First days on the Antarctic continent

By Bianca,

After our arrival near Davis station we got flown out by a helicopter to catch our plane to Mawson. The Aurora can only park in the sea ice, around 3-4 km away from Davis station and usually people just walk over the sea ice. However, due to the delay we already had, people who weren’t staying at Davis got rushed out,

Icebergs in the sea ice in front of Davis station

Icebergs in the sea ice in front of Davis station

to fly 2,5 hours to Mawson. One of the reasons was the fantastic weather we have had these days, with a blue, sunny sky and almost no wind. Arrived at the station we got loaded with work, which was a sudden change to the lazy and relaxed life on the Aurora. After some more information and briefings we got our equipment and started our overnight field and survival training on the next day. We mainly got trained on how to survive in case of a sudden weather change and the risk of getting lost. Under really bad conditions you can miss your team colleague or the hut even when it’s just 20m beside you and finding shelter, without falling into a crevasse would be your main concern. We walked over the sea ice in Mawson bay, did some mapping and GPS reading exercises, drilled into the sea ice to check the thickness, exercised whiteout conditions by finding an object walking with a pillow case on our heads and carved our bed for the night into the snow. This night was an exercise to survive in an emergency just with your survival gear (warm clothes, map, compass and GPS, ice axe, sleeping bag and bivvy) by

Bivvying in the snow as part of the survival training

Bivvying in the snow as part of the survival training

quickly setting up a shallow hole where you can place your bivvy. The night was rather cold (ice formed inside the bivvy) and we were all happy when we went back to the station early on the next morning.

After arriving back at the station we had some breakfast, a shower and some more sleep before we started our day. We began to organise the food for our camping trip and the field equipment that will be required (a bit more luxury than the survival night). In the evening we were lucky to get a ride in one of the Hägglund (Hagg) with the chief of the station up to one of the mountain huts. That means going up the big Antarctic plateau, all just pure ice. We got an incredible view over the plateau, mountain ranges and the sea with its icebergs, and the thought about the fact that you were standing on

The Hägglund we used on our trip up the ice plateau. The front door got blown inside the Hagg by the katabatic winds and had to be repaired after our trip

The Hägglund we used on our trip up the ice plateau. The front door got blown inside the Hagg by the katabatic winds and had to be repaired after our trip

almost a kilometre of pure ice was, and still is, just unbelievable. After a couple of hours and a tea in the hut, we went back to the Hagg to go somewhere else…and learned why you have to be prepared for everything here in Antarctica. The Hagg didn’t start for any obvious reason and could not be fixed. Meanwhile the katabatic winds started to blow and within five minutes conditions changed from beautifully calm and mild to windy and freezing. Considering weather conditions and time (by then it was 9.30pm) the decision was made to stay in the hut.

Fortunately, it was a surprisingly comfortable night, with a real bed, a little kitchen and plenty of food (all kinds of food, as everything survives in the cold). On the next morning, after the loss of one of the Hagg doors due to the very strong katabatic wind and some more hours of trying to fix the Hagg we were successfully on our way back to the station.

On the following day we decided not to go anywhere, with the hope to finally sleep in our bed at the station. The weather has been really good again, although we had strong winds. Tomorrow we are likely to start our field work, if the weather doesn’t change we will fly out to set camp at Richardson Lake in Enderby Land and to set up our GPS stations (previous blog post).

View to the mountain ranges from Mt. Henderson

View to the mountain ranges from Mt. Henderson

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