During the Winter months at Davis the main mode of transport, besides walking, is quad bike travel. So before the sea ice disappeared in December the summer Field Training officers took 16 of the wintering expeditioners, including myself, on a day of quad bike training.
Before we actually get to ride we have know our way around the bike. They are fitted with high floatation tyres, surprisingly only inflated to max of 3 to 4 psi.
Another important factor is wearing of warm clothing and a special cold weather helmet.
After we were fuelled and ready to go we drove down to the edge of the sea ice.
It is difficult to transfer the bikes across the threshold of where the ice meets the land. Although the ice has little movement horizontally it does move vertically with the rise and fall of the tides.
Once on the ice it is quite easy travelling, but the rider must be vigilant for thin ice and sastrugi . When travelling over ice it is wise to check the thickness of the ice. On one of the quad bikes was a ice auger for drilling so as to measure the thickness. A safe thickness for quad bike travel is 20cm (8 inches).
We travelled on a pre-determined route which had been installed on a GPS unit. We each had with us a hand held GPS, but 2 of the quad bikes had a GPS unit mounted onto the front. One of these bikes led the way. The maximum speed of travel is 30kph.
We turned right after Anchorage Island then headed parallel to the coast for around 6 km before heading right again into Long Fjord. At narrow sections of the fjord the ice tends to be slushy and not so stable. These narrow sections need to be negotiated very slowly and with great care. Two of the bikes went ahead to drill the ice of the ‘narrows’ to check for thickness.
After negotiating the Narrows we entered Shirokaya Bay and could see the bright red colour of Brookes Hut across the bay. We stopped at the hut for lunch.
Brookes Hut was built in the early 70’s and is named after the person who built it. It is nestled on the shore of Shirokaya Bay. Originally and still at times today it is used for a base for science projects, including research on Deep Lake, which lies 1.3km to the south. Today it is mostly used for recreation by expeditioners wanting to have a break from Davis Station.
Brookes Hut is the closest of the recreational huts to Davis Station – the distance (if walking is around 13km and is usually via the shore of Lakes Dingle, Stinear and Deep.
After a pleasant lunch at Brookes Hut we gathered at the quad bikes on the ice and carried out some training – setting up a bivvy between 2 quad bikes plus becoming familiar with the quad recovery kit. This included the use of ice screws as anchor points.
We made our way along the designated GPS route across Shirokaya Bay then turned right and made our way along a narrow frozen channel towards Long Fjord.
We turned left into Long Fjord and along a wider section of the fjord we encountered a wide ‘creek’ or crack in the ice. Here we learned the technique of walking the quad bikes across this crack.
We eventually made our way into a little bay off Long Fjord and at the head of this bay, up a small rise was Ace Lake Apple – another small refuge, mostly used for science projects.
Here we learned another quad bike skill – riding up a slope covered with snow and ice. The quad bike is a ‘rider active’ vehicle so the body is used to counter- weight inclines.
We had a short break at Ace Lake Apple.
Whilst heading out from Ace Lake Apple we spotted something on the opposite side of the bay. As we got closer we realised it was a few seals. A few of us parked our bikes about 200 metres away and walked across the ice. Kirsten (our station leader and a biologist) identified them as weddell seals.
With the weather system approaching, the wind started to increase and the temperature drop. It was decided to make our way back to station. We took a slightly different route back, which took us close to some embedded ice bergs.
One of the features of the quad bikes here in the Antarctic is that the handlebars and throttle are heated -plus as you can see in the photo below there are insulated sleeves that also fit over the handlebars.
There are tide cracks around all the ice bergs – so one of our last lessons was probing the ice near the bergs, using our ice axe.
Once we arrived back on station – a final part of the training was to re-fuel the bikes and carry out a final check on the bikes so they are ready for the next use.
Until Next Time……
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