I stare deep into the freshly made coffee and take that soothing sip. Ahh, the relief is always satisfying knowing only now, can the day begin…
I lift my head to look out to the bay, still covered in ice with the sea water slowing consuming it, I ponder the mental list of tooling and equipment required to repair the hut and suspension bridge out at Watts Hut. I look around the breakfast table at the guys, their eyes tell of the excitement that’s about to unfold as they get ready to head to the heli pad.
The red uber helicopter ‘Uniform Foxtrot’ piloted by the skillful Chris Keller, takes us five tradies, Iain Tweddle, Glen Pretious, Daniel Boskell, Paul Hanlon and myself (Dave) out above the roller coaster of hills we call the Vestfolds and along Ellis Fjord to Watts Hut. The views are spectacular with the rising of the Plateau and Sørdsal Glacier to our right and the many blue lakes and rocky escarpment of the Vestfold on our left. Such an unbelievable contrast to see.
We waved Chris goodbye as we held tightly to our packs and watched him rise up into the bluest of skies and bank left over the nearby hill. Reflecting on our ride, we are like kids in a lolly shop, buzzing with excitement of the sounds and sway the helicopter gives and the pinch of reality that we are in a place that is solely ours.
Old Watts Hut hasn’t lost its charm. You enter through the small doorway, hunched over so as not to hit your head on the way in, unfortunately, something some of us never got used to. A big breath in and it smells like your grandmother’s house. We are instantly put at ease. Pots and pans have their place and the cans of food line the shelves above. The bunk beds lined with sleeping bags are separated by the pile of entry books of the years gone by. The stories and tales they tell are captivating. How lucky we are and soon we were to enter our story.
It wasn’t long before we got straight into our checklist and chores. Gas fittings and hoses. Electrical compliance and testing. Visual checks on the worn interior and the weathered exterior of yesteryear. A black and white picture hangs on the kitchen wall of Watts Hut from 1987. I only just started high school then. The landscape hasn’t changed but the old hut has had some additions over the years.
We later gather around the kitchen table sipping our teas and coffee discussing our findings and sorting a method of repair. Hmm, quick, a spoon. My biscuit just snapped off in my coffee… This place has such a homely feel.
It wasn’t long and we headed down to the suspension bridge to find it half buried in snow and stretched beyond its intent. Obviously, the blizzards of the previous winter left their mark on this iconic feature. A quick discussion soon had us all digging away at the snow and ice. A few cold, hard snow projectiles made their way to the far end as rigger Paul and carpenter Glen inspected the wire ropes and anchors. Suddenly a few more projectiles flew back. Our laughter echoed over the running melt of ice and small rapid of water. It was a full day’s work before we could look back at the bridge, proud of the fact it was resurrected back to its glorious state. Maybe the best its been for quite some time.
T-Bone steak and creamy cabonara draped our dinner plates that night. Our bodies craved the flavours and texures of this delight not to mention the fine beverage of choice later on as we giggled and cried in laughter of the stories shared over the table. We learned of each other’s pasts and present as we played card games and board games well into the night.
Our second day saw us finishing off the bridge and start on painting the hut. The sun and wind were in our favour and certainly made it easier on us as we coated the hut in a vibrant red and striking vivid white trim. There is no doubt now as to the visibility of the hut from a distance by air or by foot. Like the stripped painted feature of the hut from the 80’s, a few mementos were added to it now, hoping the next 30 years will see many memories made.
A thorough clean up made our third and final day far more relaxed. Our efforts are rewarded as the sun shone down again and the breeze gently blew across our faces. A few photo shoots were taken of our surrounds and we even managed to be accompanied by an Adèlie penguin before hiking along a rocky escarpment over looking the Ellis Fjord and north/east to Platcha and Trejar Huts in the distance. The air crisp and fresh, the views beyond comprehension and the company of mates you’d be proud to call brothers, where else would you rather be.
By Dave Baker (tradie).