Monday, December 14, 2009

Mawson's hut team sets up home on the ice

Pauline Askin

Aerial shot of ice cracking on the Cape Denison coastline, East Antarctica

I am now standing on Antarctica, my icy home for the next six weeks and it’s minus five degrees Celsius and majestic. My new address is Commonwealth Bay, Cape Denison, 67 degrees South, East Antarctica.

A group of curious penguins greeted us as we unpacked our gear, but our nearest human neighbours are 200 kms west at the French Antarctic base Dumont D’Urville.
Commonwealth Bay looks like a tourism postcard. A curved bay with a coastline of ice cliffs. The isolation is stark. Apart from Sir Douglas Mawson’s huts, which we are here to restore, a radio mast and our portacabins, there is nothing but ice. From today we will live and work in close quarters without seeing anyone else until a scheduled cruise ship arrival in mid-January 2010.

It’s 10.24 pm as I write this blog but it is not night. This is a land that never gets dark during summer, which is a little surreal.

I have been awake for nearly 24 hours since l’Astrolabe arrived in Commonwealth Bay in perfect weather, light winds and cloud cover, ending our 2,500 kms journey from Australia. After a quick coffee we started the helicopter shuttle.

It took us two hours and about seven helicopter trips to transfer the 10 members of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation 2009/10 Expedition, laden with polar clothing, survival packs and work equipment. There were also 14 caged pallets of food, scientific equipment, generators, fuel and building materials for the restoration work.

I was fortunate to go back up in the helicopter for about 20 minutes while my colleague Dr. Peter Morse was shooting video footage for a documentary.

Aerial shot of the huts Sir Douglas Mawson and his team lived in during their 1911-13 expedition

I had a bird’s eye view of the Cape Denison coast, where I saw deep cracks in the ice cliffs and my first sight of Mawson’s huts, half buried under snow and ice from the Antarctic winter. With everything firmly planted on the ice, the pilot waved us goodbye as he hovered overhead.

We quickly unpacked equipment so that we could get indoors and get properly clothed as fast as possible, then erected tents, dug a freezer cave for our frozen foods and unpacked pallets. There is still a few days work unpacking the pallets.

By about 9 a.m. we were sitting down to a steaming bowl of Egyptian lentil soup made by one of the team — it was delicious and just what was needed to warm up.
The rest of the day passed very quickly and included a walk to Mawson’s huts. The main hut and workshop are pretty well exposed and there’ll be no problems getting access to restore them, says expedition leader Tony Stewart. Some of the group did a water run to Alga Lake to secure some freshly melted Antarctic snow. Most people have now gone to bed and it’s time for me to join the slumber party. Good night.

Aerial shot of the Astrolabe in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica.

1 comment:

Margaret C. Mack said...

That's a very interesting post, thanks for sharing. I wonder if you have some packing list for your expedition or just used something already posted. When I was on my Antarctic cruise I've used Packing List for Antarctic Travelling by Poseidon Expeditions.