Survival training, igloos, and auroras at Mawson.

A (very tongue-in-cheek!) review of survival training by Mawson Chef, Nick

Well, here we are again. Every time the phone rings, it seems to be Mr Noel Tennant, offering me another position down south. And every time, I fall for it. Blah blah, mountains, penguins, frozen lakes, auroras, seals and orcas.

He never mentions the sleeping out in a bright yellow trashbag. Or the fingers that feel like someone slammed them in a car door. Hard. He never lets on that I’m pretty much going to have to eat my own mediocre cooking for a whole year, or that a lot of my time will have to be used for sorting photos of the above mentioned incredible scenery.

But I digress. Last week was survival training time for group 3, the sorriest bunch of halfwits ever to strap on an ice-axe and venture forth into the wilds with a vague hope of living through it.

Allan “Frostbite” Waldeck (Comms), Dave “Custard” Bone, (F.T.O.) and Greg “Positive Chakras” Crawford accompanied myself out to Fang Peak in the David Range, and Rumdoodle Hut in the Masson Range. Here, I was expected to dig my own hole and lie down in it all night, and somehow wake up in a good mood. Bon chance with that, mate.

To top it off, there was a dehydrated meal of raccoon gruel or something equally appetising, just because.

Next day, we set off for some map-reading and GPS training so we wouldn’t get lost if Dave cast us off and went skiing to the South Pole like he threatened more than once. Although at times I think he was trying to find a crevasse, just to put us out of our misery. Greg managed to drive the Hägglunds with something approaching competency across 15 km of white, white ice.

The second night was spent in Rumdoodle Hut, eating some of the finest beef/vegetable/vegetable/beef??? lasagnes ever foisted on a human in Antarctica. I might have had a 10 minute nap, but the day seemed to fly by. I then had another, longer, (9 hour?) nap, just to be safe.

Next morning, somehow, Allan managed by sheer dumb luck to get us back to station, where I was treated to another meal of leftovers I’d prepared the day before we left.

Come to Antarctica, it truly is awesome. The whales, seals and the mountains. The orcas, people and the food. We love it.

Cheers, Nick Baker, Station Chef.

(Disclaimer: No chefs, communication technicians, or plant operators were at risk or hurt in the making of this survival training. They may however have been mildly annoyed at the cold leftover food. A ton.)

Igloo construction and auroras

Welcome to the newest BnB offering in Antarctica! During some much-needed downtime on Saturday afternoon, which happily correlated nicely with a spell of clear, calm (yet still quite cold) weather, Scott and Jess, aided by Jimmy and Alby, took to the snow to discover just how difficult it is to build an igloo. Construction started well, with a good size circle of snow blocks laid down. However, things went a little astray as the walls rose, ending with an overall igloo much taller than planned. Given that the majority of the 76th Mawson team are about 6ft tall plus, this is probably for the better anyway. With most of the work done, it was left to solidify overnight in the -20ºC air.

Sunday saw the finishing touches made with the roof closed over, the entrance tunnel expanded, and additional blizz walls to line the path in. A comfortable sitting platform was levelled inside also. The big test was Sunday night when Scott took the plunge and set up for a cosy night inside. With a head torch, candle, sleeping bag and mat, as well as a CO monitor and radio for safety, he braved the slightly warmer (only -15ºC) night. With Scott still smiling at breakfast the next morning, everyone was provided with all the proof needed that the igloo was a success! (Additional note – Scott is always smiling, so this proof may not be as concrete as first presumed).

The other stand-out benefit of the week of clear skies was the chance to see some fantastic auroras. With full night quickly stretching out, the lack of light pollution here in Antarctica provides the perfect viewing location for the dancing light of the aurora australis. Several expeditioners braved the cold night to find just the right spot for an excellent photograph. Numbed fingers were forced to adjust ISO, aperture, timing and other random camera functions in the hope that the resulting image would capture the magic of the sky. The photos are getting close!

Cat (Mawson SL)