When a lot of people think of Mawson Station, most people would think about the dogs being here in recent history. Mawson Station was the last Australian Antarctic Station to use the huskies — they were used from the start in 1954 right up until the early 1990s. Now obviously 30 years on there are still a lot of things around station showing they were here or remembering them. We still have the old dog huts as well as a whole room dedicated to them (“the dog room”), and we still have field huts, caches and fuel depots that were originally put in place to support the “dog runs” — the most commonly used dog route being the run to Kloa Point.
Whilst we have not returned to Kloa Point in a few years we do use most of the old route for access to our most remote field hut. Ledinghams hut is located 150km from Mawson Station in William Scoresby Bay and it was a fuel depot and possible stopover point then. The only way to access this hut is by helicopter or by travelling over the sea ice during winter, which is what a team of winterers did last week in order to check on the hut and carry out maintenance.
The team consisted of Mark Savage, Donna Wightman, Nick Cullen, Brett Donoghue, Mal Slaven and Nate Payne. We departed station Wednesday 04/09/18 around 9:30am and with the sun shining and the sea ice flat, it was a glorious start to the trip. We aimed to be at Colbeck hut (which is 90kms from station) by the end of the day and with a few photo opportunities of the icebergs and a jade iceberg turning us into instant tourists, we easily arrived there with enough time to start carrying out some of the needed maintenance.
The next day we departed Colbeck hut for Ledingham hut, which is another 60km away. We had another glorious day and arrived at the Hut at 2:30pm. We used the rest of the day to carry out the majority of our maintenance such as: checking and servicing the gas system; electrical checks; fixing up minor leaks; adjusting hold downs; changing out emergency ration packs and food; and checking on the fuel levels.
We went for a short walk up a hill just north of the hut to take in the view overlooking the Stillwell Hills, Fold Island and Stefansson bay as the sun was setting.
The next day we negotiated some brutal sastrugi and rafted ice to see the Fold Island emperor penguin colony. Fold Island rookery is a small rookery, but with the sun out and wind down we watched the very energetic and entertaining emperor penguin chicks now running around on their own feet.
Day 3 at Ledinghams saw us complete all our maintenance so we headed out to the Stillwell Hills to confirm that an old fuel depot had been removed. It was once used for surveying and studying the Stillwell Hills through the 1990s. We didn’t find the fuel depot but we did find an amazing series of melt lakes, hills, islands and rock and ice formations around Kemp Lake.
The next morning, we departed Ledingham hut to return to Colbeck Hut, whilst checking in on a few other old fuel depots and cache locations along the way. We completed the last of our jobs at Colbeck hut and we enjoyed our last meal cooked by our amazing chef Donna, who also surprised us with some choc brownies she had prepared earlier.
On our final day we had the last 90km leg back to the station and the good weather window continued for us.
This was an amazing trip, not just to get off station (we have had weeks of bad weather holding us to the confines of station), but because of the significance these fuel depots and huts once had to the station and how important these huts are now and into the future.