This week at Mawson we climb mountains and look at the latest from Béchervaise Island

Caravanning in the Framnes Mountains

Well we have been spoilt with the weather here at Mawson. With a few big jobs completed and workloads under control Heidi, Dan, Hilly and Gav headed off station for a weekend away climbing.

Mt Hordern area is outside the station operating area. This means we need to apply for special approval and provide a Job Hazard Analysis and weigh up skills, experience and have the appropriate personnel on the team to ensure we can cope with any situation.

With all this approved we prepped and got the caravan spruced up for a weekend away. The RMIT van is a fantastic piece of history and also provides respite when returning from a day out in the mountains (the vans were developed in collaboration with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in the 1960s and are still going strong).

We departed Mawson station after dinner to get a head start on the 3–4 hour drive ahead of us, staying at Rumdoodle Hut for the night.

Mt Hordern, at 1444 metres, is the highest in the Framnes Mountains and is a reasonably serious climb. Our group had already climbed together and knew each other’s abilities well. The climb requires a 400 metre approach, then transition to snow, utilising crampons and ice axes (two pitches of snow/ice), then a steep scramble to the final pitch up an 8 metre chimney climb. The exposure throughout this route sees us looking directly down at camp below with the blue ice north face giving a real sense of exposure.

We arrived at our campsite in the afternoon with time to set up the caravan and tent. A relaxing evening with stunning views and good company is always a special moment to share with good friends in Antarctica. Gavin and Hilly had completed the winter and it was a well–earned break for them.

The next morning was a stunning blue sky, light wind day. The view from the tent door was the million dollar view — west face of Mt Hordern.

The weather forecast was spot on. After a short drive to the start we donned heavy packs and began the approach. The saddle was a sheltered, scenic location, a spot to find a warm rock and take in the views!

After a quick drink, food and gear sort, we began the climb up the snow/ice, steep scree slope to the final 8 metre chimney climb. Again tucked out of the wind, we all enjoyed the final rope pitch to the summit. The views are always breathtaking and the moment when we all stand together is rewarding. But as we all know the top is only half way, so we begin the descent. This goes smoothly and efficiently until we arrive back at the saddle. We all meander our way back through the rocks and reflect on the climb in our own thoughts.

Back at the RMIT van we all go into some organising mode, food, dinner, cuppa tea, sort gear and tend to other chores that need doing (pre-empting a departure the next morning back to Mawson).

The evening goes by quickly with stories and sharing a well-earned beer. The weather tomorrow is for an increase in wind, which on the Plateau can mean double the predicted wind speeds on station. So with this in our minds we all turn in for the night. The tent is surprisingly warm, its downfall is the bright yellow colour — with no sunset it’s like sleeping with all the lights on!

After a hearty breakfast we packed up and departed mid–morning. The weather, as predicted, was a bit of blowing snow at ground level, 40 knots on our tail home and good travel conditions. We arrived back at Mawson by mid-afternoon; a shower, washing and demob of gear saw the evening come round nicely

Three days away with a great team and a goal achieved, we all reflected on how refreshed we feel and ready for the next few weeks before the ship arrives.

Ka kite ano

Heidi Godfrey

Béche Island update

This week has seen Matt and Lisa move full swing into tagging 300 chicks on the island. There are approximately 1200 chicks to monitor on the island now, many of which are rapidly losing their down and sprouting adult feathers and are busily chasing their parents around the colony for food. Most of the adults are now congregating outside the colonies and hiding behind rocks and ledges to get a break from the demanding chicks.

Matt and Lisa have started tagging chicks in the study colony and are about half way through their quota. The tagging process involves capturing chicks (which are now fast little runners) and injecting a microchip. Then weighing and marking the bird with a non–toxic stock maker to avoid catching it again. Most chicks are now in the 4–5 kilogram weight range.

The microchip is very similar to the one that at vet would inject into a dog or cat and it allows us to monitor the bird throughout its life. In the years to come when the chicks come back to the island as adults to breed, a remote chip reader and weighbridge will provide researchers with information about who has survived to breeding age, foraging trip duration and chick provisioning during breeding events.

In the coming week the team will revisit the 200 or so marked snow petrel nests to do a final check on breeding success. Those that have successfully bred now have relatively large chicks that are beginning to develop adult plumage.

The skua chicks on the island are also doing well, with eight chicks now losing their down and starting to exercise their flight muscles ready for final fledging.