This week has seen plenty of activity here at Mawson. After waiting over a month for the sea ice to the west of the station to thicken enough to allow our Hägglunds vehicles to travel safely, we once again set out to reach Taylor Glacier, over 90 km to our west. Knowing that the first 15 km at least was solid, the six of us loaded up into our two Hägglunds vehicles and set off before sunrise to ensure we had as much daylight as possible on our side once we reached untested ice! It was, therefore, with great relief when we reached the point where, a month earlier, we had been forced to turn around due to ice only 50 cm thick. We now found that it had thickened to over 85 cm.
Where previously there had been wide cracks with open water, now lay solid, rafted joins of sea ice. From there, we pushed into the unknown, stopping to check ice thickness at every crack and after every kilometre. While the entire distance to Colbeck Island near Taylor Glacier had ice over a metre thick, it was tough going on the vehicles and our kidneys. I am now not entirely sure which is the most uncomfortable: sastrugi is relatively smooth but delivers a battering as the vehicle slowly climbs over its odd angles and we swerve repeatedly trying to find a way through the pattern of snow drifts; rafting forces us to get out and smash sharp ridges with our axes to allow the Häggs past; and rubble delivers bone-jarring travel no matter how slow we drive. A trip that in past seasons has only taken three to four hours, took us eight!
As the sun starts to set, we finally reach Colbeck Island, and we use the last of the light to unpack and set up the hut and van for the three nights ahead. The next day, we set out on the short trip to the emperor penguin colony at Taylor Glacier. As an Antarctic Specially Protected Area, the rookery at Taylor is only visited an absolute maximum of three times a year, and we take every precaution to avoid disturbing the penguins in any way. By doing this, we are able to study a colony that has had almost zero interaction with humans. The team splits up, with two going to check on the unattended cameras that operate throughout the year, taking regular photos of the colony, and two of us walking around to take long-distance photographs of the colony from next to the glacier itself. As the sky clouds over and snow begins to blow, it is with relief that – having completed our missions – we make it back to the vehicles and head back to our huts on Colbeck Island.
On the third day, we took the opportunity presented by the clear, calm weather to prove the ice further west around Taylor Glacier. We also have the privilege to visit Proclamation Point at Cape Bruce. It was here in 1931 that Sir Douglas Mawson stood as leader of the 1929-31 British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) and claimed the land for the King. On the site was erected a mast with a metal plaque, and a copy of the declaration was left in a metal tube under the rocks. The plaque reads: The British flag was hoisted and British sovereignty asserted on the 18th day of February 1931. It was two years later that Britain passed the territory to Australia. After writing our names in the logbook that is kept next to the declaration (a copy now as the original was deteriorating and therefore taken back to Australia for safe-keeping), we got a group photo and spent a little time exploring the area before once again heading back to our warm, cosy, accommodation at Colbeck and a wonderful meal of reheated, vacuum packed, leftovers. (Although it might not sound it – when it is Nick’s cooking, even leftovers are spectacular)
Our return trip to station passed without incident other than the occasional stop to admire the beauty of the coastline. Upon our return, it was Nick’s turn to be cooked for. In our absence, Jimmy had cooked up a wonderful birthday dinner, while Marissa had baked a fantastic birthday cake! It was also with amusement that we drove through the film set of Mawson’s entry into the Winter International Film Festival of Antarctica. Each year, all the countries’ stations are invited to provide a short film (no more than 5 minutes long). We only have 48 hours to film, edit and submit the movie, and it must contain five specified elements – a sound, an action, a quote, a character, and an object. No spoilers will be provided yet as release and voting are still a couple of weeks away – but suffice to say, the team have done a great job!
Cat (Mawson Station Leader)