Auto weather stations, spectacular views at Mt Hordern, and a day in the kitchen fill the Mawson pages this week.

Mountains, weather stations and fog

Mt Hordern and the Henderson AWS — a tale of data loggers, mountains, winches and fog

Darron, Peter C and Dean headed out last week into the field, primarily to perform maintenance on the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) at a site approximately 20km southeast of Mt Henderson. We were at the site for three hours, successfully completed the work and downloaded the latest data from the data loggers that record ice temperatures and local weather parameters.

The rest of the day was spent travelling in sunny conditions back to Mt Henderson and onwards to Fang hut, where we spent a relaxing evening playing guitar and bongo drums. Dean gave a stirring performance as guest vocalist.

The following morning we ventured onwards to the mythical Mt Hordern, this being our first ever visit to this particular area. Excitement was high.

We chose to hike along a route that took us on a clockwise circumnavigation of the mountain, and the scenery was nothing short of spectacular. We came to a dead end, formed by what appeared to be a set of surf waves frozen in time. We therefore climbed up over a saddle on the southern end of Mt Hordern, taking in the stunning views both east and west, before descending down into the wild frontier lands of western Mt Hordern.

We continued walking north along the western side of Mt Hordern, eventually reaching the sanctuary of our Hägglunds. We then drove down towards the base of Mt Dunlop, where we spent some time exploring the lake and making the most of the balmy summer conditions.

Having returned to our vehicle, we discovered that Mother Nature had played a trick on us — the warm sunny conditions had conspired to form a slippery smooth surface on the ice slope, meaning that we had difficulty driving the Hägglunds back up to the snowy plateau. So, it was out with the winch and ice anchors!

Using the recovery equipment stored on the roof of the vehicle, we were able to construct a belay system using ice anchors and a winch to safely drive the Hägglunds a distance of 150 m back up the slope. As the winch is only 30 m long, we had to reset the system five times. We all thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected application of our long-lost sea ice recovery skills.

It was a long drive back over the plateau, with the setting sun our companion. As we approached the station, we were suddenly engulfed in a fog bank. We thus spent the last hour of our trip driving and navigating through melt streams in pea soup fog.

We arrived shortly after midnight, to a station that was eerily quiet and shrouded in mist. There was no wind, nor was there a sound other than the quiet hum of the powerhouse. It was as if we had arrived back home to a ghost station…

What does a slushy do?

Well, the list on the dining room noticeboard indicated that it is time for me to write about something happening at Mawson station for the weekly news. So, as I was just finishing off a day of slushy duties on Friday, 17 January, I thought I would write about my experience. It is the fourth time I have had slushy duty since arriving in early November. Being a small crew of 19 expeditioners down from 29 people in the first month, this job comes around quite regularly! With the Aurora Australis having had difficulty this season, we will now be here a bit longer and I will have to undertake at least another slushy shift before we leave! 

I looked over the official slushy duties list and have detailed it here:

Slushy Duties

Mon — Sat

08:00 — completion (about 6pm)


  • Fill dishwasher — start washing dishes from breakfast
  • Make up milk — mix 3 jugs in fridge and extra in bucket
  • Wash and put away crockery, cutlery, pots and utensils used in the mess and kitchen during the day
  • Clear away and wipe down benches in kitchen
  • Collect, wash, dry, fold and put away tea towels and cloths
  • Put aside meals, as requested, for late arrivals
  • Turn off, empty and wipe down bain-marie after each meal, keeping or discarding food as directed by the chef

Dining Room:

  • Sweep and mop the dining room floor
  • Wipe down the table after each meal
  • Clean the coffee machine, brew area, toasters and sandwich areas
  • Tidy away old newspapers, magazines and periodicals from the main table and window seats/tables
  • Check and tidy as required the communal computer and printer area
  • Top up consumables in the dining room area:
  1. Tea, coffee, milo
  2. Bread, butter, condiments
  3. Cereals, cordials, dried fruit
  4. Biscuits, chocolates, sweets
  5. Juices, fruit, milk
  • Complete any other task as directed by the chef or station leader
  • Empty the dishwasher and clean the filter trays
  • Kitchen rubbish should be monitored through out the day and removed as required/directed by the chef. The back cold porch should be kept as clear as possible through out the day
  • Before finishing for the day, check that the kitchen and dining area is clean and tidy for the next day
  • Empty rubbish bins and take out rubbish at end of day
  • The Station Leader also requests that you clean and tidy the upstairs bar area, restocking and bringing dirty items down to be cleaned or thrown out
  • Plus the downstairs toilet area needs cleaning too

So from the above list you can see it is a long, and for a lot of people, hard day if you are not used to it. Sometimes things get missed or forgotten as I found out the hard way! At the end of the day I washed the kitchen floor, cleaned the dishes, cleaned the kitchen bench tops and emptied the bins before I had dinner. As a few people normally get in and clean the kitchen at the end of dinner for the slushy, I did it so every one could have an easy night!

But when I was restocking the bars’ glasses and taking down the three full empty crates of home brew bottles, I thought there were enough home brew bottles in the fridge for the evening. We don’t drink much alcohol down here and, with being a late inclusion to the summer program, I didn’t have any of my own supply. I also forgot that it was Friday night and a double edition of Dakar highlights (technical issues the night before prevented a screening) was on. When I came into the bar from having a shower after the day’s duties, I was confronted with thirsty drinkers commenting about slack slushies, and I looked at the fridge and all the draught bottles were gone! With a couple of guys shooting down to the brew area to retrieve several bottles, we helped restock the fridge. 

So except from the incident above, I can pretty well say I fulfilled all that was on the list. And as I had a bit of time off in the middle of the day, I rang my wife which was a wrong thing to do as I said I was doing slushy duties today and wouldn’t be able to talk later. She had worked in a kitchen, as a kitchen hand, when she was doing her first degree. She picked up on it very quickly and mentioned most of the things I had to do from the above list and mentioned quite strongly to wait until I get home — with these new found skills, I will be put to task doing them. I wish I hadn’t have rang her now.

Some interesting observations were made during the day, which makes being on station worthwhile. 

You talk about lots of different subjects. Sometimes you do different culinary methods to what you normally would and pick up a few cooking hints too! 

Several people came in during the day and asked if the chef needed a hand which was good to see too.

Numerous people would float through during the day for a chat including the station leader, and the chef would catch up with a bit of station gossip from everyone.

At the end of the main working day, guys flowed through the kitchen and hung around more rather than go straight to the bar upstairs. They were talking about what their day was like, and what has happened around the station. Discussions of plans of what to do over the next few days took place, which was good to see, keeping the chef in the loop of station life.

He (the chef) is stuck in the same room, day in and day out, trying to make the meals as interesting and with as much variety as possible with what he has on hand, only getting out when he has days off.

I am very lucky being one of the summer plumbers. We nearly have a free run over the whole station and can come and go as we like. So for a small sacrifice of one day every so often, everyone should enjoy it and don’t begrudge it as a burden.