This week we take you on a trip to the South Masson Ranges and for a look at the Mawson field huts.

A trip to the South Masson Range

Darron, Jeremy and Peter C headed out one afternoon early last month, driving the blue Hägglunds up to Rumdoodle Hut where we spent a pleasant evening devouring Fray Bentos pies and playing chess. At around midnight, a spectacular aurora suddenly appeared for well over an hour, giving us the opportunity to spend some quality time out on the plateau in calm conditions to admire and photograph the celestial display above us.

We arose early the next morning, and departed in near dark conditions. Before too long, we had arrived at the base of Trost Peak. We admired the sun rising and skirting the horizon, as we firstly climbed to the top of Trost Peak and then circumnavigated it via the surrounding wind scours and lakes.

We then headed further afield south into the heart of the South Masson Range, eventually parking up at a lake from where we circumnavigated Mt Burnett.

Later we weaved a path through lakes and blizz tails, exploring the eastern side of the South Masson Range, admiring the now setting sun and eventually setting sail for the station that we call home.

Using the Mawson field huts.

As expeditioners at Mawson for a year we are very fortunate to have several field huts available for recreational use. Three of these huts (Fang, Rumdoodle and Henderson) are sited amongst the mountain ranges on the plateau, and range from fifteen to thirty kilometres from the station. When the sea ice has formed (late May through to December) we can travel west along the coast to Colbeck Hut (85 kilometres), while some 50 kilometres to the east is Macey Hut. Closer to home Bechervaise Island, 3 kilometres north of Mawson has a very homely field hut, used by scientists who stay there for weeks at a time during the summer, while studying Adelie penguins.

Each of these huts is different (location, views, layout…) but in other ways they are all quite similar; with heating, stoves, bunks, food, tables, vents, radios, gas bottles, toilets, fire extinguishers and so on. All the huts are secured by wire guys, usually attached to eye bolts drilled into solid rock. Most of the huts have been towed into position from Mawson and it is essential they are properly anchored down to withstand winds in excess of 200 kilometres an hour.

On arrival at a hut we go through the following procedures:

  • Vents are located inside and out and these are all opened to ensure a flow of fresh air into the hut. Carbon monoxide poisoning remains a very serious danger;
  • One of the gas bottles outside the hut is turned on;
  • The internal shut-off valves for the gas heater and stove are opened. A hot drink is usually one of the first things on people’s minds. The heater is turned on, especially during the colder months, but unfortunately this means everything starts dripping! The heat melts ice which has formed on the ceiling, underneath the bunks and on the walls;
  • Carbon monoxide detectors are located and checked;
  • A mental note is made of where the fire extinguisher and fire blankets are located.

While staying at a hut we:

  • Fill in the log book, noting the date, party members, what our intentions are, the weather, track conditions and so on;
  • Radio in to VLV Mawson at a previously arranged sched time; usually 1900 in summer, 1700 in winter. Here we start off with the formal part of the sched: Alpha — where we are; Bravo — health of party; Charlie — condition of vehicles; Delta — intentions for the next 24 hours; Echo — weather; Foxtrot — state of the track; Golf — any other information or requests. A more informal chat may follow;
  • Check the first aid kit, emergency food rations (Ration Pack) and rescue box;
  • Always turn off and isolate stoves, lamps and heaters (and the gas bottle outside) when going to sleep at night;
  • Collect all our grey water (including urine) for return to the station.

When we depart the hut we:

  • Clean the hut and attempt to leave it in a better condition than we found it;
  • Turn off the gas shut-off valves and the gas bottle;
  • Sweep the floor;
  • Take our rubbish;
  • Triple bag (or more!) toilet waste for return to station;
  • Close the vents;
  • Leave pots full of snow/ice on the stove, ready for the next visitors when they arrive;
  • Fill out the log book, outlining our intentions and existing weather conditions;
  • Radio VLV, turn the radio off and remove the lead to the battery;
  • Ensure the door and window shutters (if there are any) are securely closed.