended here. The one leg between the South Pole and Davis took 10.5 hours due to inclement weather around the Amery Iceshelf. They finally arrived yesterday, and with our 1.5 km long runway, they only used about a third of it. This super agile plane gracefully floated down to us, with her skis ready, looking like a seabird with its feet out ready to touch down.

It was fantastic to see the team arrive. And quite strange to have three new faces on station. They blend right into the team however, and are looking forward to lots of flying in the weeks ahead.

Kirsten (Station Leader)

Jock in the groomer pushing snow - day one of making a runway.
Jock in the groomer - day one of making a runway.
(Photo: Christopher Darlington)
A groomer is seen pushing snow around. Areas already groomed are corregated and smoother than the surrounding sea ice.
The area is measured out using a GPS, marked with canes and…
(Photo: Christopher Darlington)
The finished runway, marked out with flags and ready to receive a plane.
The finished runway, marked out with flags and ready to receive a…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The corrugated surface of a groomed runway.
The corrugated surface of a groomed runway.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Kirsten and Richard doing the Serviceability and Condition Reports to officially open the runway.
Kirsten and Richard doing the Serviceability and Condition Reports to officially open…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Richard testing the runway condition (smoothness) with a skidoo.
Richard testing the runway condition (smoothness) with a skidoo.
(Photo: Marc Mills)
The Twin Otter does a pass over the runway before landing, while the penguins look on.
The Twin Otter does a pass over the runway before landing, while…
(Photo: Marc Mills)
The Twin Otter coming in to land.
The Twin Otter coming in to land.
(Photo: Marc Mills)
The Twin Otter taxing into the parking bay after a ten and a half hour flight from the South Pole.
The Twin Otter taxing into the parking bay after a ten and…
(Photo: Marc Mills)
Finally Twin Otter is here.
Finally the Twin Otter is here.
(Photo: Marc Mills)
Our three new team members: Doug (Twin Otter Captain), Ryan (Engineer) and Jeff (Co-pilot).
Our three new team members: Doug (Twin Otter Captain), Ryan (Engineer) and…
(Photo: Barry Becker)