14–08-17 till 18–08-17
Recently a team from Casey went to service the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) at the summit of Law Dome, the team consisted of a Muscles (mechanic), Adam (sparkie), Ducky (plumber/deputy trip leader), Misty (Wilkins aerodrome winter manager, but trip leader and plant operator for the traverse), and Mark (Meteorological technician).
After a few mechanical ‘hiccups’ on the morning of day one we were off, and about an hour out of station we ‘pulled over’ at a place called Lanyon Junction which was pretty cool, it’s out in the middle of nowhere, all you can see in any direction is flat white snow and randomly there are two antenna style towers about 6 metres tall and a wooden ‘wild west’ style sign post with area names and distances in miles written on individual wooden planks pointing off in different directions.
We got going again and just 9 short hours later we arrived and set up camp which consisted of not much more than refuelling the vehicles and parking them up then getting comfortable in the ATASI accommodation van we took with us behind the challenger. We were all quite grateful for the fact that we didn’t have a lot of setting up to do, as the ambient air temp when we got there was −38°C and needless to say it was a shock to the system to be out in it doing anything at all. Everyone was pretty tired after the trip up there, and we knew we had a lot of work ahead tomorrow so we all went pretty much straight to bed by around 10 pm.
Much to his disgust, day two consisted of Muscles fixing a coolant leak on the challenger, while for everyone else it involved helping Mark strip the old AWS and begin the process of adding the new section on top of the old one. Due to snow accumulation the AWS’s in Antarctica get buried and so, each year or two they have to be visited and made taller, sometimes they need to be excavated and then added to, but thankfully for us we didn’t have to do any digging. Ducky, Adam and Misty all helped Mark strip the old AWS then they cut off the scaffold tube upright pole that everything was attached to, and then fitted a new 6 metre tube to the stump of the old tube, attaching it with scaffold clamps.
Once that was done it was just a case of waiting for Mark to test the old equipment to see if it was still operational and determine what needed to be replaced, then we just had to bolt it all back onto the pole and make new guy wires for stability and the job was done.
Something that was great for Muscles was that he didn’t have to help with very much of the AWS stripping/rebuilding at all… the reason he didn’t have to help was because all of the machines were breaking down and he was frantically trying to keep them going. Muscles learned a lot during this traverse.
The trip home was the real highlight, heading straight into the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen, one of those ones where the sun gets split by low cloud and turns into a bright orange mirage that appears to be hovering above the horizon. Then behind us the night coming up over the opposite horizon with a well defined line between dark blue and pink, it really did look like night was coming up as the sun does in the morning. The thing that made this all so spectacular was that we were travelling along on land that to us looked like it was dead flat as far as the eye could see with absolutely nothing to break up the bareness, no trees, no undulations, no rocks, just randomly scattered strastrugi lumps around 60cm high covered by a very low blanket of blowing snow about 30cm thick that covered all the ground in a light haze/fog and wisped around the sastrugi lumps as it passed leaving the more distant ones looking more like tiny ice bergs rather than snow deposits.
Half way home Misty got bored in the challenger and started a game of eye spy with everyone over the two way which spun into a general brain teaser that consisted of riddles, eye spy, and the occasional joke thrown in to keep everyone on their toes. That lasted about an hour and filled in time very effectively, and before we knew it we were still only about half way home.
The traverse was a great experience and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it but there’s no denying that traverses are hard, from the planning involved to the actual labour of getting everything loaded up and ready, and of course the environments encountered.
Hats off to the people who do traverses that cover thousands of kilometres and take months to complete, ours was only 120km each way and it was hard enough!