I wrote this a while ago, but haven’t had time to put it up on the blog. However, only a couple of weeks late, here goes:
One of the big bonuses of heading into winter is that working at weekends is now a thing of the past (barring emergencies, of course) and we can now spend them as we choose. Last Saturday morning I was having breakfast with Niv and Ash, a couple of our trusty Field Assistants, and we were admiring the stunning sunshine and blue skies above the North Cove. It didn’t take too much discussion to agree that it would be a beautiful day to head up into the hills above base.
An hour or two later, we joined George, the Winter Base-Commander, in the field-kit store and packed up the long list of kit we would require – mountaineering boots, crampons, ice-axes, snow stakes, ropes and crevasse rescue kit all had to be fitted, checked and then packed into our rucksacks. A quick dab of suncream was the last essential addition – the sun was shining brightly outside, and with the lack of ozone layer above Antarctica you burn very quickly, even on the coldest days. Fully kitted out, we headed for the skidoos parked at the bottom of the ramp and broke the peaceful silence of the morning as we revved the little two-stroke engines up the ramp and across to the Stork Peaks, about 5km NW of the base.
The Stork Peaks form a ridgeline around 1.5km long – our plan was to start at the North end, climb up the diminutive North Stork, descend into the col on the far side and then tackle the more committing Middle Stork, drop down again and finish off the traverse on top of South Stork, before heading down again for tea and medals. In a remarkable feat of forward planning, we even remembered to park one of our two skidoos at the South end of the ridgeline to avoid a long walk once we’d descended.
Standing at the foot of North Stork, we kitted ourselves out and roped up in pairs, for protection against the threat of crevasse falls. Getting to the summit was easy – a moderate trek across snow and rocky ground – but the views were stunning. The Stork Ridge normally blocks our view of the interior of Adelaide Island, but from the top you could see it all – below us was the tortured mess of the Sheldon Glacier, creaking and shattering its way into Ryder Bay. Behind that stood Orca Peak, so named due to its similarity to an Orca head popping out of the water. Behind Orca stretched the miles of crevassed snowfields that eventually lead to the McCallum Pass, our overland gateway to the rest of the Island.
We descended the far side of North Stork down a sharp snowy ridgeline and then started to tackle the more imposing mass of Middle Stork. This was steeper and rougher ground, with patches of snow mingled amongst the loose, shattered rock. On each footstep the crampons scraped and screeched over boulders before biting and holding. After a long, steady push up the ridgeline we eventually reached the small, tabletop-sized summit platform and ate a celebratory energy bar and took the compulsory photo.
The descent from Middle Stork down to the col was much easier, with a long, smooth snowfield making progress quick, though with the added risk of crevasses. South Stork was a doddle in comparison to its bigger brothers – a quick trek over easy ground got us to the summit from where we could see for miles out to the islands and reefs of Ryder Bay. The final walk back down to the parked skidoo required us to cross an obvious crevasse, with its icy blue depths visible at various points along its length. Ash carefully explored the ground around it and eventually found us an area that was well-bridged, which we crossed carefully and with a light tread.
Back at the skidoo, all that remained was to unrope and head for home. By now, the cloud was streaming in from the North and obscuring the sun, causing the temperature to drop a few degrees. The ride back down to base was chilly, and it was a relief to dump the kit and head for a warm shower in preparation for a hearty Saturday night dinner.