A team head out on a trek pulling sleds, which turns out to be harder than it looks.

Sea ice walk from Casey to Browning Peninsula

T’was a quiet day in September when Mark and I set off on foot with the intention of walking to Browning Hut via the sea ice, the weather was ‘spookily’ calm…

The plan was to walk the 45km over a couple of days, dragging our survival equipment, food, water and other ‘stuff’ in the Norwegian hauling sleds…Why sleds? Well because ice is nice and slippery so of course dragging sounds so much easier, read on!

The first days plan was to drop onto the sea ice at the back of station (the southern side of the Bailey Peninsula) and across the frozen sea to the Mitchell Peninsula — from here we’d go up and over the Mitchell and drop back down into Sparkes bay for more flat travel for a final uphill jaunt to Robbos Hut.

Day 1: I actually thought that the first day would be more of a struggle because we’d be crossing more ‘land’ and therefore sled hauling uphill and through deep snow, as it turns out this wasn’t too bad.  The snow had a nice frozen crust that allowed the sleds to slip along nicely meaning it only took us approximately four hours to get from Casey station to Robbos Hut.

There’s a bit of a climb when approaching Robbos Hut from the North side which certainly produced some lactic acid build up in the quads and calves, 40kg sleds on a slippery slope only tend to want to go one way but luckily we won that battle! On arrival at the hut we found that the door had been blown in after a recent storm but after a quick bit of digging we were settled in for the evening and well fed.

On a side note, for anyone who’s doing any form of academic study –while it may seem a wise idea to drag your study books along with you with the intent of putting in a couple of hours reading in the evenings, I can only advise that after a days sled hauling, my efforts only resulted in half a paragraph being read and I awoke to the imprint of my face in slobber all over my book.  I suggest leaving study books at home.

Day 2: After a hearty breakfast (two warmed up cheese scrolls) we set about leaving the hut knowing there was a long day ahead and that time management was the key.

The original plan was to head South off the ridge from Robbos Hut (down to IRBR2 on the map) however, due to the realisation that heavy sleds on ice can be a little like supermarket trolleys, I decided we’d play safe and go back the way we’d already walked the day before (via the North ramp). Ninety minutes later we finally got round to our start point for the day (waypoint 210) and realised that it was going to be a very long day.

From Robbos Hut to Browning Hut is about 30 kms, the previous day our average speed across the sea ice was 4 kmph so we were looking at an eight hour day, long but not inconceivable if we ate and drank regularly without any big breaks. There was a fair bit of snow falling and limited horizon but there was no wind and the walking conditions were good.

It’s a very surreal experience walking in a ‘white room’ with no visible walls or horizon, the only noise was the occasional rustle of Gore-Tex and the odd swear word when I’d place my foot into a gap in the sustrugi and discover it was a hole.

We set ourselves up a rhythm of stopping each hour to report our position via the radio, eating a snack and taking on some water to keep our bodies replenished. We kept the disciplined stops to only five minutes to stop the body from getting cold was essential even though sometimes you didn’t want to put the sled harness back on again.

At one point about half way through the day I saw through my frozen goggles a shape of something walking towards us in the distance. The whole world was still ‘white’ and it took me a while to realise that there was a solitary emperor penguin making its way inland, the only one I have seen here all year. We both approached each other, as interested in what the other was doing in such a remote place, stood for a few minutes and checked each other out. We both accepted the bizarreness of the situation and parted company in our chosen directions.

As we came towards the end of the day the tiredness was definitely setting in, the constant snow had formed a 50mm layer of fresh power on the sea ice that was sticking to the sleds which no longer ‘slid’. We were averaging 2.4km an hour which was more obvious due to the constant strain on our body harnesses than on our legs.

Once we were off the sea ice and nearing the end of our journey the wind picked up to make the whole experience just that little bit less enjoyable, but we were close to our destination and the thought of warming up the frozen curry in my sled was ever more enticing.

After a few battles over some increasingly large and annoyingly placed blizz tails we succeeded in getting into Brownings Hut, just in time for Muscles and Watto to turn up in a Hägglunds to change the gas bottles on the hut (which was great because we let them do all the digging to find the original bottles, cheers chaps!)

A couple of crafty home brews, a possible cheese platter and a few stories followed and that night I left my study book outside in the sled.

Stu Shaw