This week we hear about the first time observations of a photographer new to Antarctica; and the exhilarating experience of climbing a mountain peak at Mawson.

Climbing Fang

It was all we could do not to look down as our eyes followed the final pitch up the broken cliff face to Mount Fang’s summit. Our fearless trip leader Heidi (field training officer) clipped two ropes into her harness and started to climb. I couldn’t help thinking I was witnessing a scene straight out of Tomb Raider. The three of us that remained nervously waited for Heidi to reach the top and set up anchor for us. Heided shouted down ‘on belaaaay!'. That meant the anchor was ready.

'Climbing’ Hayden (carpenter) shouted in response as he began ascending, the rope following him up the mountain. Alex (diesel mechanic) began tying himself in while the remaining slack played out and moments later he too was climbing. Still waiting for my turn to climb (and not wanting to look down!) I distracted myself by watching the graceful snow petrels that had begun to wheel and dive overhead.

Some of the snow petrels had taken an apparent interest in Hayden and Alex as they scampered up the rock face. They must be perplexed by these four ungainly, earthbound visitors to their domain. Two sharp tugs on the rope I was attached to interrupted my musings. It was time to climb, my heart quickened. Fatigue was forgotten as I set out lifting one hand over the other until I was reaching up and pulling myself over that last ledge. At last I looked down.

To our south a vast blue icy expanse extended out as far as the eye could see. To the east and west of us ancient rocky mountains towered above the plateau connected by fields of crevasses. To the north of us icy cliffs dropped into the frozen sea stretching out past a horizon scattered with icebergs and islands housing penguin colonies.

Heidi, Hayden, Alex and I discussed how you would ever describe what we saw to people back at home. In the end we all agreed. They just have to see it with their own eyes!  

Luke (electrician).

Deep time scale musings

So little of Antarctica appears sensible to me as a first-time observer. At 50 nautical miles out, the low bank of cloud floating above the berg strewn coast is revealed to me as the Antarctic ice-sheet. Rising 4000 metres and spanning the horizon, its structure is so vast that my visual system defaults to reading it as sky and atmosphere.

Five days later I’m walking on the frozen ocean near Macklin Island. Suspended on a membrane as hard as concrete I examine the island and its glacial erratics, imagining the seabed under me dotted with a similar selection of geological samples. Awe-struck by the immense forces and the deep time scale that brings this all into being, I’m left with the distinct sensation that its all just an image another attempt by my nervous system to make sense of things that completely exceed its understanding.

I’m left musing that perhaps for me, Antarctica will remain a dream; on the one hand a phantasm of spectral splendour that stretches beyond the horizon of this endless summer day, and on the other, a wild snow-blind void that threatens to disorientate and demobilise.

Martin (Arts Fellow)