Mawson station leader Graham ‘Cookie’ Cook turns 60 and celebrates by climbing a mountain (as you do). The blades of the wind turbines also get a visit this week.

60 not out

Sixty is one of those big birthdays that we would like to put off for a couple of decades but, as time and tide waits for no man, we will all hopefully get there (if we haven’t already). Turning 60 is certainly better than the only other option so should be embraced and not looked upon with fear and misgiving. I reached this milestone in the aging process of man during this past year at Mawson and wanted to mark the occasion by drawing on the experiences of my misspent youth and climb something of note in the Framnes Mountains. I was hoping that this could be achieved on my birthday in November but the weather gods conspired against me and the desire to climb was put aside but not forgotten. I have managed to drag myself to the top of a few of the local peaks of late — Mt Henderson , Parsons, South Doodle (a mid-winter ascent) and a couple of unnamed minor peaks —  but wanted to get back onto the end of a rope and lead something that required a little more adroitness, effort and accomplishment. In some way I wanted to prove to myself that I could still drag my body up a decent bit of rock despite the twinges, pangs and spasms that plague the muscles, tendons and vertebrae in my back, the intumescent ankles, suffering knees, additional girth, aches and pains that come with the gradual departure of youth, speed and agility. Denial perhaps, but I am not quite ready for a sedentary existence and still need “to suck the marrow out of life” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden).

So if I couldn’t climb on my birthday what better day to get out and climb than Australia Day. The weather was looking good, cloudy and very little wind. Perfect! Mal, Keldyn and I had planned a day out so headed for an unnamed peak in the Northern Masson Range. I had climbed the peak in December of 2005 with the then Mawson FTO, Greg Barras. We climbed it from the western side up a natural ramp that led to a saddle, then on to the summit. While climbing we found an old twisted nylon rope sling that would most likely have been left there in the late 60s or early 70s when this type of rope was in common use. There was no other evidence of climbers since then. Now, although the peak is officially unnamed, the crew back on station at the time decided that they would combine our names and call the peak Mt Cookabarra. Greg and I certainly liked this and have unofficially called it that since. Mt Cookabarra was definitely the peak to celebrate my 60th and Australia Day.

This time we would climb from the east. A long haul up one of the infamous Framnes scree slopes was required to put us at the saddle to join our 2005 route then up a 40 metre wall and chimney to a ledge before taking on the last 10 metres to the summit. Mal was the first to the saddle followed by me and the youngster, Keldyn, last as he had slipped behind and couldn’t keep up with the old tigers. The climb itself went well and was easy going in a well protected chimney. The last ten metres involved moving off the ledge and out over a 200 metre drop, a very nice bit of exposure and not for the feint hearted.  We spent 20 minutes or so on the summit congratulating ourselves and taking in the incredible view from the top before abseiling to the ledge below and then a final 40 metres back to the saddle. While there we picked up another sling that I believe was the one we left to abseil from in 2005, then left another for this abseil. There is no record of the peak being climbed since then. The sling was in excellent condition and if not for knowing its age you would think it was a good find and stick it in your kit for further use. This one has an appointment with the rubbish bin as the ravages of time will have made its condition quite dubious.

The weather had been perfect for climbing, warm enough for waiting on ledges without getting too cold while belaying, and not so warm that it was uncomfortable in our Antarctic garb. On our way off the summit it started to snow, small beads of sago snow at first, later developing into large feathery flakes that drifted to the ground around us. Looking behind us on the way off the mountain there was a fine cover of fresh snow giving the peak and surrounding landscape a true alpine look.

A great day with a couple of great mates that proved, to me at least, that there is plenty of life left in this lucky old bugger.

Cheers, Cookie

Mawson wind turbines

One of the most prominent features of the Mawson station skyline are the wind turbines. They provide not only sustainable energy, but also add an enchanting effect to the already stunning views from the station.

This week at Mawson we have just completed our yearly electrical maintenance of the stations two 300 kw wind turbine generators. This maintenance involves checking all of the electrical functions of the turbine, such as pitch and yaw controls as well as safety system like vibration sensors and over speed cutouts.

The turbines are used to supplement the diesel generators, when a steady wind is blowing they can provide over 75% of the station’s electricity. There is no way to store electricity on station so the supply and load have to be matched. To avoid blackouts we have to have spare diesel capacity online in case the output of the turbines suddenly drops due to wind conditions.

Interestingly the power output drops off if there is too much wind as well as too little. This summer we haven’t had a blackout due to a problem with matching supply to load. One year, in the early days of the wind turbines, there were over 200 black outs for the season. Thankfully, the system is well tuned now and doesn’t get us out of bed very often.