Except for the tops of a few bamboo canes and steel poles that mark the route to the summit the only object standing above the snow on Law Dome is an Automatic Weather Station (AWS). This lonely sentinel, more than 100km from Casey and almost 1400m above sea level, measures the weather and reports its data via polar orbiting satellites. More than a metre of compacted snow accumulates on the summit of Law Dome each year and the AWS equipment will eventually become inundated and buried in snow if left unchecked. Almost three metres of snow had accumulated in the two years since the last major maintenance visit so a trip was scheduled and planned so that the AWS could be re-elevated above the snow. We were prepared for possible poor weather conditions but the equipment was configured and organised so that the entire task would only take a few days in mild weather.
A team consisting of Misty, Cam, Jamie and myself (Mark G), travelling in two Hägglunds and towing two sled-trailers containing tools, equipment and camping gear, departed Casey on an overcast morning and headed up the hill. The ‘hill’ of compacted snow and ice has a definite slope when departing Casey but after passing the ski-way, the gradient is so slight that it’s difficult to perceive when looking uphill. The overcast sky made snow surface condition difficult to see but it was relatively smooth during the early part of the journey and took a little over seven hours to reach the summit site. Our polar-pyramid tent camp was set up immediately after arrival. With fading light and ambient temperature around minus 30, our activity then focussed on dinner and bed.
The following morning the base for a new AWS mast was ‘planted’ in the snow and by the end of the day the six and a half metre pole with the AWS equipment attached had been raised and guyed into position. Some mechanical issues and a faulty heater in the back of one of the Haggs also kept Cam busy during the day.
The following morning we awoke to another day of light winds with the added bonus of blue sky and sunshine. With equipment checks completed and our polar camp packed away we departed after midday and headed back to Casey. Bright sunlight and good surface definition made the journey home easier and slightly quicker.
As the twilight faded I’m sure we were all glad to see the ‘town lights’ of Casey as we headed back down the hill.
A personal footnote
As a trip leader it is easy to get caught up in preparation, equipment, procedures and completing a task safely. Despite the cold and any minor discomforts associated with antarctic travel, camping and work this was an enjoyable experience.
I don’t recall your exact words Misty, but after we had raised the AWS mast you smiled and made a comment that reminded me that we had also achieved something very positive and worthwhile. Thank you.