So for all you folk back on the mainland, what is it some of your family and friends might get up to?
You may have heard them say they went cross country or Nordic skiing over the weekend, or even skied to a hut as an overnight adventure, or it might be on their list of things to do before their flight home, whenever that may be.
The past few weekends has seen a flurry of keen skiers, some who didn’t even realise their potential as a ‘recreational Antarctic Nordic skier’ until afterwards.
With trip possibilities from overnight sled hauls to Jacks, Wilkes, Robinson huts, or day trips to the Mitchell Peninsula or the Wilkes Hilton for a cuppa, these trips can be as short as three hours or a more solid outing of six to seven hours.
As part of our standard operating procedure, we gather all our communication devices, survival packs, water (speciality at the moment is hot ginger in a thermos!) food, and a good dose of sunscreen, and proceed to head out the door. Some folk prefer to carry their survival pack (12–18 kg) or like me I like to strap it to a sled and haul it.
Last week, a fresh four, we headed to Jacks hut which is 12 kilometres away. Three of us skied and one came on a quad bike to bring some additional equipment: grey water container, some hut supplies, and extra warm gear and food. The ski starts off with a gentle 200 metre climb over six kilometres up to A-08 (waypoint marker) the ‘four way junction in the road’. We turn here and were greeted with untracked fresh snow stretching out in front of us. By this stage the clouds were starting to burn off and the sun could be seen making its way to us.
We continued our idyllic pace, hauling our sleds for a further six kilometres to Jacks hut where we were settling in for the night. En route we spied an ‘odd’ additional feature next to a cane marker. “Hmm, I don’t remember that being there last time” I thought. Soon enough an emperor penguin figure is recognised. We believe it must be a young one, very healthy looking, happy to hang out by the flag and interested in us, slightly. We are fortunate to see an emperor as the Adèlie penguin is the local penguin that is abundant in the region, so this opportunity has made our trip that extra bit more special.
Jacks hut is located on the edge of a moraine line, 60 metres above sea level with a fantastic view out over the ocean. Just the usual icebergs, penguins seals and sea ice views we are privy to down here.
Our evening was short as we arrived around 1930 hours but in a short time we had a brew going and dinner steaming. Sleep came easily, the odd ‘purring’ is heard but a wee prod in the mattress above me was given and quietness was heard again. The complete silence down here is amazing: no wind, no movement or hum of generators can be heard, just your brain whirring away!
We awoke to a gorgeous morning. Time was spent going through the morning routines and then we departed with our sleds in tow. Not far from the hut we run into our emperor penguin again, sitting next to the next flag along. He/she was still pretty relaxed about our presence. More photos and questions around what he/she is doing here took place and we continue the gradual climb back on the plateau. Back at the four way junction (A-08) we got to enjoy the gradual gradient back down towards station. Everyone has found their groove and is looking like they have been Nordic skiing since they were wee folk!
Back on station in slightly faster time, the noise of generators, vehicles and the industrial setting of station was a contrast to our fairy tale environment 12 kilometres away. Ah, it was good to get away and enjoy the simple mode of transport, with good company in good weather. We did spare a few thoughts to the early explorer days, where expeditioners hauled massive sleds in adverse weather, with clothing and food that nowadays we look at and wonder how? They sure were hardy men.
We de-mob our gear and exchange sincere sentiments of ‘thank you’ and ‘gotta do that again before we leave'. That same Sunday there was another group of four out skiing on the Mitchell peninsula for the day. They also came back with stories of great snow, great views and good company.
Antarctica is such a special place and having the ability to recreate here is a privilege. I look forward to hopefully another sled haul with great company before my departure for the summer season.
Ka kite ano. (There are eight Kiwis currently working and living at Casey station so a Maori farewell is appropriate.)
“There is nothing like sleeping in your very own tent in the vast Antarctic landscape on a luxurious therma-rest, in a toasty sleeping bag, enveloped in every available piece of padding and blindfolded to pretend it’s night time. The night I spent outside Kenny in the snow was the freshest and soundest night’s sleep I’d ever had. Mind you, our ten kilometre (?) cross country ski, in sticky conditions, was a titanic work out for a first time cross-country skier who was attempting to keep up with her 22 year old strapping son” said Cathy.
“Experiencing Antarctica on skis has been a highlight of my time here. It is an amazing feeling to explore this place under your own steam. I skied until my feet bled.” Rachel Hawker