The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 20 – Clearing blizzard

Posted by Estelle - 27 December 2013

A trip to Antarctica is a story of patience. Waiting for the weather to improve, waiting for the whales and seals to appear, waiting for the right conditions to undertake research, and now waiting for an icebreaker to assist our passage out of the pack ice.  In spite of our captain’s magnificent efforts, we’ve been beset since Christmas Eve, due to the strong constant East/South-east winds that inexorably piled the pack ice up around us. I reflect on earlier expeditions caught just like us for weeks, even months, and marvel at their patience, their efforts (just like us) to amuse themselves and keep positive, even though their fate was uncertain.

Fortunately, yesterday’s blizzard cleared overnight and we were permitted to walk on the pack ice to stretch our legs, make an igloo and take photos of our ship resting serenely amongst the ice.  As always, a couple of curious penguins dropped by to look us over and show us how to toboggan down the ice ridges on their fat white bellies.  This ice surface is very different from the fast ice near Commonwealth Bay, which we traversed to Mawson’s Hut a week ago.  That ice was uneven but we were able to bump along about 20-15 kph in our Argos. Contrast the ice surrounding the ship, piled up by pressure from wind and current into jagged ridges 2-3m high, with as much below. Outside my cabin window for days there has been a pressure ridge looking just like an icy dry stone wall, until it was obliterated by the driving snow of yesterday’s blizzard.  It made me think how hard it must have been to man-haul a sledged piled high with rations and equipment, mile after mile across such ice in similar blizzard conditions. The dogged determination of Mawson’s team is awe-inspiring.

In a perverse sort of way I was glad of yesterday’s blizzard with around 50 knot winds which whined incessantly through the rigging.  It gave me a chance to experience something of the conditions in which Mawson and his men worked and travelled, leaning into the wind, the difficulty standing upright on an icy surface, the feel of snow and ice crystals stinging my face, able to see nothing but white beyond 20m, and above all the sound of that wind.

But all is peaceful now as we wait for the ice breakers which are getting very close.  Soon this chapter of our adventure will end and another begin.