It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and, after our fabulous chef’s not-to-miss brunch, three wise old men and their apprentice took off from station to travel by quad over sea ice to stay at Platcha hut for two nights. It was decided we would take the scenic route via the icebergs, which are very spectacular and worth a photo or two. After travelling a while we informed the station via radio that all was going well. When contact was made, the station leader informed us of the food our apprentice had left in the fridge. What to do now? Do we travel on and make do with what we have (which would feed a group twice our size anyway), or go back and collect it? After a quick discussion we all decided that we couldn’t survive without a cheese platter, and seeing as that was in the bag left behind, it would be crucial to return. We made a hasty retreat as the apprentice put his chin against his chest: he had failed his first assignment.
When we returned to station, all was forgiven as one wise man had to change his helmet due to the visor misting up and another his overalls, as they were too light and allowing the cold in. Everything sorted, it was off to Platcha hut via the direct route which was approximately 34 kilometres. Arrival was just before sunset at approximately 4pm only to find the front entrance of the hut blizzed in! After some fancy digging, mostly by the apprentice who was quickly gaining favour, we unpacked and made a cuppa to warm up. By this time, it was dark.
It was now time to check out the clear night sky and see if an aurora was happening, which it was in spectacular fashion so plenty of photos were taken. After a while, the three wise old men retreated to the warmth of the hut while the apprentice continued trying to capture that perfect photo for us all to share. Upon his return, we had our cheese, crackers and nibbles while playing a card game which was aptly named ‘Frustration'. This continued until the wee hours of the morning with plenty of bantering, laughter and the station problems resolved.
We were late to rise the next morning as the katabatic wind blowing off the plateau had picked up and the sky doesn’t get light until after 11:00am. Once the wind abated, we walked across the bay to the edge of the plateau which was truly spectacular and plenty more photos were take. Then we headed back to the hut to prepare for the night ride to the ice cave, ice bridge and fresh water lake. We arrived at what we thought was the right location but decided not to enter through the narrow opening because of the lack of light and knowledge of the area so we decided to return the next day when visibility would be better. Back at the hut, tea was prepared and cards were continued along with the conversation but an early night was had because it was going to be a big day tomorrow. (Well, early for two of the wise men at least, the third continued the education of the apprentice by candlelight).
Early rise, breakfast out of the way, everything packed and the hut cleaned, the quads were started by our wise dieso and we were on our way to last night’s location. Upon arrival, the quads were parked on safe ground and, with survival packs on our backs, we proceeded to walk towards the narrow opening between the rocks. Slowly we made our way through to have it open out into an area with a spectacular ice cave and ice bridge. This was truly breathtaking and worth the effort to find. After taking several more photos, a path was followed over the top to another spectacle of the frozen fresh water lake and yet another photo opportunity.
With time running out and a job to complete at Brooks hut, we made our way out and proceeded along the sea ice. On arrival, one to boiled water for a cup of soup while the others repaired the antenna wire for communications. This was done in true Antarctic style: enduring the cold weather and knowing that back at home this job would be completed in half the time. Job finished and dark upon us, a choice had to be made. Do we sleep the night or head back? The decision to head home was quickly made due to us knowing a hot cooked meal would be waiting and, not wanting to miss our Monday night show, we began our journey back to station.
Lead by our apprentice and wise dieso, we followed our trusty GPS when, about 10 kilometres from station, we noticed the station beacon on top of the mast had been set off — thank you Rich! This was a good sight to see and helped lead us there just in time for tea.
After the small hiccup at the beginning, our apprentice had regained our favour with quick wit, wise conversation, good navigation and great camera skills. With lots of dedication, I for one will be glad to let him step up into the position of our 4th wise old man and I am sure the others would agree.