Hot off the press! The Basler plane arrives, we give you the scoop on the second Rauers trip and celebrate the end of winter with a spectacular feast.

JKB is back in town

This afternoon at six minutes past three the Kenn Borek Basler JKB, on contract to the AAD for this summer season, touched down on the only just completed Davis ski landing area. The winds of the previous day had abated and the cloud lifted somewhat, although it was still windy and cloudy so not the norm for Davis.

Joe has spent most of the past fortnight supervising the construction of the skiway in order for the plane to be able to land, refuel and then leave for Casey, taking him along. Not many could say they had to build their own skiway in order to depart a place. That shows dedication. 

This year the skiway looks far from Antarctic like. There is a thin but dark veneer of dirt and grit over the sea ice which makes it look more like a ploughed field than sea ice. Despite that the ice is thick (around 1.8 metres), is still growing (at a now slower rate of 2 cms per week) and is dry and solid through its total thickness, just what a 13,000kg plane on three wheels required. In fact, that is closer to double what it could land on.

The Rauers, second trip

Just before 8 am Monday morning, six of us set off in a rush of excited enthusiasm in the red Hägg which was pulling the fuel sled and the blue Häggs pulling the RMIT van. One minute later, the red Hägg stopped on the sea ice. We had a problem with the GPS or should I say we had a problem working the GPS. Luckily, comms guru Tom was with us and shortly we have the way-pointed route on the screen showing us the way to go. Red Hägg had been patiently waiting for us to catch up but seemed to be having a problem with the motor, occasionally having second thoughts about going. A casual look didn’t show any obvious problem so we flicked the switch to use the fuel from the right hand tank and the red Hägg didn’t falter again. A quick look over the load of the blue Hägg and “Oh my God, the back door is open”. Looking inside, everything seemed to still be in its place. That was lucky. Packs and sundry bits of gear seemed to be making a habit of abandoning Häggs and quads lately.

It is good to have a few hiccups early on and get them out of the way. From there it was a steady cruise along the familiar Iceberg Alley, past Bandits hut, off the sea ice, through the moraine and the steady climb up towards Woop Woop. By the time we turned west, a katabatic wind had picked up and snow started snaking its way over the ice down towards the Vestfold Hills. As we went along the wind increased and the drifting snow rose higher until we could barely see the red Hägg in front but we could still see blue sky above. This wasn’t looking good because we needed good visibility to cross the Sørsdal glacier with its lurking crevasses.

Stopping for lunch, we got a taste of how uncomfortable it is outside the heated cab as we made our way to the luxury of the RMIT van. The RMIT van is designed to sleep four sardines comfortably but it is definitely cosy with six people seated on the two bottom bunks. We eat our sandwiches and try not to think about camping on the plateau in this weather.

We could hardly believe our luck as we headed down towards the glacier, the wind easing and our visibility returned. The route was surveyed and a safe path was found that avoided the badly crevassed areas. All we had to do was stick to the way-points and cross the crevasses at right angles. The group that went to the Rauers a couple of weeks ago were led astray by the promise of an easy way only to find they were lured into a trap that took considerable time to extract themselves from.

Ali, who had been driving, decided to do her worrying from the passenger’s seat but the snow covered crevasses were easy to see as the ice was bare and most were less than half a meter wide. Occasionally the snow would collapse as the red Hägg crossed and we could look down into the deep violet depths as we crossed and shudder at the thought of falling in.

It was a relief to leave the glacier behind but another challenge waited in the form of a steep icy hill. Since the previous group travelled this way the wind had removed what little snow cover there was and now the Häggs couldn’t get enough grip on the slippery ice to pull the sleds up. The Häggs are a wonderful machine but there is a limit to what they can do so they are provided with an electric winch and in no time we had set up the winch, run out the rope, drilled a hole in the ice and set an anchor. That got us up 50 metres and onto a patch of snow and it was easy going from there.

Back on the plateau we had a good view of our destination, the Rauer islands, set in a sea of ice and ice bergs. We seemed to drive past them before turning down a hill to the Macey Peninsula. Once we got to the rocks at the top of the ramp down to the sea ice we stopped and set up camp. Three in the RMIT van, two in the polar pyramid tent and Ali, the seasoned expeditioner, choosing a bivvy bag to the confines and snoring in the RMIT van. “Has anyone seen my black bag?” By the time all the gear was out of the Haggs it became obvious that Ali’s black bag had made a dash for freedom when it saw the door had been left open.

The next morning dawned beautiful and clear and the scenery was stunning. The rocks looked so different to the Vestfold Hills and the reason is that they are a billion years younger. They are young and sexy. There were seal pups, penguins and birds returning. After a long winter without any wildlife, this is a wonderland.

End of winter dinner

With the arrival of the Basler imminent, we held our end of winter dinner last Saturday night.

Awards were presented by Doc Jan, the chef Brigid and the DSL Linc presented the SL awards. These were all far from serious, but did acknowledge some consistent effort through the winter.

The sumptuous meal was followed by a few numbers from Ferret and the band, this time named the Burnt Out Winterers. Those of us that hadn’t eaten too much danced away to every number.