This week at Casey we hear what’s involved in the Wilkins Aerodrome pack up and ponder the dark.

Station update

This last week we’ve hit the halfway point of our time down south; well for those of us who arrived at the start of summer. After a summer of long long days, we walk to work now in the dark and walk home in the dark (not unlike Canberra or Hobart I suppose, but this lasts a lot longer and it’s a little cooler). There’s still much more darkness to come as we’re still six weeks away from mid-winter (AKA the winter solstice) and up until then we’ll continue losing about 8 minutes of daylight each day.

Unlike Davis (show-offs) we rarely get to see the auroras as we do our daily commute, we seem to be more often under complete cloud cover and even in snowfall. But it’s still beautiful, and especially peaceful on those mornings where it’s completely still and if you listen very careful over the crunch of your footsteps (and the humming of the main power house) you can hear the snow falling as the perfectly structured flakes drift slowly down around you.

The bonus of this darkness is that we’re up and awake for sunrise and sunset, so giving the opportunity for viewing some extraordinary colours lighting up the snow covered ground and icebergs in the distance (if only we remembered to bring our cameras to work).

We’re getting a ‘bliz’ now approximately once or even twice a week (sustained winds over 34kts and visibility reduced to less than 100m); but we’re still waiting for that ‘big bliz’ where we’re confined to the Red Shed (our living quarters) or have to venture out in pairs, dragging ourselves along the bliz lines for fear of being lifted of our feet and blown like tumbleweeds down the main street. Walking into a bliz is literally breath-taking with the wind sucking the air out of your lungs and the blowing snow sandblasting any small piece of skin that may have been left uncovered. An amazing experience in the safety of station confines where you can easily escape to the comforts of the Red Shed, but I imagine something terrifying if out alone in it not knowing where you were.

As modern day expeditioners we count our blessings every day that we’re able to experience these weather extremes in relative comfort.

Now, bring on that big bliz.

Rebecca (Casey SL)

Wilkins pack up

It’s been six weeks or so since the last flight from Wilkins Aerodrome, the four of us that have stayed on for winter are now all settled in and are enjoying the extra comforts that come with living at Casey station.

About an hour after the last flight we began demobilising the runway and all the buildings that had become home over the past 5 months. With only 4 of us living there now we slowly started winterising any buildings that were no longer needed. It seems like an easy job but with temps dropping below −20 the smallest of tasks become somewhat of a challenge.

We also stripped all the snow off the entire runway to expose blue ice which took 2 days to complete. As with the whole summer the bulldozers continued to be worked quite hard to level out the massive amounts of snow which had built up around the buildings and provide us (fingers crossed) a nice base to work to when we return in September. The igloo we spent many hours making during downtime unfortunately had to also be leveled to minimise snow build up over the winter.

Twelve days after the flight we were ready to move our main accommodation building which is something that I had been looking forward to being involved in. It took both dozers a couple of attempts to finally break it free of the ice and tow it a few kilometers away to a nice clear patch of blue ice where it will stay over the winter. With everything packed up, doors taped shut we were finished and ready to make our way to station.

The next few weeks were spent catching up on fire, search and rescue training so we could join the emergency response teams. We are now settled into the daily routine which for me usually involves keeping road and access ways clear of snow or helping some of the trades groups out. I was also lucky enough to get a weekend away to the Browning peninsular just in time to see the last of the elephant seals before they disappear for the winter. I was absolutely blown away by the view of the Vanderford Glacier in the afternoon sun, just another moment that made me realise how incredibly lucky I am to be living and working in Antarctica!

By Greg Milliner