A rather epic trip to Law Dome and Stu’s orange birthday, this week from Casey station.

Law Dome trip

The sun was trying to warm the frozen white land like two old friends reunited after many years apart. The wind was blowing ever so gently, and if there had been birds I imagine that they would have been singing. It was one of those lovely late September afternoons when five intrepid companions set off on their adventures to the magical Law Dome. There was Gunny the gunnyest, Shane the comms-y-est, Matt the deiso-y-est, Ian the plumb-y-est and Stuart the spark-y-est.   

This adventure, just like so many others, had been deferred a number of times, mostly due to very inclement weather. This weather at one stage had decided to, ever so neatly, remove the door from the movable ‘castle', which the five of them would be dwelling in.

There was much excitement and anticipation as Matt fired up the massive and very impressive Caterpillar Challenger “ZARROOM”. This vehicle would be driven and commanded by Matt and Shane, and would not only tow the ‘castle’ but also another sled which held our safety equipment and other things like spare teddy bears in case we got scared. The second vehicle, a Hägglunds, had been selected by the station PI, but only after hours looking at each vehicle and juggling every detail and considering every flaw (you see no two Hägglunds are the same). His mind made up, K29 would be the chariot for Ian, Gunny, and Stuart.

K29,  the newest Hägglunds on station, was a bright and brilliant yellow, with the blackest of black tracks. It stands around 7ft high with a massive motor and, with the most advanced intercom system and electronics, this machine could and would go anywhere — a true creature of beauty. Stuart turned the key and the massive motor roared to life. Everyone was ready — we were a “GO”.

The radio in the communications office crackled to life: “VNJ Casey VNJ Casey, this is VNJ 1 on Channel 7, do you copy?”

The communications operator replied and the Hägglunds radio also came to life: “This is VNJ Casey go ahead VNJ 1.”

“VNJ 1 leaving station bound for Law Dome over”

With the Challenger in the lead the adventure had begun. The beauty and wonder of this land is like nothing anyone in the party had ever seen before. It is truly amazing to look out at nothing but white and blue and have your breath totally taken away from you. The first few hours into the trip, no one said a word.

After several hours everything was going smoothly when there was a call over the radio: “We’re here — time to setup” the voice said. This was of course not true but we stopped to see what all the fuss was about. You see there was an Englishman lurking in the group, and he had already gone far too long without a cup of tea. In other words, the cup he was just drinking was now empty and this simply would not do. This was one of many tea breaks for “Look at this interesting piece of snow” and “Oh look, it’s another piece of flat Antarctic plateau”.  

Around 1800 in the evening we stopped and made camp. We had an amazing dinner prepared on station by the station food engineer. The sun was setting throwing up lovely orange and yellow in the sky, a nice farewell to a lovely day. After the evening radio sched there were some lovely stories told by Gunny about how things were in his day, while sitting around the table. Then everyone went to bed in a mellow and contented mood, excited about what wonders there was to behold on the next day.

Day two started much earlier than the first with the vehicles refreshed with fuel and everyone in the mood to get there and get the work done. We left camp a little after 0800, again with Matt in the lead. We travelled for a few hours only stopping once for a cup of tea, arriving at the magical Law Dome a little after 1330.

It was everything that we had expected and more: endless white only broken by the bluest of skies. It was also nice to find the automated weather station in one piece, after all, it was the reason we were there. However, after many cups of tea, a spot of lunch and well needed afternoon naps, we found the automated weather station was not operating correctly. Gunny look disheartened when he told us the news that the automated weather station would have to come down and stay down.

“Oh well Gunny” Matt piped up with a smile on his face. “Now we get to head back home again and look at how beautiful the night is.”

The sun had gone leaving only the stars behind, each one twinkling like a bunch of young people listening to one song, but none of them having quite the right beat. We stood outside for what seemed like an hour watching the satellites chase each other across the night sky. It was much more like five minutes in the cold. We then drove well into the night, stopping only to eat, swap out drivers, and then finally to sleep.

Day three started, for some reason, with a strong urgency to get home. I think it was because it was the first morning we had awoken to no sun, grey skies, and very poor definition. The driving was hard but we knocked over the remaining kilometres, only stopping twice for tea.

It was around 1630 when the radio unexpectedly roared into life in the comms office: “VNJ Casey VNJ Casey, VNJ 1 on Channel 7”

“This is VNJ Casey go ahead VNJ 1” the comms operator replied.

“VNJ 1 returning to base. All people are safe and all vehicles are returned undamaged.” I can only image the singing and dancing all over the station at that point, but I was in the Hägglunds at the time and it had stopped by the time I got inside — I can only guess.

As trip leader, I would like to thank everyone on station who took part and supported in one way or another.

Stu’s birthday

It is hard to get Stu to smile at any time but on Saturday night we celebrated his birthday in style and we got a rare treat.

Eddie thought about it for a while and went with an orange theme. Crayfish and prawn mornay for the entree, a massive barbeque steak with kumara chips for the main, and individual orange-ginger-carrot cakes with white chocolate orange icing and mandarins for dessert.