More training, a camping trip and a much travelled cardboard box.

SAR Training

The three wintering guys from Wilkins piled into a Hägg and headed to station to complete this year’s SAR (Search and Rescue) training with other wintering expeditioners from Casey. After learning the knots that we would be using (like the Italian hitch, overhand and figure 8 knots plus lots of others), we were trained to be able to abseil and ascend the same rope using a belay device called an ATC and prusiks (small loops of rope).

This did take a lot of concentration at first. You find yourself saying things like “Pulling on that rope won’t do anything, slide that rope up and stand in that loop and I'll go up, but if I pull on that rope I'll be sent to my doom”.

Once we had a great night’s sleep, we headed out to learn all about anchors that go into rock and snow and ice, of which the latter are both very abundant down here (who would have thought that). Then we were set tasks of attaching ropes to rock and snow/ice to control descents over varying gradients of multiple people and other gear like stretchers on the same ropes. If you don’t control the descent rate, it becomes a fall, which can become a splat on the bottom.

Suffice to say, we all completed our training and successfully descended all manner of surfaces. As we were completing our SAR training, we had a light bulb moment and discovered that whilst SAR means Search and Rescue, it also means Standing around Ropes and Staring at Rocks (looking for anchor points) which we seemed to do an awful lot of both! Thanks to the field training officers (Ian and Paula) for a great learning experience!

Sealy — Wilkins Mechanic

Camping on the Mitchell

I decided to put a small team of ‘adventurers’ together for a trip away a couple of weeks back — myself, Jake, Georgia and Dom were the select few. Their reasons for selection shall remain confidential of course, but it may have something to do with the fact that I said “Let’s go camping” and was left with dwindling numbers and limited choice from the outset.

The enthusiastic crew joined me in the field store collecting all the usual requirements for a night out camping in Antarctica — lots of tents, sheepskin rugs, sleeping mats, stoves, cups, plates, ‘grey water’ containers and all of the clothes we own.

The recent summer temperatures around Casey have caused a great deal of melt, which in turn has caused our normal routes of travel to become somewhat boggy. Our choice of vehicle was a Hägglunds which has a little more chance of getting across some of the bogs than the trusty little red ponies (quad bikes), and a much higher chance of staying dry even if you do get caught up in some boggy bits.

On heading out on the Saturday afternoon, storeman Mick took the opportunity to warn me of how boggy it had become: “It’s boggy out there,” he said. With that information fresh in our minds we headed off into the great white bog keeping a rather cautious eye open for any traps along the way.

We soon realised that our intended destination of the Mitchell Peninsula was looking unlikely as we got to the top of the Robbo’s line and looked down onto a scene of pools, lakes and rivers running across the glacier. We also realised that we’d have been better equipped if we’d bought a raft and an outboard motor, so decided that the Mitchell was not our camping spot for that weekend!

After a bit of a chat we decided to stay ‘high and dry’ and get as far across to Robbo’s Hut as we could. As we dropped down off the plateau towards the moraine line, the tell-tale changing colour of the ice revealed more pooling again, so we sent out our sacrificial MET forecaster to probe the route in front of the Hägg in order to get as far along as we could. We got across to waypoint R08 but decided our luck had been pushed as far as it could be for that trip given the rather large ‘river’ running down towards Robbo’s Hut — so we pitched our tents for the evening.

There was no disappointment in terms of our location as the pictures will show. The view was amazing, the weather was fantastic and we ate so much dinner that we were nearly sick. Having our own palatial tent each only added to the experience and will hopefully encourage more ‘adventurers’ to get out and see the sights around Casey.

Stu — Station Communications Technical Officer

The melt

January is our warmest month (on average) and it means that the environment here is going through its seasonal changes. The slightly warmer weather brings the yearly melt, with melt lakes forming around the station.

The melt water finds its way to the ocean, sometimes cutting streams through the ice and snow. Although not as big as it has been in previous years, it’s still quite spectacular. However, the melt will only last for a few more weeks until everything freezes over again.

The adventures of Andy’s cardboard box

Hi, I’m a cardboard box, not just any box but part of someone’s UPE (unaccompanied personal effects). It’s how expeditioners get their personal belongs to and from Antarctica. I’ve just been packed up after another winter in Antarctica and will be heading home soon on the A319.

I’m excited as it will be my first flight, although I’ve had quite a few trips south, five in fact. I remember my first trip aboard the Aurora Australis. We had five metre waves crashing over the decks and the ship rolling 35 degrees left and right. At least I didn’t get wet.

Then there was the first time I traveled to Mawson. The sea ice was too thick for a normal resupply so after going to Casey, then Davis, the Aurora returned to Hobart. We were repacked for a helicopter fly-off and returned to Mawson three weeks later. I was lucky because the UPE got to travel inside the helicopter, unlike the poor boxes sling loaded below in temperatures of −20°C or less.

Now I’m waiting in the green store for the flight home. I’ve been packed with clothes, a camera and other odd and ends. I don’t have my own passport but have a plethora of customs paperwork to ensure my speedy processing once I arrive in Australia. From there I’ll be shipped back to my home base and will probably arrive about the same time as my owner.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it back to Antarctica, I’m getting on and have definitely seen better days. Still, a bit of tape can do wonders, so who knows?

Cheers, from cardboard box 2 of 6