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


page 6


PART A Beacon Heights November 7-12
P. Barrett
B. Kohn
PART B Skelton Neve
P. Barrett (leader)
B. Kohn (dep. leader)
R. Askin
J. McPherson
November 17 to
December 12
R. Grapes
D. Reid
A. Ritchie
G. Young
PART C Portal Mtn to Horseshoe Mtn December 12 to January 17
P. Barrett (leader)
R. Askin
A. Ritchie
G. Young
PART D Allan Hills December 17 to January 6
S. Curreen (DSIR-leader)
R. Grapes
J. McPherson
D. Reid
PART E Darwin Mountains January 20 to February 2
P. Barrett (leader)
R. Askin
S. Curreen
G. Young
PART F Victoria Valley area January 17 to February 4
B. Kohn
J. McPherson

The detailed itinerary of each part of the expedition is given in Appendix III.

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Barrett and Kohn were transported to Beacon Heights on the afternoon of November 7 by helicopter. Reconnaissance of the geology of the SW side of the Taylor Glacier in the vicinity of Windy Gully was carried out on the flight. The remainder of the day was spent setting up camp and carrying out a quick reconnaissance of the middle part of the geological section at West Beacon. The 1,100m section was measured and described over the next three days and detailed rock collections were made. Notes and photos of the geology of the area were also made to provide information for map compilation on a scale of 1:250,000. On the evening of November 10 a blizzard blew up and confined us to our tent for the next 36 hours. A half-day of geology was carried out by Barrett on the morning of November 12 while Kohn started packing up camp. We were transported back to base after showing Brian Porter and the helicopter crew some of the local geology. In order to take off from West Beacon we had to relay our load (about 1,200 lbs) down to the Taylor Glacier in three shifts.

Division of Time
Spent on Geology 3 ½ days
Spent on air (helicopter) shifts ½ day
Days lost (bad weather) 1 day
5 days
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The party of eight with 9,000 lbs of equipment was put in to the Skelton Neve 4 miles north of Mt. Metschel (Lat. 78°13′) (Long. 159°08′) on November 17th, November 18th was spent organising equipment and supplies for the three week journey to Boomerang and Warren Ranges. Departure was delayed on the 19th by Barrett and McPherson being almost overcome by fumes from the primus. While McPherson had complained of a headache, Barrett experienced no warning symptoms apart from a stiffening and loss of control of muscles just before losing consciousness. Both victims recovered more or less completely in about 5 hours. The journey to Metschel took until 2300 hrs, on November 20th, because we took a circuitous route in an attempt to avoid the worst sastrugi. The sastrugi were hard and up to 3 ft. high, making travel slow and difficult. We suffered our first broken sled runner and had trouble starting No. 1 toboggan. Also the track came off No. 3.

We spent three days at Mt. Metschel, measuring and sampling the Devonian fishbeds and the Permian glacial beds. Good fish were obtained mainly from the south end of the nunatak. Grapes and Reid worked on the dolerite sill capping Mt. Metschel.

The journey to Allemand Peak was again unexpectedly long (11 hours) because of extremely hard large sastrugi for 2 miles and because toboggan No. 1 stopped and could not be started. The weather at Allemand Peak was either very windy (Young was blown off the outcrop but with no ill effects) or whiteout and snow. However we measured and sampled three stratigraphic sections and Ritchie and Young obtained excellent fish. On November 27th Grapes and Reid were taken to Mt. Warren for several days work and Ritchie recovered the fish jaw observed on the 1968/69 VUWAE trip. After Grapes and Reid were brought back front Mt. Warren on December 1st, the rest of the party moved down the Deception Glacier to work in a previously unexplored area north of Mt. Wise, The weather deteriorated shortly after our arrival and the 1,000 ft, section was measured as it was being covered by a heavy snow fall.

December 4th was very windy and we decided to carry out only reconnaissance geology, Kohn and Ritchie were investigating a slope about 2 miles north of Mt. Wise when Kohn lost his footing, presumably because of an unusually strong gust of wind that Ritchie noted at the time, and fell about 200 ft. receiving facial cuts, concussion and severe bruising. When Barrett and Young returned it was decided that Barrett and McPherson should sledge hack to the big radio at Allemand Peak and call on the 1815 schedule. Kohn had fallen about 0930 hrs, and it was now about 1300 hrs. The victim's condition and location were successfully passed to Scott Base and helicopter evacuation was achieved at 2115 hrs. December 5th was windy and we spent the day recovering from the two previous 24 hour "days". Ritchie and Barrett returned to the scene of the accident to collect Kohn's equipment and to photograph the face. The others continued collecting fish and plants.

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We left on the journey to Base camp at 0300 on December 7th under whiteout conditions following our three-day-old tracks. After 3 miles toboggan No. 5 stripped the rear bearing so Barrett, Askin and McPherson continued on No. 2 to Allemand Peak. Grapes and Reid returned, and by tightening the drive chain, got No. 5 mobile, arriving at Allemand Peak by 2300 on December 7th.

We left Allemand Peak after sleeping and repacking the load and attempting repairs to a broken skid rail on No. 3. Within the hour at 1400, December 8th, the main track on No. 3 had come off and jammed solid and the drive sprockets on No. 5 had sheared off due to the bearing failure. Barrett, McPherson and Askin continued on No. 2 to No. 1 seven miles on, which had been abandoned two weeks previously. It started first time. A report on the two immobile toboggans was passed to Scott Base and a decision was made to ferry them by helicopter to Base camp. After reaching Base camp Ritchie and Grapes returned with one toboggan and sleds (No. 2 had developed an electrical fault the previous day). Eventually we got both machines running and arrived at Base camp on December 10th between 1715 and 2000, about the same time as the helicopter. The following day was mostly whiteout and snow, which cleared just in time for the scheduled re supply at 1000, December 12th.

Division of time
Spent on Geology 11 days
Spent on ground (toboggan) shifts 6 days
Spent on air (Hercules) shifts 2 days
Days lost (bad weather, toboggan repairs) 6 days
26 days
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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.

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On December 17th a four-man party consisting of Curreen, DSIR field leader and party leader, Grapes, scientific leader, McPherson and Reid were flown by helicopter to Allan Hills. A camp was established on the northwest arm and the following day was spent on local geology. For the next three days the party was tent-bound by high winds. From December 21st to 23rd the geology on the north-east arm and at the head of the bay of Allan Hills was examined. Next day a welcome Hercules dropped Christmas mail for the party. Christmas day was celebrated in a tent specially enlarged to allow standing room by digging a pit in the floor.

On December 27th the party man-hauled to Battlements Nunatak, a distance of approximately 14 miles from the base camp. The weather was clear and calm, and surface conditions were remarkably smooth and hard, enabling a speed of approximately 2 1/2 miles an hour to be maintained. To reduce weight on the sledge the party had decided to take only the Mead tents as an emergency precaution and to build ice caves in which to live whilst at Battlements Nunatak. Unfortunately the snow at Battlement was very hard and the digging of ice caves was a long and arduous process taking about 10 hours. Despite the dripping walls and confined space they were nevertheless quite livable for the two night period. One full day completed the geology of Battlements Nunatak, and on the 29th December the party man-hauled back to the Allan Hills camp.

White out conditions delayed the party until the 1st January 1971, when they man-hauled approximately 22 miles to Coombs Hills. Extensive wind scouring of the ice and snow around the north-east limb of Allan Hills forced the party to make a detour of approximately 12 miles, much of this through a heavily crevassed area. The last 4 miles of the journey was up a gentle slope, and this coupled with a 5 inch fresh snow cover on the surface made going very difficult. The total time for the haul was 10 hours. Camp was set up in a bay in the north-west corner of Coombs Hills.

The following days were spent carrying out geological mapping and sampling of the northern, central and southern areas of Coombs Hills and it was found that sections measured in this area correlated well with those at Allan Hills.

On the morning of the 6th January the party returned to Scott Base in two U.S. Navy helicopters.

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The Darwin Mountains party which comprised Barrett (leader), Askin and Young of VUWAE 15, and Curreen, field guide and assistant, from DSIR, was put in at Island Arena by C-130 at 1000 on January 20th. The hour's reconnaissance flight before landing showed that there were larger areas of blue ice than expected between Island Arena and Westhaven Nunatak, 50 miles south and one of the major goals of the party. Because we had only one Polaris toboggan and had found previously that Sno-trics did not perform well on blue ice, it was decided that our efforts should be concentrated around Island Arena and the north-east side of the Hatherton Glacier.

The first three days were spent on geology around Island Arena. On one of these Barrett and Curreen broke new ground by tobogganing down glacier towards Junction Spur. They were stopped by a crevasse field almost hidden by vast areas of rotten ice. However they found rocks in the easternmost Darwin Mountains that are different from and probably older than any other Beacon strata previously known in the area. They also investigated a possible passage through to the lower Hatherton Glacier but turned back in the face of deteriorating weather. Askin and Young were late returning to camp after measuring sections around Mount Ellis because a track slipped off their Sno-tric toboggan and the clutch was slipping badly. We decided to leave that machine at the put-in point as it had already burnt out a clutch in 30 miles travelling previously and we had only one spare.

On January 24th we left for the Hatherton Glacier camp with the Polaris and the Sachs Sno-tric toboggans. The 30 miles took 12 hours to cover for we had to negotiate two crevassed areas and a long steep slope on the west side of Haskell Ridge. Though the Polaris was slower we spent more time waiting on the Sno-tric. The carburettor iced up in the drifting snow, and on some surfaces it was difficult to get the Sno-tric and sled started.

The following day we found a route - the only one in this area - down on to the unexplored Hatherton Glacier, and spent a further two days working on the geology. On January 28th Curreen and Young were taking the first load up the slope on the way to our next camp when the rear axle of the Polaris toboggan sheared. Next day the entire camp was moved with the Sno-tric to the south end of Haskell Ridge from where a good part of the local geology could be worked. The immobilised Polaris was pulled apart and towed about 2 miles on a sled to the nearest possible Hercules landing site.

On January 30th the Sno-tric was checked and the tracks found to be loose. The bolts for tightening the inside of each track required a socket or box spanner and none of the right size could be found in the tool kit. The track had already slipped off once and the rubber was cracked slightly in a couple of places. We did not feel inclined to risk our only means of reaching a pick-up point by doing geology and decided to abandon the rest of the geology programme. The situation was outlined to Scott Base next day and a request was made for page 15 our pick-up from the site of the immobile Polaris to be followed by a touchdown at Island Arena to recover the other Sno-tric and the rock samples collected in the first three days. We returned to the proposed pick-up area on February 1st, and were taken from the field about 2200, February 2nd. According to our information from Scott Base, VXE-6 had agreed to make the two field landings requested, but the pilot had instructions to land only once and we were taken straight back to Williams Field.

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On the morning of January 17th Kohn and McPherson were flown to Mt. Suess in the MacKay Glacier area. Originally Kohn and McPherson had planned to manhaul some 8 miles from near the mouth of the Frasier Glacier to Mt. Suess. Because of Kohn's accident earlier on in the season not as much time was available for Part F of VUWAE 15 and it was decided to study the Beacon-Basement contacts in this area using helicopter support on the put-in flight to Mt. Suess. After studying outcrops at Sperm Bluff and outcrops south of Pegtop Mountain in the Clare Range it was decided to land at Pegtop Mountain for about an hour to examine Beacon Supergroup sediments; the helicopter not being able to land very near the Sperm Bluff outcrop due to much surface snow and crevassing while the outcrops to the south of Pegtop Mountain were quite steep and largely covered with snow, we camped on the edge of a little lake at Mt. Suess and measured a section there the next day in calm but cloudy conditions. There was much water at Mt. Suess in the form of small lakes and swiftly flowing streams.

On the morning of January 19th we were shifted to Wheeler Valley. From our camp there we covered all the lower Beacon rocks in this area. We collected algae and salt samples from this area, as we did from all localities we visited during this phase of the expedition. On the morning of January 23rd we were transferred by helicopter to Vashka Crag flying via McKelvey valley in order to carry out a reconnaissance of the Olympus Range and Balham Valley. Four sections were measured in the Vashka Crag area. We were unable to reach a section 3 miles north-west of the snout of the Upper Victoria Glacier because of large patches of ice with smooth, sloping surfaces which we considered dangerous to cross. However a section was measured about 1 1/2 miles west of Sponsors Peak. Our camp had to be shifted once at this locality because unusually warm weather caused our camp-site to be flooded. On the morning of January 30th, after two days waiting (due to a radio blackout) for our next helicopter shift, we were transferred to the Olympus Range setting up camp between Mts. Aeolus and Boreas. On the way to this site we stopped for two hours at Mt. Jason in the eastern part of the Olympus Range and measured the most complete section in this area. The next day we went over to Balham Valley and measured a good basal Beacon section. We arrived back at our camp after being out for 14 hours, having climbed 800 m from McKelvey Valley and having experienced quite high winds in Balham Valley. The next day we were pleased to have a mail delivery from Scott Base. Two West German TV cameramen photographed us running out to greet the helicopter in our long-johns to receive the mail-bag and rockboxes on board. The rest of our time in the Olympus Range was spent measuring sections at Mts. Boreas and Aeolus. During the last two days at this site our work was hampered by white out and falling snow and on February 2nd we had our first tent day due to bad weather since coming into the field. It was still snowing and 8/8 cloud on February 4th when we were amazed to see our pick-up helicopter piloted by Jim Brandau appear through page 17 the mist. We returned to Scott Base after picking up another passenger at Vanda Station.

It is interesting to note that during our time in the field weather conditions were generally cloudy (between 4/8 and 8/8) and that winds were generally calm. It was only in the last three days in the field that we experienced any heavy snowfalls.