This week at Mawson: 6 July 2018

Midwinter swim completed and a successful trip through to Colbeck Hut and Taylor Rookery

And then we swam!

Strange rumours of an Antarctic outdoor bathing ritual had been simmering on station for months but, naturally, I suspected it was just another joke at the expense of first-time expeditioners; that AAD humour in play.

As Midwinter approached, the level of exaggeration increased daily. Did you know there was a crocodile seen at Casey last year? Or that Leopard seals have in fact been known to swim hundreds of kilometres underwater from the sea-ice edge, conveniently popping up in your icy bath at inopportune moments?

Nevertheless, prior to Midwinter day, our handsome Dieso, Nate 'Maverick' Payne, lead a determined team of tradies in carving out a hole in the sea ice edge with an arsenal of heavy machinery. Cold fingers and mechanical faults aside, the water appeared so damn cold to me that even the krill were inclined to escape. In any case, the infamous Mawson katabatic winds ensured the event was postponed.

Fast-forward to the week after Midwinter Day, and there we were. Thirteen of us lined up like penguins, one after another, to take the plunge. Some lasted longer than others did. Some adopted a steely resolve, showing no emotion while others were less stoic. I swear I saw a crocodile attached to one expeditioner with my own eyes. All of the rumours appeared to be coming true.

When it was my turn, I double-checked my status as the only marine mammal present, dismounted the entry ladder with an air of Irish grace and upon re-emerging, I resolved that it actually wasn't that bad – revitalising if anything.

After the event had concluded, we made full use of the windless evening and warmed up in the outdoor hot tub. A tasting platter was produced and enjoyed by all and sundry as we toasted our success at tackling the Midwinter swim.

By Cormac* 

*Ed Note: Cormac had nothing to do with the writing of this article - think of it more as 'Cormac's thinking'…as presumed by A.N.Other Expeditioner!

A group of people in winter clothes around a swimming hole in the ice
Mawson swimmers at the ready for a Midwinter dip
(Photo: Patrick James)
2 men skim ice of a hole in the frozen sea ice
Termperature was such that hole kept freezing over as soon as the…
(Photo: Paul Seymour)
A woman stands by the swimming hole in full winter clothing
Donna looking forward to getting cold and wet
(Photo: E.Rodewald)
A man coming out of the swimming hole
See Cormac swim!
(Photo: Michael Brill)
A man goes swimming in the ice in a hi-vis vest
Safety first for Matt - he's not taking any chances of us…
(Photo: Nick Cullen)
The safety team around the swimming hole
And thanks to team safety - Kiwi and Paul - who didn't…
(Photo: Patrick James)

Mission accomplished for the Colbeck/Taylor Rookery trip

With such a big Midwinter celebration and all the hype it brought with it here at Mawson, it would have been nice to have a relaxing few days in its wake, but with an Emperor Penguin census on the cards immediately after the big day there was no time to relax. Taylor Glacier rookery is the oldest ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area) on the continent and the only Emperor Penguin Rookery actually on land (all the rest are on the sea ice). It has been monitored since the late 1980’s and there has been a noticeable decrease in numbers there the last few years, so our data was much anticipated. Preparations for the trip started well before Midwinter with Hägglund preparation, food and field equipment packed, as well as ensuring we had everything to carry out the needed maintenance on the penguin cameras situated around the rookery.

The team, consisting of Mark Savage, Mal Slaven, Matt Spencer, Michael Brill, Nick Cullen and Nate Payne, departed the confines of our nice warm station for Colbeck hut on 25 June at 08:00. Colbeck Hut is 90kms away over the sea ice, which might not seem all that hard in the real world but here it’s quite different. Negotiating with various cracks between the sheets of sea ice caused by restless icebergs and the dreaded rafted ice, slowed us to a walking pace for sections at a time. We eventually arrived to the welcome sight of Colbeck Hut in the afternoon. Tired from the drive we settled in and made sure we were ready for the next day to take full advantage of the small amount of daylight.

We awoke to next to no wind and knew we had the weather window we needed to carry out the repairs on the penguin cameras and the photos for the penguin census. We departed and arrived at the ASPA around 10:00am. Mark and Matt went in to carry out the penguin camera maintenance, while Nick and Michael went in to get the census photos and take full advantage of the small amount of sunlight we had available. Like a well-oiled machine it was soon ‘mission successful’ and with a little daylight still remaining, we went around the corner to Proclamation Point.

Proclamation Point is where BANZARE (British, Australia and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions), led by Sir Douglas Mawson on the 18th of February 1931 on behalf of King George the fifth, declared sovereignty over Mac.Robertson Land and Princess Elizabeth Land. It is a truly stunning location so we took in the view and read out the copy of the original proclamation Mawson left at the site and headed back to the Hut. Being our last night there, we went for a short walk around the island that the hut was situated on with a very full moon providing more than enough light to make anyone stop and 'take in the serenity'.

The next day we set off with a lot of sight-seeing along the way, so much so it took us longer to drive home then it did originally but it was all worth it for the spectacular day that it was.   

By Nate Payne

A man drills the sea ice as 2 others look on
Drilling the ice along the way to check sea ice depth
(Photo: Matthew Spencer)
A group of men stand outside a field hut
Team Colbeck made it through to the hut - the first time…
(Photo: Matthew Spencer)
A group of men crammed into a hut
Field huts are roomy, aren't they?
(Photo: Nate Payne)
Emperor Penguins at Taylor Rookery
Emperor Penguins at Taylor Rookery
(Photo: Matthew Spencer)
One of the monitoring cameras at Taylor Rookery.
One of the monitoring cameras at the Rookery - it was still…
(Photo: Matthew Spencer)
A group of men in front of the Proclamation Point plaque
Team Colbeck at Proclamation Point
(Photo: Matthew Spencer)
The plaque at Proclamation Point
The plaque at Proclamation Point
(Photo: Nate Payne)
2 hagg on the sea ice over the sea ice
Om the way home over the sea ice
(Photo: Nate Payne)