Station Mechanical Supervisor Eric shares a fabulous sled-pulling Antarctic adventure exploring Ellis Fjord, Mount Tarbuck and the Marine Plain Hut.

Frozen Three

As far as a bucket list moment that needed to be taken care of, I would have to say, pulling a sled on sea ice was an unexpected one.

Bill and Karim organised a trip to Watts Hut via Ellis Fjord, walking all the way pulling a sled that Bill had built. I jumped in last minute, once all was planned and set up, as I do. We set off, with Bill and Karim pulling Bill’s sled while I had a smaller one borrowed from the field store. All packs and equipment were secured to and in the sleds. This undertaking, including the return trip and an excursion around Watts worked out to be approximately 46km.

The weather was on our side and after many conversations about our plans and contingencies if things went sideways, we were off and running, so to speak.

Bill’s sled worked amazingly well considering it was built out of recycled materials from station, a credit to Bill’s trade skills.

As we moved off, the difference between the friction from snow compared to blue ice became very apparent. Blue ice was so much easier to slide across but good micro spikes were essential. Once we had travelled the length of the coast, we turned into Ellis Fjord. This area gave us great conditions for pulling sleds, lots of blue ice with small drifts of snow just to keep us working.

Walking along this area, words couldn’t describe looking into the sea ice. It was like watching a camp fire - once you starting looking into it, you couldn’t stop, it was always changing, sections were clear then cloudy, and fine cracks were everywhere with snow and air bubbles trapped in the ice. On the odd occasion you can hear it move and sometimes feel it slightly.

After walking a while, you tend to forget exactly where you are. We encountered a small amount of wind for probably 20 to 30 minutes, just a friendly reminder from Mother Nature about who’s boss. At the time we were around -25°C so any amount of wind made a significant difference to conditions. Hence, we made haste to the shelter on the lee side of a small hill.

Conditions changed back to normal fairly quickly, so we “Frozen Three” continued on. Marine Plain Hut was on the way, with temperatures feeling like they were dropping, a quick stop to warm up was on the cards with Karim and me praying to the gas gods for a short time.

Watts Hutt finally came into view and preparing the hut for occupation was priority. With the hut not having been used for a significant time, the inside and contents was at Antarctic ambient temp. Gas heaters in full swing, made the entire hut wet with condensation but once all warmed up, everything was sweet. Exhausted from the trip and having a big feed made sleeping a breeze.

The next day was a short trip up onto Mt Tarbuck and return to Watts. I’ve been very fortunate this this season with this being the second time on Tarbuck with the weather and me on good speaking terms. Only a few knots of wind made the decision to drop back down very easy.

The return trip was approached slightly more relaxed, knowing what we were in for. The weather was on our side again and with boom speaker pumping out some ACDC we were very much one with nature, in a small way anyway!

With Davis back in sight, the last couple of kilometres seemed to take forever, more a reflection on my fitness than actual distance. We all returned safe with a very unique story to tell, one that should be easy to embellish at the beer table when required.

Cheers Eric - SMS Davis station