Destinations

Chimu returns to historic Antarctic site as ice clears

Anne Majumdar/David Killick - AAP

Chimu Adventures will run its first commercial expedition to historic Mawson’s Huts in remote Commonwealth Bay Antarctica in five years as two massive icebergs that had been blocking ship access broke up and shifted.

The 26-day journey aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 54 passengers, will also raise money for Mawson’s Huts Foundation, which has been maintaining the basic timber structures since 1997 at a total cost of more than $8 million.

It departs Constitution Dock Hobart at 4pm on Saturday, 104 years after Douglas Mawson stepped onto the “charming ice-quay” which he named Cape Denison in 1912 where he established a “station for scientific investigations”.

Chimu co-founder Chad Carey, who will be joining the trip, said he was excited to be returning to the site after such a long time.

“As recently as last February, experts were saying the icebergs could stay jammed in the bay for a decade or more but fortunately those predictions have proved incorrect and expedition ships are now able to enter Commonwealth Bay,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in the trip and have a really interesting group of people on board united by their love of Antarctica and this history surrounding Mawson’s Huts.”

Meanwhile, the Antarctic outpost is receiving some tender loving care with a team of heritage experts hard at work to conserve the 104-year-old wooden building. The six-person Mawson’s Huts Foundation team is chipping away at snow and ice which has built up over decades, burying important artefacts and damaging the interior.

Expedition field leader Marty Passingham said the team was hoping to restore the hut to the state it was in when Mawson left in 1914.

“We’ve made a promising start and we’re hoping we will have a large amount of the ice and snow removed and artefacts exposed by the end of the expedition in three weeks time,” he said.

Sir Douglas Mawson is widely regarded as one of the leading figure of the heroic era of Antarctic exploration of the late 1800s and early 1900s and is best remembered for his long lone trek across the polar icecap after two companions died during a sliding journey.

He arrived back at Cape Denison weeks behind schedule to discover his ship had sailed for Australia that very morning, condemning him to another year in Antarctica.

Mawson’s Huts Foundation chief conservator Ian Godfrey said progress so far was encouraging.

“We’ve removed a hell of a lot of snow and ice. It has been an amazing effort by the team, chipping, drilling and chainsawing,” Dr Godfrey said.

“We’ve uncovered a lot of personal items and supplies that were used by the AAE, including cans, boxes, boots, a broom and balaclava.

“For me that was a highlight because it was the classic Mawson-style wool balaclava and it was in great condition.

“We have a few more big areas to finish during the ice removal process.

“It gives me real optimism we can get all of the snow and ice out of the hut before we return.”

Work at the site has been halted three times by blizzards which confine the team to their small base camp near the hut.

“We prepare by making sure everything is tied down in preparation and we have enough food, fuel and gas supplies close at hand to ride it out for a couple of days,” Mr Passingham said.

Mawson dubbed Commonwealth Bay the Home of the Blizzard for its ferocious winds.

“The climate proved to be little more than one continuous blizzard the year round,” he wrote, “a hurricane of wind roaring for weeks together, pausing for breath only at odd hours. Anyone who had been out in it would gladly exchange for hell and chance his luck.”

The Mawson’s Huts Foundation expedition is expected to be picked up from Cape Denison in three weeks.

Image credit: Chimu Adventures

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