Apr - Sledge
Preparations for this trip started almost two months prior to departure. One mistimed remark too many about the demonic nature of skidoos and a man-hauling trip was born. This entails popping all your essentials into a sledge, tying into a harness and pulling the sledge along behind you, sheer madness in the eyes of all but ourselves.
Ed, in true field assistant style, drew up a strict training and preparation programme for the punter, myself. Two baby sledges were found and filled with rocks. Three mornings a week saw me up at 0600h to meet ‘himself’ on the ramp for two hours ‘training’. We would haul the sledges along the traverse and back. In all honesty, it was fantastic and we were witness to many superb sunrises.
In parallel with this training, the real pulks were prepared. Ed put many hours into this and everything was planned with razor sharp precision. Lists were issued and daily reports on running weight were given, starting with the initially ridiculous 900lbs between us, to the final pruned ‘essentials only’ 260lbs each.
Despite a few setbacks, the departure day finally dawned, the day the Dash-7 left us all for the winter. The day itself was stunning, a beautiful sunrise with incredible low-lying stratus cloud to the east (David Lee, I hope I am right on that one!). I was quite (read VERY) apprehensive and not even sure that I could pull the weight (and cope with the ridicule of only making it to Orca less than 2 miles away)!! However, we strapped in and roped up; several sharp pulls and a grunt or two later and my sledge agreed to move. We were off. Huge grins all round, we really were off, the day was gorgeous and we had a whole week away!! I couldn’t believe it.
Day two started gently but very quickly turned into a manhauler’s nightmare, the slope up towards McCallum’s pass got steeper and steeper. My pulk got heavier and heavier and started to require Herculean effort to move. Monica Seles eat your heart out. However, after two or three hours we reached the top to be greeted by a view to take your breath away, that is if there was any left. Two huge grins broke out and the inevitable Biscuits Brown stop was had. The following few hours travelling past the Sunnyside Glacier and on between Stoke’s Peaks and Trident were magical. I forgot what was behind me and was just lost in time and space. No words were required and the journey just continued.
That night at camp, we gazed south across to Ryder Bay and to the east, watched the moon rise above Stoke’s Peaks. Sleep came easy that night, aided by a glass of port from the list of ‘essential items’. Our next goal was Sighing Peak, tucked away past Webb Island and in a ‘no-skidoo zone’. It was an interesting journey with a steep downhill section to negotiate. Our pulks behaved somewhat in character: Ed’s, slow, steady and reliable; mine, somewhat erratic and temperamental. Still, both arrived intact and smiling.
It was about this time that I realised I was away with a field assistant obsessed with digging. Each camp required the pitching of our very own, bright orange, pyramid tent. These are designed to withstand the rigours of Antarctic weather. However, survival through a storm depends somewhat on adequate pitching. I was soon to discover that adequate pitching involved the daily digging of a HUGE hole into which the tent would fit. The valences then had to be buried under more snow blocks. Only then was I allowed to collapse onto my P-bag and start the important task of a brew and dinner. Setting up camp could take up to two hours- an important consideration at the end of a day. Fortunately, our tent pitching prowess was never tested as the weather behaved itself all week (well, almost).
Overall, it was an incredible trip. The Weather Gods had definitely smiled on us and each day ended with a great feeling of satisfaction born of independent travel. I valued the time to take in the scenery and lose myself in my thoughts.
Another manhauling trip? Most definitely!!