Two field expeditions from Mawson station lead to the wreckage of a Russian aircraft and magnificent frozen lakes.

Crevasse travel training

Russian aircraft field training trip, Saturday 26th July 2014

This week at Mawson three outdoors-people were selected from the small pool of eligible expeditioners to do a day trip to the mangled Russian aircraft that lies in a crevasse field approximately ten or so kilometres from station. The day trip was to be used as a form of crevasse field travel training.

The Aircraft, a Lisunov Li-2T, was brought to Antarctica by the Soviet Antarctic Program in 1958 and was utilised for about ten years until two days before Christmas in 1968 when, while taxiing for a takeoff from Rumdoodle, the aircraft was caught by a strong gust of wind and damage to a wing and propeller ensued. The aircraft was unserviceable and shortly after was blown to its current resting place during a blizzard. It is rumoured that the pilot was dismissed from the Soviet Antarctic Program and sent to Siberia for a month, a cruel punishment for such a small mistake. His fate beyond that is unknown.

Below I have included the trip plan for the excursion:

Who: Heidi (FTO/Trip leader), Dan (Electrician) and Chris (Carpenter)
Travel out to waypoint F14 with Hägglunds. From waypoint F14 it is possible to drive out to waypoint RUSS0 using caution (one kilometre further north on blue ice).

From waypoint RUSS0 it is just under one kilometre to the Russian Aircraft.

Walking time — approx one hour each way therefore allow two and a half hours for a return trip Hägglunds to Hägglunds.

Weather outlook: Fine, SE 10–15 knots, −25°C to −28°C

Meet at 0830 and check everyone has all personal gear below and lunch/snacks etc for the day.

Depart Mawson at 0930 in Hägglunds for waypoint F14. Drive to waypoint RUSS0 using caution and park here. On route training will be more around pointing out the hazards and what to look and listen for while also fine tuning walking as a roped party. Turnaround time will be 1400 on the plateau. Drive back to Mawson and be back on station by 1730.

Comms: everyone to carry a radio plus spare battery. Will radio upon leaving station on CH7, radio in at waypoint GWAMM on CH20 to VLV Mawson for a radio check. Notify VLV Mawson on arrival at waypoint F14. Will notify VLV Mawson if we do drive to waypoint RUSS0 and park there. Will radio VLV Mawson once back at Hägglunds / waypoint RUSS0 or waypoint F14. Notify VLV Mawson on arrival back on station. Will carry a SAT phone with us also.


Personal gear each:

  • Personal technical search and rescue equipment
  • Pack large enough to carry gear, and comfortable
  • Spare warm gear
  • Rigid plastic boots
  • Crampons
  • Thermos
  • Water bottle
  • Spare warm clothes
  • Lunch/snacks
  • Survival equipment
  • Goggles/warm face gear
  • GPS + navigational aids
  • Radio + spare battery
  • Pee bottle

Group gear:

  • Glacier rope x 1
  • Snow stakes x 3
  • First aid kit x 2
  • Satellite phone
  • GPS + navigational aids
  • Radio + spare battery
  • Pee bottle

Rumdoodle in July

Sunday morning 0900, one orange Hägglunds is heading up the hill from the workshop — a quick stop at the red shed (accommodation building) to load up the personal and group survival gear, and food for a quick one night in the field to get away from the hustle and bustle of station life. Then off we go: Ewan Lydia and I (Jens). Destination: Rumdoodle hut. When you go into the field you need to name the party and usually the party will have the intended location in the name, so we named ourselves ‘The Ramones', after the hut we were destined for. Rumdoodle hut rests at the foot of Rumdoodle Peak, towering 875 metres above and in the North Masson Range, 20Km South of Mawson station.

The drive takes one and a half hours and incorporates some of the most beautiful landscape that I have seen anywhere in the world. We left before the sun came up, but the morning twilight was well and truly here. By the time we arrived at the hut, the sun was up. The Hägglunds was unpacked, Genset started and gas heater turned on to get the inside of the hut above −25°C, water was heated for a cuppa before going for an afternoon stroll over to Rumdoodle and North Doodle lakes, a three kilometre round trip. Before we left the hut, micro-spikes are donned. We use these when we walk on the ice, and they have small spikes on the base that are joined with chains and a rubber strap that slips nicely over your boot. There was not a breath of wind and the scene was set. This is not what I expected before I headed south at the start of the year, as I knew the Mawson area to be very windy but a calm day like this is not unwelcome — it allows us to get out and see all that this land has to offer. The walk back found the three of us stopping to listen — the noise was fantastic, just standing in one location, not moving. Don’t make a sound, and just listen to the silence — deafening, nothing, not even the rustle of leaves in the trees (there are no trees here).

Back in the hut, we got the heater back on and warming the hut some more, whenever we leave the hut the heater and power is isolated. As night fell, we watched the skies, hoping that we would see the ever elusive auroras, but this trip they were not to be seen.

Monday morning saw the day start with a cloudless sky and five knots of wind gust — a perfect day to head to Fern Lake, a short drive two kilometres from Rumdoodle hut. Close by the lake is what is known as Gun Barrel Pass. The wind at Gun Barrel Pass can be quite harsh, so to be going up on a day like this is a bonus. I was thinking that we might get a nice trip out of this and that the wind may only be 30 or 40 knots through the pass. We arrived at Fern Lake and started the walk up to Gun Barrel Pass — five knots breeze, and what a view, looking at the Central Masson range five kilometres to the south and the David Range to the west, some 11 kilometres away. We made the trek down the hill in 45 minutes, then it was time for some more sightseeing. There are large (well I think so, anyway) wind scourers on the west side of Fern Lake that Lydia hadn’t yet seen, so over we went. The change in layers and colours is out of this world, then we headed to Lake Lorna. All the lakes are frozen.

One and a half hours after we got to the wind scourers we were back in the Hägglunds, heading back to Rumdoodle hut to pack and return to the station.

All in all, a great way to spend 36 hours.

Jens Steenbach