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Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 1970-71: VUWAE 15


page 10


On December 13th Barrett discussed with Professor Clark, who had just arrived at Scott Base, modifications to the programme required by Kohn's return to New Zealand. At the 1215 schedule it was agreed that the three men at Scott Base, with Shamus Curreen as party leader, would work in the Allan Mills until January 10th, when Grapes and Reid would go to Taylor Valley for two weeks, and McPherson and Kohn, if the latter returned, would carry out Kohn's programme in Victoria Valley, The remainder of the day was spent completing repairs to the toboggans, mainly adding extra bolts to the skid rails of No. 3.

On December 14th Ritchie and Young collected more fish from Mt. Metschel, and Barrett and Askin set out to do geological reconnaissance at the head of the neve. Six miles from camp the bolts on the skid rail tore out, and it was only with some patience that the machine was brought back to camp. At the same time the engine which had just been brought in from Scott Base began running erratically. It had no sediment bowl and the carburettor was fouled. Attempts at camp to fit a filter bowl were unsuccessful as the three spares had no connectors for the fuel line. The situation was reported to Scott Base at the next sched (1215). A ground blizzard confined the party to tents from December 15th to 17th. During this time we learned that much work was being expended in an attempt to make the "Super-Voyager" field-worthy, but it proved to be unsatisfactory and was not sent.

On the 18th the blizzard subsided and the party made a day trip to Portal Mountain 8 miles north to begin geological work there. Next day the blizzard picked up again, but as time was running short we spent six hours digging out our supplies, packed camp and moved to Portal on the one good toboggan. Because of weather, load and sastrugi, we took 4 1/2 hours to cover the eight miles. Next day the winds increased to a peak of about 70 knots. We learned on the 1815 sched that a replacement track unit for the toboggan would be flown in on the 21st, and that the flight might include an NZBC cameraman, December 21st was clear with little wind, and the helicopter arrived on time, though without the cameraman, who had disembarked with Jim Rankin to help assemble the toboggan at base camp. When Ritchie and Young later told him that we had arranged a guided tour of the outcrop where they had just found the first nearly complete fish from Devonian of Antarctica he was some - what distressed. While Ritchie and Young brought back the "new" toboggan Barrett and Askin began work on the upper part of the Portal section but the wind became too strong to stand up on the outcrop and they gave up. The weather on December 22nd and 24th-26th was good and both fish and plant collecting and section measuring to the top of the mountain were completed. The last day, spent on the upper part of the mountain required 19 hours on the outcrop and was the most strenuous, though not the longest, day of their season.

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We prepared to move camp late on the 27th, but in taking the first sled up the steep slope at the beginning of the journey to the Lashly Mountains Barrett noticed that the seat and fuel tank section of the cab had cracked on three sides and was in danger of becoming detached from the cab front. The situation was described to Scott Base at the next emergency sched (0815, December 28th). Permission was requested and granted for us to proceed to Lashly Mountains 20 miles north, and we enquired into the possibility of being airlifted to the Horseshoe Mountain area 60 miles north of base camp. The remainder of the day was spent in repacking and lightening the sleds, and in making the best of two toboggans. We left for Lashly Mountains at 1830. A separate journey was required to take each sled up the slope by Portal Mountain, and the rest of the journey was slow because of soft snow and the heavy load. We eventually reached Mt. Crean, Lashly Mountains on the 29th at 0730. From then until January 3rd the weather held and the geological work was as productive as at Portal Mountain.

On December 4th after radioing Scott Base that our work had been completed, the party packed camp and left at noon for the 30 mile journey to base camp, arriving 12 hours later. However the steep slope by Portal had hardened and the runner of a man-hauling sled collapsed after turning over. It was temporarily abandoned. We could not raise Scott Base until the 1215 sched [sic] (January 5th) when we said that we would not be ready for pickup until at least 1700 when we expected Ritchie and Young to return with the broken sled and its load. Scott Base asked us to call back at 1730 when we learned of a flight delay due to plane trouble. At the 1215 sched next day (January 6 th) we were told to expect a plane at 1530, and it was there almost on the minute. After loading we flew 60 miles north to Horseshoe Mountain where we were offloaded, along with two new toboggans from Scott Base, in an ideal position only a few hundred yards from the outcrop. After take-off we noticed that the right main ski of the plane was drooping and as it was just before 1815 and the Scott Base radio watch, we notified Scott Base to pass the information on to VXE-6.

Next day after a brief reconnaissance we sledged 12 miles to the east end of Mt. Fleming where Ritchie and Young were to camp near the fish beds, and spend the next seven days. A whiteout set in as we approached the site, hut Barrett and Askin were able to return to base by following their tracks. Next day the whiteout lifted for about eight hours and Barrett and Askin began work on the nearby Horseshoe Mountain section which is about 500 m thick. However, in the afternoon it began to snow heavily and in only an hour the outcrop was largely covered by an inch of snow. It was apparent that it would soon be hazardous and they returned to camp. The snowing and whiteout continued for three days, and on the last day Barrett and Askin attempted to measure a section near camp, but it was impossible to see enough rock to describe. On the following day (January 11th) the weather improved and they travelled over excellent surfaces 30 miles north to Mt. Dearborn in only 2 1/2 hours. The rest of the day was spent mapping, and the following day, which was fine - and if anything too hot - was spent measuring a 400-m-thick page 12 section. In the evening a whiteout developed. After waiting until midday for it to clear it was decided to try and navigate back to camp. This was considered safe because of the simple topography and the lack of observed crevasses on the outward journey. As we travelled the horizon definition improved and after 3 hours we saw Horseshoe Mountain 3 miles ahead. Ritchie and Young had returned from their camp the previous day without discovering anything as the platforms there were still covered with snow. We radioed on the 1815 sched (January 13th) that we were ready for pickup as scheduled, that is, soon after 1600, January 14th. We were asked to call up at 1815 next day if the plane did not arrive. Askin and Barrett still had six hours work to complete on the excellent section on Horseshoe Mountain, so despite the 20-30 kt winds that came up overnight they set off early next morning, and returned cold but satisfied at 1430. Camp was packed up but no plane had appeared by 1815, when we learnt of the first delay (due to plane trouble). From then until 0845, January 17th, delays due to plane trouble and/or bad weather allowed Barrett and Askin a brief visit to Mistake Peak 10 miles northeast (part of the programme cut by the weather), and an examination of a nearby outcrop that yielded the best Triassic plants of the season.