Weekend rovings of some of our more 'seasoned' expeditioners

Casey’s Grey Nomads road trip to Wilkes ‘Hilton’ Hut

What do you do when it’s less than a month before Midwinter’s celebrations and probably the last chance to get off station before sunlit days fully disappear? A sagacious group of expeditioners decided that a trip to Wilkes field hut was in order, travelling under the name of ‘Grey Nomads’.

So, the first hurdle for some to contemplate was whether they actually fit the profile of a Grey Nomad. I’m happy to state that I included myself in that category until I read: “Grey nomads are members 55 years and older who spend time travelling around the place”. OK, I’ve just turned ‘LV’… so tick. We’re travelling around the place… tick. And I’ve got a bit of ‘salt and pepper’ in the beard happening – OK you got me. Turns out only two out of the five actually satisfied the criteria but nevertheless the name Grey Nomads stuck. I digress.

So once Saturday duties were complete and all provisions packed, we headed off in our Purple Hägg (or Hägglunds – a Swedish-designed dual-cab, over-snow vehicle) and arrived at ‘Wilkes Hilton’ under fading daylight. What confronted us there initiated the question: “where’s the door?”. Wilkes hut is famous for snow-blizz build-ups around (and covering) the door, which then requires significant dig-outs before entry is possible. And on this occasion, we were not disappointed. After an exhausting hour of pick-axing and shovelling snow, the door presented itself and we were able to clear a path, gain access and start warming the interior.

One of the appealing things about Wilkes hut is its rustic character. Built by the United States as part of Wilkes Station in the late 1950s, it was originally a transceiver hut. With the old station taken over by the Australian program over the period 1959 to 1969, the hut has since retained its charm, while also being the biggest field hut within Casey’s operating area. And perhaps its most redeeming attraction is the wood fire oven, which has cooked many a wood-fired pizza in previous years.

With the fire underway, hut warmed and light of day gone, the Nomads prepared a number of umami-tasting pizzas, to be followed by sumptuous caramel dumplings for dessert. Once bellies were full, we searched for stars and auroras (with minimal success due to cloud cover) and eventually resorted to indoor storytelling and cards. Snoring featured later in the night – especially for those who didn’t bring their earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones!

The next morning presented an amazing sunrise. Our shortened winter days meant that the Nomads were able to ready cameras at a respectable 10am for the captivating display that followed. Stunning pink and purple hues on the horizon combined nicely with massive iceberg shapes in the distance and our rugged landscape in the foreground – reminding us of the splendour that is Antarctica. After consuming left-over pizza alongside maple syrup-drenched bacon and pancakes, we explored the derelict station and a memorial hill that commemorates the deaths of expeditioners Hartley Robinson (who died in 1959) and Reginald Sullivan (died in 1968). While the two crosses marking these grave sites have been recently replaced and are still in good condition, many of the station’s buildings were weatherbeaten and only just visible, due to being buried under many years of accumulated snow.

A couple of hours later, it was time for a warming tea or coffee before packing up and departing – again with daylight quickly fading. By late afternoon, the Nomads had returned to Casey – grateful for the opportunity to share a surreal Antarctic experience amongst good company.

Dave (Station Leader)