Climbing in the Framnes Mountains, out on the sea ice, a quiz night with a difference and nine questions with Cliff.

Climbing in the Framnes Mountains

It is definitely getting colder up on the plateau now but this hasn’t stopped Mawson expeditioners getting out amongst the hills at every opportunity.

The following extracts are from John’s journal:

“Craig, Keldyn, Peter C and I had a drink at Henderson hut, gathered up a bit of climbing gear and set off to climb Mt Henderson. There was very little wind but the top of the mountain was covered in mist. We made steady progress, even with Keldyn (our plumber) carrying a giant set of Stilsons — needed, he said, to change a washer in the tap on the summit!

Up towards the top the route crosses from the west side over to the east: we were in the mist on and off, but it was definitely colder on the shaded side. It had been minus 22 when we left the hut so I guess when we were approaching the summit it must have been around minus 25 or below. The top forty metres is steeper and more exposed and we used a rope to safeguard our ascent: the climbing is straightforward, up wide, easy-angled cracks, but you certainly wouldn’t want to slip. We put in a couple of belays and climbed two short pitches to arrive on the summit. At one point, Craig unfortunately managed to jam one of his boots in a crack and the only way he could free himself was to take his foot out and then reach down and remove his boot!

On top Keldyn attended to the tap (!), we took a few photos and enjoyed the moment of being up there — the atmospheric conditions adding to our feeling of accomplishment. Being late afternoon, though, we soon needed to head back down. By the time we were descending the scree above the hut it was starting to get dark, but the views across the mountains to the west, with the sun setting beneath the heavy layer of cloud all around, were quite spectacular. It was great to be there! We reached the hut at 1900 and did the evening radio sked on the verandah by handheld radio.”

(Mt Henderson was first sighted by Sir Douglas Mawson in January 1930 and named after Dr W. Henderson, director of the Australian Department of External Affairs)

“Saturday, amazingly, was a repeat of the previous day’s weather — fine, no wind, sunny, clear - how lucky were we?! Justin, Peter L and I left Rumdoodle hut mid-morning and drove around to the Central Masson Range. Keeping on the west side of the ice wave we headed towards Blair Peak. Standing at the northern end of the range, this mountain is 912 metres high and was named after J. Blair, the senior diesel mechanic at Mawson in 1958.

Leaving the Hagg and taking a rope and some basic climbing gear, along with our survival packs, we made our way up the snow slopes on the south western side, before crossing over to the eastern face of the mountain. Ascending a steepening snow slope we all became aware of the increasing exposure created by a large wind scour below us, so we angled left somewhat to take away the perceived risk of sliding into the wind scour if we were to fall. We used the rope to belay each other up the last few metres of snow, before reaching the rock of the south ridge. From this point to the summit was interesting climbing as we overcame a series of rock steps: each step presented a challenge, but a relatively easy way upwards was always found.

From the summit the outlook was superb! Blair Peak stands apart from other peaks in the Central Masson Range and as such provides a grandstand view of many of the mountains in the Framnes, from Mt Henderson to the Northern Massons, through the Central and Southern Massons and across to the David Range. We sat on top taking photos and thanking our lucky stars for being where we were on such a perfect afternoon.”

Out on the ice

As winter grips Mac Robertson Land, our little rocky outcrop begins to fall under the spell of the surrounding sea ice. To look out upon the white expanse in the early hours of the morning, is to gaze upon a mauve field of ice stretching as far as the eye can see. Soon to be an addition to our playground, the frozen wonderland must first be understood.

Measuring and collecting the sea ice data in Antarctica has been an undertaking shared by many expeditioners all around the continent. The Australian Antarctic Division has been recording the ice formation data now for over two decades and continues at its three permanent stations each year. Before one can step out onto the frozen ocean, first drilling must take place for thickness and safety. According to the guidelines passed down by the AAD, 200mm is the minimum thickness on which to walk. Once the safety and integrity of the ice is established, designated points on the ice around station are once again found using GPS, drilled for the data and then marked with bamboo canes. The placing of canes is to identify the site for further measurement collection, and to mark an area that should remain undisturbed throughout the year.

Taking the actual measurements is quite simple. First an ice drill bit is either connected to a hand drill, or to make life easier, a 18 volt Makita power drill. The bit is then driven into the ice until it falls through into the salty water. Once removed, a measuring line gauge descends into the now slushy hole. Snow and ice thickness are recorded as well as water repatriation in relation to the now refreezing hole. John and I were lucky enough to be the first Mawsonites out on the ice this year to undertake data collection. At minus 19 with a wind chill that put us close to minus 35, we set out on a merry seven kilometre walk armed with canes, water, a drill, pen and paper and our trusted depth gauge. John followed the GPS route walked out by myself, protecting one side of my face from the needles of cold, gazed out at the surrounding islands festooned with harbouring snow petrels now playing miles away from the storm in which they had escaped. Blue skies and an occasional let-up in the wind allowed us an opportunity to fully appreciate our situation. Not only did the sea ice engage our senses but having started the day at 4am capturing the magnificent auroras dancing overhead. John and I indeed felt lucky to be down here.

The quiz night with a difference

Friday 12th April the big moment had arrived: the first quiz night on station! Over the last five weeks I had been flat out writing up questions, making up a quizmaster buzzer system and preparing the props.

Thirteen out of fifteen expeditioners showed up on the night itself and we were all dressed up to our best. We had four teams participating: Fossilized, Puck-It, The Know-It-Alls and the The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

We kicked off with four rounds of 20 questions each (history, geography, weird and absurd and sports), followed by a charades round and a music round. After the break we had the “physical” activities. We started with a round of balloon stomping, followed by eating gherkins whilst blindfolded. After that we had the jelly bath competition in which the contestants were told to remove marbles strategically positioned in a jelly bath only by the use of their feet and finally we had the “find the chocolate” competition where the contestants needed to find a piece of chocolate in a pile of flour by the use of their face only!

We had a couple of technical glitches during the question rounds caused by using different software but at least the electronic quizmaster button box worked a treat, even after all the abuse it copped during the event.

There were lots of penalties issued as well to the teams who couldn’t control themselves.

Team “The-Know-It-Alls” won. Needless to say we had a very enjoyable night.

Justin’s nine with wine

Again the Dog Room becomes our interview room. Cliffy enters with a bottle of Grant Burge, Shadrach, Cab Sav, 2008, and a couple of glasses. This wine exhibits concentrated aromas of blackberries, ripe plums, liquorice, mint and hints of menthol characters. The complexity of the wine is intense with delicate herbal to — I’m beginning to sound like Cookie. Oh speak of the station leader - enter Cookie. “Hey guys thought I’d come in around question six and walk in to interrupt the interview — oh is that your good stuff Cliffy?”  I sigh and explain that we haven’t even started the questions yet. “Oh o.k.” Cliff pours the boss a small glass. I entertain the idea of a photo with Cliff and the bagpipes. So off Cliff goes, not for the pipes but his washboard at Cookie’s suggestion. After around five minutes of Cliff on the harmonica and washboard and Cookie trying his luck with the Jews harp, I snap a couple of photos and politely cough. Eventually Cookie heads on back down to the kitchen where he has been slushy all day, and we begin. Phew.

So this is your second winter, the first being Davis, and you’ve also spent summers at Macquarie Island and Casey. What keeps you coming here?

It’s not for the money and it’s definitely not for the work. I do enjoy the lifestyle. You meet some very good people. People! I’ll say it, everyone says it -it’s just amazing! You look out there — I’m looking out there now. I don’t have to walk up the hill or down the coast, I’m quite happy looking out the kitchen window or dog room window and wow!

This is where we both gaze out the window and nod our heads. The wow factor, and look we’ve still got snow petrels - a couple of white wings fly past the window.

That’s what keeps me coming back.

Your work ethic is one to be admired and not just for the hours put in, but also for the tasks you undertake outside of your chosen field. You’re currently part of the plumbing (spud) crew here at Mawson. What other jobs have you done since leaving school?

I’ve built bridges, and well I’ve spent most of my life in construction. I’ve had a few other jobs like working on chook farms, building retaining walls, re-blocking houses, putting insulation in houses. I didn’t like them very much. I don’t like work very much — it’s just a means to an end.

Well Cliffy anybody who has seen your work would not believe that statement. Your commitment to work and the station is amazing, thank you.

After leaving school I started an apprenticeship as a boiler maker. I’ve even worked in a pub cleaning dishes [first time slushie]. I was going to become an apprentice chef, I then realised how hard it is so I became a boiler maker instead.

Why didn’t I realise that early?

Your dad Richard Davis was a met observer at Macquarie Island in 1968. Did this have any bearing on your choice to engage in work down here?

YES! In capital letters. I always wanted to come, didn’t really speak about it much back in those days. I read the Shackleton book back when I was 12 maybe 13 years old. I was mainly wanting to go to Macca. I went to Macca, didn’t think much about coming down to the continent — it was offered to me and I couldn’t say no. So here we are. I haven’t looked back since. It was always a dream but I never really thought I’d get a job down here. I had never met anybody apart from my dad who had been down here. I had just come back from working at Christmas Island, I was having a coffee first thing in the morning and playing on the internet, when an ad from the Australian Antarctic Division popped up. I read that they needed trades people down there. “I can do that” -  so I applied. I thought nothing more of it. Was going away sailing a couple of months later and just before I was due to leave I got a call from the AAD for the selection centre, and that was it for me.

We both gaze again out at the surreal landscape now blazoned with the warming colours of dusk.

Do you look at life differently now that you’ve spent some time hanging out in Antarctica?

'Yip'. Oh you want me to elaborate — okay. Personal development! For me I feel I deal with issues a lot easier, I’m more relaxed. I’m not so stressed out. It’s like, when I go home now it’s like I’m driving Ms Daisy. I’m just much more relaxed about life, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way we live down here. You can’t just get grumpy, spit the dummy or drink too much without dealing with it. You need to make allowances for people, for the differences in people. Here you have to start thinking not just about yourself but everybody else around. When I go back home now, the things that used to stress me out, I just let go now. My family and close friends notice the difference. I think it’s across the board with most people.

Diving is a passion of yours and you’ve managed to score some awesome moments under water. Along with sailing you must have seen a lot of the globe. What have been the highlights and what else is on your to do list?

Well,l I would still love to dive up around Vancouver way, the kelp forests there, the sea otters — I’d love to get in the water with them. I’ve been on scuba with the whale sharks and minke whales,  I’ve sailed all up and down the east coast. I’d like to travel up to the Arctic. I’d like to see a lot of the world. Mostly where I want to go I’ll be taking my dive gear — just as you take your surfboards — for me it’s the dive gear. I’m really lucky I’ve met a lot of good people that way, we dive and it just seems to break down all of the barriers. Meet good people all over the world. It’s a great way to travel.

You have an appreciation of some of the finer things in life - i.e food, drink and music. Your wardrobe is always thoughtfully chosen and your nails well manicured. Has this always been the case?

Ah, no. My drinking is now much more refined than it used to be. Food has always been okay - I’ve always been a good eater. I like good food. You’ll never see me, even as a kid much, going to Mc Donald’s or KFC or any of those places. You’ll never catch me drinking soft drinks, I never did back then. But clothes and the nice wines, that’s something that’s just gotten better over the years. A few good friends have steered me in that direction. As for the clothes, ummm yeah. I guess I just need to work on the belly when I get home. Lipo suction — it’s cheap these days and I can afford it.

The rowdy laugh kicks in.

You’re the guy that everybody seems to email their humour to, based on the fact that you send out two to three emails a day to a comprehensive list of people who seem to want to look at youtube videos and scroll through pictures of near misses from around the world — how did this happen? How did you become ‘that guy'?

I don’t know!? I don’t know!?

An embarrassed laugh now takes over.

Man there’s people from all walks of life, from all over the world who send me things.


I don’t know? I wish I knew.

How long has this been going on for?

For as long as I‘ve been able to log on to a computer. (Cliff laughs from the belly.) Look I send them out in the morning before work. I hope to cheer people up before they start their day. “Oh it’s a joke from Cliff.” Some of them maybe Photoshopped but it’s a good way to start the day. For the record, I probably delete more than I send on.

Well, it’s on the record now mate.

Any last words?

I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. I can come down here and meet amazing people in this amazing place. I am the luckiest person in the world!