Mountain biking to Welch Island and a photo rich trip to the automatic weather station (AWS).

Mountain biking to Welch Island

While friends were spending the weekend back in NZ mountain biking I was also able to say I was doing the same. Well, kind of.

Our daylight hours are favourable to be heading out and enjoying the last of the sun’s rays here at Mawson. It was a refreshing −25°C and light winds from the South East when James and I headed out mountain biking to Welch Island for a few hours. Welch Island rises 130 metres and around six kilometres from Mawson station over the sea ice (which is currently over one metre thick). It is a prominent hill that is often talked about around a meal.

Welch Island was discovered 14 February 1931 by the British, Australia and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZRE), and is named after B.F Welch, the Second Engineer on the RSS Discovery.

You may be sitting at home thinking “Are these guys crazy?”. I often liken the temps down here to a cold, clear frosty winter’s day back in New Zealand. When there is little to no wind here, −25°C can feel not too far off a −2°C frosty morning back in New Zealand. I know you probably still don’t believe me… Anyway, we were off mountain biking out to Welch Island with the plan to park up our bikes and climb to the top of our ‘local hill’. The bikes we have down here arrived on voyage six with us, and they sport some rather fat tyres which prove ideal on the sea ice.

It was great to be moving along under a different mode of transport. The surface changed from grippy ice, to blue and then to a lumpy, bumpy grippy surface. All the while the views were fantastic and distracted us from any discomfort. It was nice to be walking on the rock and heading to another ‘scenic lookout’ where we were rewarded with a moon rising on one side and the final rays of the sun disappearing below the horizon — with that comes some amazing colours that a photo will never do justice. The wind picked up enough to spur us back down to our bikes — we stole glances back to the moon which grew more iridescent as we put the kilometres behind us.

Winter is here at Mawson: the sun sits below the horizon, but there is still plenty to do outside and the weekends are rolling around quickly. Ahh, it’s just like a cold frosty day in New Zealand!

Heidi Godfrey

AWS project 3372

Last Wednesday, a team of six headed out into the field to perform maintenance on the automatic weather station (AWS) at a site approximately 20km southeast of Mt Henderson.

Our main objective was to perform maintenance on the AWS and download the latest data from the data loggers that record ice temperatures and local weather parameters, as well as complete a number of small projects along the way as part of the Australian Antarctic Division’s modernisation program.

This was no ordinary trip out in the field. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to visit an area that’s well out of station operational limits. It kind of felt like we were training to go to Mars after four weeks of planning, including: meetings, risk assessments, operations plans, phone hook ups to HQ, trip plans and additional crevasse travel training for the group. By the end, all we were depending on was a three day weather window and we were on our way. Unfortunately however, Mother Nature wasn’t about to hand this to us on a plate, waiting a full two weeks before we finally had our chance to depart.

So at 11am Wednesday both the blue and orange Hägglunds with the RMIT van in tow (caravan on skis) departed Mawson for Mt Henderson hut. Upon arrival we split up into two teams with Greg, Andy and Jens re-installing the channel 21 VHF repeater not far from the hut and Chris, Heidi and Dan setting off in the blue Hägglunds for a reconnaissance run to and from the AWS site. Both repeater and reconnaissance tasks were successful with the weather station looking in good working order after nearly seven months since the previous visit.

The next day we all set off towards the AWS. The route was slow going, covered in heavy sastrugi (sharp irregular grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion) with a couple of short sections of blue ice occasionally coming across some minor crevassing. We had no problems crossing them in the Hägglunds. Two hours later we arrived at the weather station with Andy, Greg and Jens teaming up to download the AWS data, check the temperature logger and the general condition of equipment, and conduct minor repairs where possible, whilst Heidi, Dan and I began gearing up for cane line maintenance as well as data logging ice movement and future ablation/accumulation in the general area of the AWS.

After two and a half hours at the AWS site Heidi, Dan and I departed the weather station leaving Andy, Greg and Jens to finish their task on what was a successful download of data with only a few minor hiccups (the computer literally froze up and had to be reheated in the RMIT van two or three times). We began our trek back installing bamboo canes every two kilometres along the route, as well as some foot travel to existing canes (some are still standing since 1988!) off track that require roping up due to potential crevassing in the area. After a long, cold and windy day we arrived back on station on dusk at 1745 just in time for a feed.

Chris Hill