A team head out on a traverse to Law Dome and service the automatic weather station, we get to know Ducky and Brendan shares his photos.

Between the bergs: with Steve ‘Muscles’ Middleton: The 2017 Law Dome traverse

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!

5 minutes with the Casey 70th ANARE crew: Ducky Gillies

Name: Shaun Gillies

Nicknames: Ducky

From: Hobart Tasmania

Previous seasons?

2014/15 Davis winter
2016 Davis summer

Job title: Plumber

Describe your role in two sentences:

Install and maintain plumbing services and infrastructure in and around station.

What did you do before your joined the AAD?

I was sub-contracting in Hobart on new residential property’s doing drainage, gas and potable water service installs. Prior to that I worked at a rental company as a maintenance plumber.

What is your favourite part of your job here at Casey?

The ongoing battle between good (melt bell) and the bad (the freezing melt lake).

If you were not a plumber what would be your dream job?

At home a fire fighter, here on station it have to be storeman —sleeping in and only doing a couple hours of work each day and holding the station potato chip supply at ransom!

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south?

Apples and oranges — different people, different place… same cold continent

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Well, I’m currently putting all my spare time into a Lego version of the Star Wars ‘Death Star’ although someone keeps knocking it over so I have to start from scratch each week. I also like the atmosphere of Splinters bar on occasion, oh and who could forget Sunday movie club full of 80’s and 90’s classics!

What song sums up your Casey experience so far?

Hmm, it would be hard to pass up Chicken Fried and most of Misty’s expansive collection of country music… that and No Aphrodisiac by the Whitlams mostly because it constantly plays on the radio.

What actor would play you in a film version of our 70th ANARE season here at Casey?

Well there is only one actor I could ever think of — the handsome debonair that is KURT RUSSELL.

What is your favourite hut for field trips and why?

In the summer, Brownings because of the wildlife and view of the Vanderford Glacier and in winter, well you cant beat the space and the wood fire at Wilkes.

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit?

My grey AAD issued beanie (sobs quietly)

What is your favourite book / movie (or both) and why?

Favourite book, well I've read all the Jack Reacher novels while down here and Ready Player One, they were good but I think Misery by Stephen King is my favourite. And movie well there is so many but The Thing (the Kurt Russell version) inspired me to come to Antarctica, although I found my experiences to be slightly different to those of ‘Mac’ MacReady.

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? Do you have a particular favourite?

I like when the one playlist of 10 songs plays for a week on end…

Describe your Casey experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste.

Sight: Fata Morgana, it’s a type of Antarctic mirage, for example when you are diving down from Wilkins aerodrome and the weather is right, it looks like the icebergs are floating or that the horizon/landscape is loading or buffering.

Smell: the classic ‘absence of smell’ it’s always a topic down here, but if your walking near the mess on an afternoon and smell a roast or similar there’s nothing better! Adam R once told me his favourite smell is orange spray in the morning… I am not sure why?

Feeling: I Guess that would be comfort knowing that you can spend going on 12 months with the same 21 people and never run out of conversation topics — it’s  a special feeling.

Sound: Hmm 3 am fire alarm is always classic, the sound of the sea ice creaking and groaning as the tide changes beneath it.

Taste: Cant beat the heel (crusty end) of a fresh loaf of  bread.

Do you have a favourite quote that you’d like to leave us with?

When you do things right, no-one will be sure you have done anything at all — Unknown

Light thinks it travels faster than anything, but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it. — Terry Pratchett.

My Casey in pictures: Brendan Hopkins