A culinary adventure on the ice, and an introduction to the station diesos

How long do you boil a burger?

A recent trip to the Browning Peninsula resulted in a surprise side trip, this one into the wilderness of the culinary unknown…

On a beautiful sunny morning at Casey (standard) we loaded up Blue Hägglunds with a couple of days equipment for a field travel training trip out to the Browning Peninsula. These multi day/night trips off station are required for all wintering expeditioners in order to develop the skills necessary to safely exist in this place of extremes. Included in the necessities is, of course, food! We have absolutely no reason to complain about food at the station, the choices are many and varied, and chef Claire spoils us with delicious and life sustaining goodness daily. When we do venture out into the field our meals consist of a mix of ‘catch 'n kill’ (left-overs), packaged food (including tinned pies), and pre-frozen meals. Basically whatever we can get our hands on!

Occasionally volunteers step in to give Claire a bit of a break, and this time one of our trip meals was provided by chippie Brad’s Burgers. These generously sized delights were soon to become ‘Brad’s Boiled Browning Burgers’, yes… boiled. All credit for the idea to vacuum seal and pack the burgers must go to our Field Training Officer (FTO) Sean Murray, a wise man indeed. Whilst being pretty amusing, the first attempt at preserving a complete burger identified an immediate need to reduce the vacuum… oops. So much to learn, so little time. The following vacuum ops were conducted successfully, and the burgers were packed along with an Antarctic staple – or Antarctic experience at least – the Fray Bentos tinned steak and kidney pie. Our FTO, and sparky Leigh, had already ticked the tinned pie experience box and elected to firmly pass on a serving. Myself, and the Station Leader Ben, keenly committed to the gastronomical adventure ahead.

Browning Peninsula lies to the west of Casey station and is about 3 hours away by Hägglunds, firstly heading inland, and then driving west across the Peterson Glacier. The peninsula itself is sandwiched between the enormous Peterson and Vanderford glaciers. Apart from the landscape itself, which is quite other-worldly in appearance, there is some amazing wildlife to witness. There are two charted ‘wallows’ located around the coastline where moulting elephant seals haul-out to shed their summer fur and prepare for the winter. Even in their juvenile stage these animals are absolutely huge and it was such a privilege to see, hear, and smell (not so good) them up close. There was also the odd Weddell seal taking time out of the water to rest, along with a few good ‘waddles’ of Adélie penguins, also moulting before heading to sea in the next few weeks.

The ice itself provides so much to look at. From the vastness of the main body that covers the continent, to the towering faces of the ice cliffs with their cracks and caves and myriad of blues, to the glacial faces collapsing into the sea and forming giant icebergs. We are witnessing a transition of seasons right now, and learning about the phases of ice production that will soon cover the bays, and surround Antarctica with it’s winter ice shelf. ‘Grease ice’ is one of the early stages, and looks just like grease, or an oil slick over the surface of the water. We commonly have very slight winds here at Casey and this allows the grease ice to form regularly. Another common form of ice we are seeing at the moment is ‘pancake ice’ which, as you can imagine, resembles pancakes! Not very imaginative names perhaps, but pretty apt for all of us non ice-ologist types.

Back to the important stuff… food! When it comes to survival in the cold, food is known here as the first layer of defence. We always make sure we are well fed prior to heading out, and some of us have developed several layers of defence, for safety of course. After exploring the southern wallow and surrounding area, our first night's dinner was kept fairly simple and consisted of some reheated goulash and rice. It was the second night where the culinary adventure kicked off, and Leigh uttered the phrase that would inspire this article… “how long do you boil a burger”. We take everything (most things) very seriously down here, so the timer was started, and the first two vacuum sealed burgers entered the pot of boiling water. The tinned pies were also loaded into the oven and speculation commenced on timings. Sean was left in charge of the burger boiling, while Leigh was the guinea pig for taste testing! All in all both forms of food were received well. The burgers turned out to be pretty good, and while the pies are probably more of a personal taste thing, Ben and I both got through ours without any difficulty. Many that have sampled the undated, rusty tinned pies will disagree, but I would even eat one again!

That night was topped off with one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. The light layer of cloud burned pink and orange, the water was turned to liquid gold, and the blues of the ancient ice were illuminated as the setting sun lit up the 100 m high face of the Vanderford Glacier. The silhouetted icebergs out at sea is a sight I won’t easily forget. A half crescent moon rose to the south, simultaneously hovering just above the horizon and becoming brighter as the sun disappeared for the day, taking over the watch. The absolute silence away from the station is something special.

I am a lucky man.

Oh yes, the all important answer… 21.5 minutes, at a simmer!

Bruce Dening

Met-Tech, Casey Station

Meet the diesos

The Diesel Fitters (dieso) AKA Cream of the Commonwealth.

Traverse team; Nate, Tim and Jack. They will conduct maintenance following this summer’s 1,200 km traverse for the Million Year Ice Core Project to Little Dome C and setup for next summer’s traverse.

Winter diesos; Nick, Red and Guy. We are responsible for repairs and servicing of equipment on station, the noisy end of the powerhouse and managing the ever diminishing stock of 1,200,000 litres of Special Antarctic Blend diesel.

Wilkins team; Lochie. The man. The myth. The legend. This one-man miracle has enabled the Wilkins Aerodrome crew to operate and maintain one of the few inter-continental ice runways in Antarctica. In addition to a massive effort to clear snow berms from 3.3 km of runway, clocking over a combined 12,312 km and 2,602 hours behind the controls in the dozers.

Summer diesos; Brody and Justin, these guys’ contribution over summer was immeasurable; their skill and expertise were vital in getting through resupply and the bulk of station maintenance over summer. Justin has since been poached to winter at Davis and Brody has returned to Australia. We wish you both the best.

Winter is coming…

The summer just gone saw the diesos play a number of additional roles across the station. Contortionist, bus driver, cargo delivery, rigger, loader operator, truck driver, Splinters Bar DJ, comedic relief and deck hand, just to mention a few.

Recent weeks have seen the final extraction flights for the season, this departure of the very last of the summerers signals a change in pace for the wintering crew.

Nick has hung up his trucker’s cap, the last of Nick’s Tractor Train Cargo Service runs have been completed for the season.

Guy’s Antarctic Bus Tours have closed now all the tourists have left. The bus is relegated to wintering up the hill after a stint in the workshop.

Red has finally finished receipting parts and restocking the shelves. At points it seemed endless, one pallet would be emptied and a new one would come in its wake.

Jack can still be found in his dressing gown and slippers, hot water bottle in one hand with the other pressed to a northern window with a forlorn look. A single tear runs down his cheek as he reminisces about our dearly departed summer team. But we who remain must carry on.

Nate and Tim are staring at the sky waiting for more snow, waiting for enough ground coverage to move the sleds and the myriad of equipment for traverse out of station.

The mechanical teams will now shift from reactive workflow, supporting operational requirements, into a preventative maintenance phase. With a long list of open work orders for repairs and postponed services from what can only be described as a hectic summer season to catch up on, we will continue to swing spanners, bust knuckles and annoy everyone on the radio while we transfer fuel between tanks on station.

For down time some of the diesos have been seizing the opportunity to head out to the field, fire up the oven and bust out some cracking pizzas. Our closest haunt is known as the Wilkes Hilton, a stone’s throw from the grumpy moulting Adelie penguins, which have hilarious personalities.

Luckily enough, prior to the bulk of the summerers departing, we were treated to a fantastic aurora australis and I had a massive win capturing the stunning light show on camera.

I’ve also had the pleasure of kicking off this year’s Casey Station Biggest Loser Challenge. Participants have been weighed and measured, the new gym is open and now our battle between self-discipline and the delicious food produced by Chef Claire begins. Over the next 12 weeks volunteering expeditioners will weigh-in and measure up fortnightly in order to track their progress. Who will win? Only time and the scales will tell.

May your dipstick always have oil and your engines keep purring.

Red Hastings

Expedition Mechanic – Casey Station