This week at the station
This week at Mawson: 27 September 2013
While travelling we saw the sun setting, the sky transformed by the colourful hues of dusk and the orange glow of the full moon as it rose directly ahead on our path to Auster.
When we arrived at the rookery the moon had risen fairly high in the sky and the entire scene was bathed in moonlight. We spent a couple of hours taking night shots, enjoying the ambience of Auster, illuminated by the gentle light of the moon before we headed back to the hut at Macey, arrival time 2:30 am. What a night!Up again at 8:00 am we had a quick breakfast, packed up and took off back to Auster. There was a light cover of cloud although it was still quite bright. The wind and the temperature were both comfortable, a good combination for a day outside. Sitting on the ice well back from the colony, it wasn’t long until a few adult birds wandered over to hang out with me, then others started to come along with their chicks in tow. Amazing. The penguin chicks are getting bigger and more inquisitive so it wasn’t long until I was surrounded by penguins of all sizes. Hundreds of photos later, it was time to move on. There was a tide crack that needed investigating.
The hole in the tide crack had been opened up by Weddel seals and the penguins were also using it to gain access to the ocean so they could fish and bathe. Constant use of the hole would help to keep it open as well. The antics of the penguins as they dive in and out of the hole is priceless, they seemed to be just playing and bathing in the water, having a good time without a care in the world. At times they would dive in one at a time in single file, then the next time it would be stacks on them all all at once, and the same again when they jump out.
A Weddel seal would come to the hole every now and then to get a few breaths of air and rest for a while before it dived back down into the depths. I guess it may have been fishing as it never attempted to come out onto the ice. While the seal was resting at the hole all penguin activity ceased; they were very wary, not sure if the seal was friend or foe. Another few hundred photos later and it was time to leave and make our way back to station after another great trip to visit the penguins.
That’s it, another Icy News story about Auster. It’s a great place to be and I’m sure this isn’t the last Auster news story
A wreck in a crevasse field
Living at Mawson can sometimes get you down a bit with weeks of bad weather, strong winds and dull, dark overcast days pretty much confining you to station or even to your room. Sometimes it feels like you are living in a bubble but then the wind stops blowing and the sun comes out and there’s a scurry to get off station for recreation to lift the spirit.
On Friday 20th September 2013 John, Justin and I left the station at 10.30 in the morning and headed up the plateau in bright sun and blue sky for a search and rescue (SAR) training exercise on glacial travel to keep our skills up, just in case we have to apply these techniques in the future to rescue somebody. Conditions were perfect and it was great to be going up the plateau for a change. The sastrugi was light so we made pretty good progress up the Fang line to F14. Once at F14, we turned off at the Rumdoodle moraine line and headed North West until we reached the waypoint for the safe parking area just outside of the crevassed area. The temperature was up to minus seven and I was sweating and had to remove my fleecy while we were kitting up as I was so hot. The amount of gear required for glacial travel is huge but we have to be tied together and be able to rescue each other if any of us should fall into a slot. Finally after we were all kitted out, I had my movie camera mounted on my helmet and we headed off with John in the lead and Justin taking up the rear.
Our goal for the exercise was to reach the remains of a Russian aircraft which was damaged during take-off 46 years ago and abandoned to the elements. Picking our way through the crevassed area was quite nerve wracking and required a lot of concentration, but you just had to put the consequences out of your mind and get on with the task. Most of the crevasses were covered with thin snow bridges and any suspect areas had to be probed and checked with an ice axe before any attempt at crossing them could be made. The ice depth here is over 400 meters deep and when you open these crevasses up all you can see is an eerie blue bottomless abyss. Some of the slots were narrow enough to jump over while others had to be walked as you probed the snow depth with your ice axe. After quite some time we came over a rise and right there was the aircraft. The last twenty meters was probably the worst as it was all snow and you had no idea how many slots were covered over.
It was pretty amazing to see all this metal in this white desert. First we reached one of the engines that had separated from the aircraft and it looked to be in remarkably good condition.
We made our way over to the aircraft without incident and walked all around it inspecting everything in fine detail. It was clear it was a pretty rough old aircraft back when it was flying but what was amazing was the remarkable condition it was in after all these years laying on the blue ice being battered by blizzards for the past forty six years.
Inside I could see a tent, fire extinguisher, axes and other bits and pieces, but all the instruments in the cockpit had been removed. I sat in the cockpit and reflected on the dramatic end of the aircraft when it was blown into a crevasse while trying to take off all those years ago. Finally, we said farewell and started our journey back following our footsteps back to the waiting Hagglunds.
And now for some history
The aircraft was a Lisunov Li-2, a license-built version of the American DC3. It had arrived in Mawson in December 1968 to lay a fuel dump. Back then Mawson was regularly used as a refuelling and rest stop between the two Russian Antarctic bases Mirny and Molodyezhnaya. When leaving and taxiing down the Rumdoodle runway a strong gust of wind caught the plane and blew it into a crevasse, damaging the landing gear, starboard wing and starboard propeller. The Russian crew were collected the following day by two planes which flew out from Molodyezhnaya but the damaged plane remained.
The plane was securely tied down by the tail and two wing tips by a party from Mawson at the beginning of February 1969. It survived several blizzards, but on the 8-9 April there was a major blizzard with wind gusts up to 123 knots which destroyed it. Basically, it tried to fly; the fuselage broke into two near the tail, and the body of the aircraft flipped onto its back, rotating about the wing tie downs. Eventually the remains were blown into the heavily crevassed area where it remains to this day.
This same Lisunov Li-2T aircraft #CCP-04214 was brought to Antarctica in 1958 and was used in 1961 to evacuate the seriously-ill expeditioner Alan Newman from Mawson, for the first leg of a three-aircraft trip to New Zealand via Mirny and McMurdo stations.
Oktoberfest Mawson style
Last Saturday we celebrated the opening day of Oktoberfest 2013. This was the first time in nine years that I couldn't attend the day in Munich. I am only one of 15 people that can say they attended at Mawson, which makes it just as exciting. A few of you will be asking why Oktoberfest is in September, but this is because each year the event runs for approximately 16 days and ends the 1st weekend in October.
The day started out by waking early to get our pig on the spit roasting away. With the help of some volunteers this was monitored over the next few hours while a few more of us prepared the rest of the food. Earlier on in the year our brew master had made a selection of brews from four different brands of beer so the recreation area was divided into four different 'tents'.
Once all the food was ready and any minor jobs for the day had been done, everyone on station entered our 'festival grounds' and watched the traditional walking in of the beers. The Mayor of Mawson (our station leader) open the first drink. Everyone then sat down in the 'tent' in which they would try their first Mawson Oktoberfest beer. It was an entertaining time for all involved with great food and a variety different beers to taste.
Although I missed the rides that are at the traditional Oktoberfest, I didn't miss the sitting around for three hours to get your first beer. We had traditional Oktoberfest music playing and once everyone learnt the words and started to sing along the atmosphere was as good with 15 as it normally is with 6000. I'll be back in Munich next year but I'd like to thank all of the helpers and everyone for joining in and making this Oktoberfest one I'll never forget.