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Immediate report of Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Expedition 1988-89: VUWAE 33

BEACON STUDIES (K047) - Ken J. Woolfe

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BEACON STUDIES (K047) - Ken J. Woolfe


The objectives of the 1988-89 field program were to study exposures of the Beacon Supergroup near the present day northern and southern boundaries of McMurdo Basin. It was also planned to conduct 1:50,000 scale geological mapping in the northern Convoy Range and at Allan Hills for the NZGS. The program was planned on the basis of a three man sledging party operating in the Darwin Glacier area and the Convoy Range and a four man party at Allan Hills.

Preparations for the Field

Gillespie and Woolfe spent one week on base prior to the arrival of Henare, this time was largely spent repacking food boxes and readying sledges for glacier travel. Considerable time was spent removing food items from cardboard packing, returning unwanted food items to the store, collecting deep field essentials such as flour and incorporating extras and freshies into the standard boxes. We found the toboggan G7 was loosing gear box oil and two members of the party had to return early from the shake down trip on the Aurora Glacier to pick up more oil. This problem was eventually fixed by the placement of a small baffle beneath the breather in the filler cap, the enthusiasm and determination of the mechanics to ensure the problem was fixed in time for our scheduled put-in was outstanding.

Replacing the standard snow craft survival course with a shake down trip of reasonable length was very worth while, although for first time visitors the second day of the standard course is worth doing in addition to the shake down trip.


Three tamworth sledges and two motor toboggans were used extensively in the Darwin Glacier area. Both toboggans performed well, the following minor problems arose;

G7 Dropped left hand track
Broken ignition key
Broken ignition switch
Windscreen smashed by personnel rope while turning.
Ice skeg on ski broken and ripped off.
G8 Choke lever broken
Battery clamp broken
Ice skeg ripped off.
Electrical fault resulting from poor earth strap connection.

The thrown track on G7 was undoubtably the most serious incident and resulted from excessive sideways force being applied while attempting to turn the sledge train around in a crevassed sastrugi field. Wind shields were useless when travelling with a strong following wind, trap fumes on calm days and are inconvenient on the second toboggan when using a personnel line from lead toboggan to last sledge. Wind shields were not used after part way through out first camp move, they are difficult to carry when unattached to the toboggan and we recommend that future deep field parties are not issued with them. The Tamworths suffered minor damage including a broken slat on T4 resulting from the collapse of a drum cradle, broken handle bar fixings on T5 and T6 and minor runner delamination on T4 and T5.

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The sledges performed exceptionally well, spreading the load over three sledges meant that no sledge was over loaded and this combined with slow travel ensured minimum strain on the sledges. This meant that we took longer on some routes than previous parties but the time was more than made up by not having to carry out major sledge repairs. When travelling all units of the train were linked, by 17 mm rope and a separate 10 mm rope was used as a personnel line. For all but the steepest slopes instep crampons were worn in preference to twelve point crampons, to reduce crampon damage to both sledges and toboggans.

The provision of a sledging guide would be useful to first time sledging parties, included in this should be different train configurations and methods for moving both laden and unladen aircraft pallets.

The total distance travelled was about 800 km, for which we used 310 litres of Mogas. At times fuel consumption was much higher than this figure indicates, consumptions of up to 1.5 km per litre were recorded when towing heavy loads up snow covered slopes.


Travel on the Darwin Glacier was generally good, although crevasses occur on a roll which runs across the glacier about 4 km east of Richardson Hill. Extensive areas of heavily crevassed hummocky blue ice occur off the northern ends of Haskell and Coloseum Ridges and travel through these areas is difficult. The crevasse field off Colosseum Ridge extends northwards for about 4 km.

A route on to the edge of the plateau exists close in to the western side of Haskell Ridge, further west however sastrugi and crevasse fields are encountered.

Entry into the Hatherton Glacier is easy only where the ice fall is divided into a number of platforms, this point is clearly shown on the 1:250,000 map and once found only a few crevasses need be crossed. Travel up this route is not recommended if towing sledges.

The Hatherton Glacier provides easy down hill travel, it is mostly blue ice and generally free from crevasses except for the first 5 km below the ice fall, which is partly snow covered and lightly crevassed. Care must be taken not to get on the wrong side of the medial moraines because crossing them is all but impossible in many places. Several steep rolls occur close to Mt Ash, travel down these is hazardous and travel up would be very difficult.

Extensive crevasses occur north and northwest of Junction Spur and smaller crevasses persist for about 9 km down glacier. The best crossing point between the Hatherton and Touchdown Glaciers is at 158°00′ East because the area to the east is also crevassed.

Travel between Roadend and Mulgrew Nunataks is good with easy gradients, a crevasse field extends off the south-western tip of Mulgrew Nunatak but can be avoided by passing as close to the Nunatak as possible (avoiding the wind scoop).

Access to the Tentacle Ridge-Mt Hughes area is best gained from the valley north-eastward of Tentacle Ridge. Travel into the embayment is on blue ice, there are few crevasses but the route is moderately steep. Access to the south-western side of Tentacle Ridge appears difficult and camp sites are exposed to strong catabatic winds.

Note: Aerial recognisance of The Nozzle suggests that it is impassable, an alternative route exists north of Bowling Green Plateau.

Although no sledging was conducted in the Convoy Range, the Fry Glacier area has only limited crevassing and blue ice and could easily be sledged. Sledging routes are summarised in figure 3.

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Figure 3 Sledging routes and campsites used in the Darwin Mountains.

Figure 3 Sledging routes and campsites used in the Darwin Mountains.

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The put-in site on the Darwin Glacier, just north of Richardson Hill proved to be unsuitable due to moderate crevassing. There appear to be no suitable landing sites in this area.

The only ideal landing site found was the pull out site which is close to that used by the Darwin Project in 1978-79. It is about 5 km west of the southern tip of Roadend Nunatak (79° 51′S 158° 10′E), a 3000 m strip was marked out by two rows of flags 500 m apart, the strip was orientated along the length of the glacier and provided good approach and escape routes.

Airdrops of mail and food were made into the Darwin Glacier and six 12 gallon drums containing mogas and DFA were dropped into the Fry Glacier. All the airdrops were successful and no breakages occurred, the Darwin drops made use of aircraft returning from regular pole flights and as such were economical on aircraft hours.

The Fry Glacier drop (fuel) and landing site recce used considerably more LC-130 hour than was expected due to four missions which had to be abandoned because of weather and mechanical problems.


Only 14.5 of our allocated 22 helo hours were used, due mainly to the decision not to use motor toboggans and sledges in the Convoy Range-Allan Hills area.


9 Nov LC-130 Recce fight (with K221 plus base staff), Bad weather in Darwin Glacier, mission abandoned after 4.5 hrs.
10 Nov LC-130 recce flight (with K221), successful recce of Darwin Glacier, Bad weather at Allan Hills mission abandoned.
16 Nov LC-130 Put-in Darwin Glacier (with K221, total put-in cargo 15,500 lbs).
9 Dec LC-130 Airdrop into Hatherton Glacier, returning pole flight.
10 Dec LC-130 Recce and fuel drop at Allan Hills abandoned due to bad weather, recce of crevassed Richardson Hill landing site.
12 Dec LC-130 Recce and fuel drop at Allan hills abandoned due to mechanical fault.
14 Dec LC-130 Fuel drop completed at Allan Hills, recce reveals area unsuitable for landing.
22 Dec LC-130 Pull-out attempted, crevasse detected on first drag, pull-out abandoned, recce Roadend Nunatak, abandoned due to haze.
24 Dec LC-130 Airdrop Darwin Glacier, recce Roadend Nunatak abandoned due to poor definition.
29 Dec LC-130 Recce Roadend Nunatak, abandoned due to haze causing refraction haio around aircraft.
5 Jan LC-130 Pull-out from Roadend Nunatak.
7 Jan Helo Put-in (2 pax) Elkhorn Ridge.page 49
18 Jan Helo Bring in Barrett, move party to Allan Hills
24 Jan Helo Pull-out (3 pax) return to Scott Base.


28 Oct Gillespie and Woolfe to Scott Base (after 2 days delay in CHCH).
29 Oct Event brief, preparation of field gear.
30 Oct Preparation of sledges and toboggans, test run to Turtle Rk.
31 Oct Repacking food boxes.
1 Nov Modification of sledge ropes, towing and personnel lines.
2 Nov Aircraft Delay: Henare in CHCH (weather).
3 Nov Aircraft Delay: Henare in CHCH (weather).
4 Nov Henare to Scott Base, party to ice fall for snow and ice travel in evening.
5 Nov Shake down trip to Aurora Glacier with K221 and leader of survival School.
6 Nov G7 dropping gear box oil, Gillespie and Woolfe return Scott Base to pick up oil, then return to Aurora Glacier. Party returns Scott Base.
7 Nov Henare on day 2 of Survival Course.
8 Nov Aircraft Delay: Recce flight cancelled due to weather.
9 Nov Recce flight abandoned, bad weather in Darwin Glacier and at Allan Hills. Used 4.30 hrs LC-130 support.
10 Nov G7 and G8 on test run to Windless Bight, G7 still dropping gear box oil; recce flight, Darwin Glacier completed, Allan Hills abandoned due to bad weather.
11 Nov G7 test run, still dropping gear box oil.
12 Nov Aircraft Delay: Put cancelled due to weather.
13 Nov Aircraft Delay: Scott Base invitation golf classic.
14 Nov Aircraft Delay: Put in cancelled due to weather.
15 Nov Aircraft Delay: Put in cancelled due to weather.
16 Nov Put in to Darwin Glacier near Richardson Hill. Crevasse opened on first drag, but aircraft too heavy to take off, K047 and K221 put in. Moved camp to Colosseum Ridge 79° 48′S 156° 25′E.
17 Nov Strong westerlies, recce Colosseum Ridge.
18 Nov Geology northern end of Colosseum Ridge.page 50
19 Nov Geology Colosseum ridge to Trail Ridge.
20 Nov Cross Smith Glacier on foot, section measuring Haskel Ridge,
21 Nov Camp Move: Return landing site to pick up fuel, move to plateau side of Haskel Ridge. Travel difficult, crevasses, hummocky blue ice and sastrugi. Threw track off G7. Arrive camp 0330 hrs (79° 42′S 155° 48′E).
22 Nov Rest day.
23 Nov Recce route on to Hatherton Neve and geology of Nunataks westward from camp. Section measuring Haskell Ridge.
24 Nov Section measuring on un-named nunatak westward of camp.
25 Nov Bad Weather prevents trip to Turnstyle Ridge. Night move to Hatherton Glacier 79° 56′S 155° 48′E.
26 Nov Rest day.
27 Nov Geology upper Hatherton Glacier.
28 Nov Local geology, sort day due to 30 kt westerlies.
29 Nov Gillespie and Woolfe to section J3, Henare local geology.
30 Nov Local Geology.
1 Dec Gillespie and Woolfe cross Hatherton Glacier on foot for section measuring, Henare local geology.
2 Dec Henare and Woolfe local geology, Gillespie repairs and maintenance at camp.
3 Dec Local geology.
4 Dec Local geology.
4 Dec Moved camp to lower Hatherton Glacier (79° 52′S 157° 14′E).
5 Dec Local geology.
6 Dec Local geology.
7 Dec Travelled up Hatherton Glacier to un-named ridge 4 km above camp.
8 Dec Travelled to Junction Spur, geology. Marked out site for air drop.
9 Dec Air drop arrived mid-afternoon, change back to working days.
10 Dec Moved camp to 6 km SE of Mt Hughes (48 km).
11 Dec Tentacle Ridge, geology.
12 Dec Tentacle Ridge, geology.page 51
13 Dec Spot Height 1960, north of camp, geology. Discovered abundant fish remains near summit.
14 Dec Packed camp set off for Island Arena.
15 Dec Arrived at put-in site early morning, then moved camp to Island Arena (79° 50′S 156° 25′E) distance travelled 58 km.
16 Dec Partial white out, probed landing site for crevasses but probing near useless with crevasse bridges being largely undetectable.
17 Dec Partial white out, low cloud and snow.
18 Dec Partial white out, low cloud and snow.
19 Dec Aircraft Delay, low cloud and snow.
20 Dec Aircraft Delay, gale to storm force westerlies.
21 Dec Aircraft Delay, strong to gale force southerlies packed up camp.
22 Dec Aircraft Delay: Pull-out abandoned, plane breaks through crevasse on first drag.
23 Dec Aircraft Delay: Visited Trail Ridge, geology.
24 Dec Aircraft Delay: Received airdrop in early morning, low cloud and snow by evening.
25 Dec Aircraft Delay: Low cloud and snow.
26 Dec Aircraft Delay: Low cloud and snow, left late for Roadend Nunatak, steering by compass at first.
27 Dec Aircraft Delay: Arrived Roadend Nunatak (79° 49′S 158° 05′E), low cloud and fog.
28 Dec Aircraft Delay: Low cloud and fog, local geology.
29 Dec Aircraft Delay: Recce flight early morning unsuccessful because of mid-level cloud. Moved camp to Mulgrew Nunatak.
30 Dec Aircraft Delay: Local geology.
31 Dec Aircraft Delay: Returned to Roadend Nunatak.
1 Jan Aircraft Delay: Heavy snow.
2 Jan Aircraft Delay: Local Geology, recreation day.
3 Jan Aircraft Delay: Marking out new strip, low cloud etc.
4 Jan Aircraft Delay: Weather clearing slowly, packed up camp and moved to new landing site.
5 Jan Party returned to Scott Base, Henare returns NZ.
6 Jan Preparation of field gear, packing rocks.page 52
7 Jan Gillespie and Woolfe Helo to Elkhorn Ridge (76°40′S 161°06′E)
8 Jan Local geology.
9 Jan Marginal weather, local geology.
10 Jan Cross Towle Glacier on foot, measured section on Mt Naab, returned to camp by late evening.
11 Jan Rest day.
12 Jan Local geology. Barrett to Scott Base.
13 Jan Local geology. Barrett to Survival School.
14 Jan Crossed Northwind Glacier on foot, geology at Flagship Mountain.
15 Jan Helo Delay: Snow and low cloud.
16 Jan Helo Delay:
17 Jan Helo delay:
18 Jan Barrett joins party, party moves to Allan Hills.
19 Jan Local geology.
20 Jan Local geology.
21 Jan Local geology.
22 Jan Local geology.
23 Jan Local geology.
24 Jan Party returns Scott Base.
25 Jan Packing rocks, cleaning and return of field gear.
26 Jan Packing rocks, return of field gear.
27 Jan Barrett and Woolfe to Christchurch.

Field Equipment

Detailed notes on field equipment have been submitted separately (G. Gillespie, End of Season Report) and are held by Antarctic Division. In general the quality and quantity of field equipment was excellent and it was good to see that many of the suggestions made last year have been implemented. The following suggestions and observations are made: The weights stated in the field manual for toboggans and sledges are up to 20% too light in some cases. The purple Olympus Tent was difficult to see when pitched on rock and the sewn in ground sheet rather unsubstantial. Both these problems could be fixed by the inclusion of a standard yellow ground sheet, this could be used as added protection to the floor of the tent when pitched on rock and as a high visibility object in the event of a SAR or similar operation.

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Frozen food is difficult to keep frozen in the standard red food boxes while camped on rock or hard ice where they can not be buried. The provision of white boxes (with red stripe if required) should be considered.

Much time was spent repacking food boxes, maybe field parties should be given the option of pack your own or prepacked boxes. For long stay or deep field parties total repacking is often necessary to reduce bulk and to remove unwanted items while including others and little time is saved by having prepacked boxes in such cases.

The provision of a steering compass, such as a marine hand held navigation compass that could be used for both steering and position fixing would be useful. A handle bar mount for Tamworth sledges should also be provided. The new yogurt was great.

Radio Communications

Two Tait hand helds were used to maintain communications between the field party on days when the party split up to work on separate outcrops. These radios worked well and were invaluable when steering the sledge train by compass.

HF communications varied and at times it was not possible to raise any station but generally communications were good. The awkward nature of the box on the Codan meant that the less powerful Compak 8 was used in preference while sledging (see G. Gillespie End of Season report for suggested improvements).

Garbage Disposal

All burnable material (excluding plastics) were incinerated in the field and the non-burnable material was returned to Scott Base. In the Darwin Mountains human wastes were disposed of in crevasses, human wastes from the Convoy Range and Allan Hills were returned to Scott Base.

Fuel Dump

Five 12 gallon drums of two stroke mix (2% oil, 1% isopropyl alcohol) and one 12 gallon drum of DFA were air dropped into the Fry Glacier and later lifted to Cape Roberts. The drums are in as new condition, unopened and clearly labelled, they will not be required at this location by the event in 1989-90 and should be made available to events operating in the Cape Roberts area.