Hiking to the top of Mount Henderson

Third time's a charm

One of the most visually spectacular locations in the Framnes Mountains, near Mawson, has to be Mount Henderson and its immediate surrounds. Some 20km from station the main peak is fairly easily recognisable after a short time on station. Rising to 951m, the summit towers over Mt. Hendo hut and lies to the east of Rumdoodle hut in the North Masson Range. Fang hut in the David range and the Casey range are further west.

With a tendancy to displays of rather localized weather temper tantrums, and a potentially treacherous final approach to the hut, the drive out is interesting. Neither is the weather on station a great predictor of what awaits one at destination. My first exposure to Hendo’s inclement weather was during Hägglund training when our wise owl FTO (Field Training Officer) decided that a complete final approach to the hut during a blizzard was not in our best interests, lest inexperienced drivers end up piloting said vehicle over the edge of a rather large blizz tail. I had to wait until October to finally sight the hut and navigate its infamous approach.

The pictures with this exposé are the photographic evidence of three sorties to the Mt. Hendo area, culminating in a successful assault on the summit proper in November.

A group of four of us headed out for the first tentative reconnaissance of the lower surrounds in September. Approaching from End Wave we negotiated a counterclockwise navigation of the lower slopes, skirting Hanging Lake and crossing Lake Henderson, before scrambling up a scree slope to catch a glimpse of Hidden Lake. A great day out and certainly reasonably strenuous for such a relative short walk distance wise, probably something to do with the need to carry survival packs.

The second expedition in October saw another group head to the Hendo hut for an overnight jolly. Three of us negotiating a mid-level, more adventurous traverse while often expectantly scanning the final pinch and plotting its conquest. We scrambled down scree slopes below the hut, lugged said survival packs up an unnamed peak and then picked our way across a ridge before arriving back at the hut. We took in the spectacular scenery of the wind scour to the south of Onley Hill on the final leg. Taking four hours to walk 4.2km meant we were more than happy to celebrate our successful return with dark & stormys (rum and ginger beer) made by Adam. We slept soundly that night, several of the party fortified by consumption of more than one legendary Fray Bentos pie – a well known Antarctic delicacy.

November heralded weather suitable for an all out assault on the summit. Guided and kept safe by our FTO/sherpa Mark, another group of four left station on a day when the thermometer was a tad positive and the wind relatively benign. Exiting the Hägglund at our start point we were reminded that Mt. Hendo doesn’t listen to the weather forecast on station. Extra layers were put on and the lower scree slopes crossed in a 25-30kn wind, with erstwhile intrepid sherpa leader muttering that the top of the peak might still be beyond our reach. We stopped below the final pinch to stow day packs and make preparations for the final section. The writer of this narrative, being a tad wimpish with a hard to suppress fear of heights, was at that point being rather quiet, and slow, while trying to think of bona fide excuses for not doing the final bit. Not to be, harnesses and helmets on, we started the scramble to the summit, securely belayed and guided. After two rope pitches we were successful in standing briefly at the very top, in awe of the view and with a great sense of achievement. Our sense of wonder was also somewhat increased by the perplexing discovery of a garden tap bizzarely situated at the very top. Todd our plumber was happy that he did bring a spare washer up with him.

In hindsight the final scramble is probably not that hard for most, however in a brisk Mawson breeze I am sure my fear of heights would not have tolerated the approach sans belay. If anything the descent was probably harder than the ascent, with knees complaining about the steep scree slope. Overall a great day and fitting way to visit Mt. Hendo for what will likely be the last time for me.

Frank Clark