It’s all about the Hägglunds at Davis station! These large, over-snow tracked vehicles help expeditioners travel and complete work that would be impossible without them.

Hägglunds driving and sea ice recovery training

With the sea ice opening for operational use on the 16th of May, and the ice well over the 600mm we require for safe sea ice travel in Hägglunds, we can now start using the Haggs for operational use around the station limits. Before the Hägglunds could be driven out onto the ice however, a sea ice recovery course first needed to be done by all. As part of our job as diesos, we are responsible for this training.

We set up a slalom and obstacle course marked with bamboo canes on the sea ice at the front of the station that was to put the expeditioners through their paces. No roundabouts or traffic lights to contend with down here, but tide cracks and ice flows can prove just as dangerous if not shown the same level of respect.

Once all expeditioners had been briefed on the safe operation and pre-start requirements of the Hägglunds, everyone had their chance to drive and show off their skills. All eventually completed the course, but let’s just say it was a good thing we were using canes rather than other vehicles for the parking skills tests.

We then completed the recovery part of the course should, despite their best efforts, thin sea ice get the better of anyone. Although Hägglunds can float (more or less) there is still an art to getting them back on solid ground. Instructions on the correct use of winches, anchors and the minimum field travel equipment also made up parts of this session.

It turned out to be a fun and rewarding experience for all.

To Whoop Whoop we go

With midwinter approaching and the sun disappearing fast, it was time to head to Whoop Whoop skiway to begin the collection of equipment that had been parked at the end of the summer operational season.

The reason this equipment can’t be brought back to station at the end of summer, and had been left exposed to the harsh extreme climate of the plateau for the past four months, is that they are unable to be driven on the exposed sensitive environment of Antarctica. To this end, we require the sea ice to be of sufficient thickness so that we can drive on it once we leave the plateau.

With the two Hägglunds packed with all the gear we required to collect the machines, we set off early on Wednesday morning. The first part of the trip went without incident and we arrived at Whoop Whoop just as the sun started to rise (at 11.30!).

We then set about digging the little yellow Hägglunds out from its snow cocoon that had built up around it since air operations ceased at the beginning of February. With snow and ice having filled the engine bay, Aaron and I slowly scraped away at it and eventually were able to turn the motor over by hand.

While we did this, Jason and Mal dug the tracks and body clear. With the temps around minus 45°C and the wind up somewhere near 30 knots, our hands were feeling the conditions. While Aaron tried to warm his hands up with the heat coming out of the running Hägglunds heater, he turned and said to me “I’m sure I just saw a polar bear out there”. With that comment we laughed, forgot about our cold hands and both set about jump-starting the little yellow Hägglunds.

Six hours later, we were still working on the little yellow Hägglunds which refused to play the game. With all this effort we were only able to get it 50 metres before it died and refused to start again. With another small problem surfacing, we decided it was time to return to station.

As it was both me and Aaron’s first time up onto the plateau, it was a good learning curve. We both know what to expect when we return and will be better prepared for it.