Stepping foot on the continent
December 6, 2013

December 6th, 2013

For the last two days I have been on a traverse out to Marble Point, on the Antarctic mainland. A traverse is just an overland journey as opposed to flight or boat travel and this meant we were travelling in the Hagglunds. Our task was to transport a load of cargo out to Marble Point and from there it would be helicoptered into the dry valleys to supply scientific field camps.

We loaded up two Hagglunds for the trip as there were 9 of us going and 2 sleds worth of cargo. This redefined road trip! It took around 8hrs to cover the 90 odd kilometers to Marble point with a top speed of 30km/h and often much slower than that depending on the ground conditions. This was my first experience of the H3 Hagglund which is older than the H1(the new green one) and significantly less comfortable. After 16 hours in the H3 I gained a good appreciation for why they call the H1 1st class luxury!

Travelling across McMurdo Sound on the sea ice sure does make you feel pretty small. As you leave Ross Island behind even Erebus (which is higher than Mt Cook!) shrinks into the distance and the majestic Royal Society Range looms ever closer. This range is part of the Transantarctic mountains stretching right across Antarctic and rises over 4000m right from sea level! Looking up the Ferrar glacier we could even get a peek of the Polar Plateau.

We finally made it to the point around 4pm and spent an hour unloading the cargo from the sleds. This was no mean feat considering some of the plastic cubers weighed around 350kg! After some problem solving we constructed a snow ramp up to sled and pulled the cubers off using the other Hagglund. Phew!

The base at Marble Point isn’t actually at Marble point funnily enough! It is closer to Gneiss Point just north of Marble Point so we drove the Hagglund the last few kilometers up on the land, touching down on the continent for the first time! The landscape was extra terrestrial with the massive Wilson-Piedmont Glacier dominating the horizon as far as you could see. I feel pretty lucky to get to the continent so soon after I have arrived as some said they had been to Antarctica multiple times without stepping foot on the continent itself.

Once we arrived at the station were greeted warmly by Crunch and Karyn who live here over the summer and Tanya who was with the US fueling department. Crunch is one of those Antarctic legends who has been around as long as anyone can remember and he had plenty of stories to share! Marble point is the main refueling spot for helicopters travelling into the dry valleys and beyond, and incase of bad weather there is some bunk accomodation for the passengers which is where we slept. There was even little chocolates on the pillows!

Before dinner we walked up to the face of the imposing Wilson-Piedmont Glacier to have a look around. Piedmont glaciers occur at the bottom of mountain ranges when the ground levels out and the glacier fans out. This particular piedmont glacier was the combination of about 3 glaciers coming down from the dry valleys and completely blocked off the view into the strange snowless valleys.

After a hearty meal of roast pork we headed of for a walk up to the Bay of Sails with views across the Ross Sea. There were no sails today though with sea ice as far as the eye could see but there was an incredible sort of ice berg graveyard. These towering chunks of ice were entrapped in the sea ice and were dotted around right to the horizon.

The next morning we got all packed up and trundled off home arriving just before dinner. It’s amazing how knackered you can feel sitting down all day in a Hagglund and it was a relief to see Scott Base appear around the corner from McMurdo!



Hamish Laing

Hamish Laing

BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2013