Overnight Field Training at Brookes Hut

Another part of our training for the wintering group was to “Sleep Out” overnight in the field. 12 of the wintering team set out for Brookes Hut. The logistics of this involved being transported by helicopter to the hut. This was done in four flights.

My red taxi awaits – I was on the 4th and final flight to Brookes Hut

The short flight from Davis to Brookes takes you over the amazing landscape of the Vestfold Hills

Looking back to the south at Davis Station – Heidemann Bay lies just behind the station with the Sorsdal Glacier in the distant background
View to the East across the Vestfold Hills and the distant Ice Plateau – Dingle Lake is on the far right with Lake Stinear to it’s left. The iced over water in the foreground is Weddell Arm
Weddell Lake with a glimpse of Lake Stinear in the top centre right
In this view to the Southeast – At the end of the valley on the left is Deep Lake – Also the dolerite dykes (seams) stand out across the Vestfold Hills landscape

As we approached Brookes Hut – we could see two FTO’s (Field Training Officer) standing on the snow and ice next to the hut. Their job was to guide the helicopter pilot (Toby) in and once it landed they unloaded the cargo panniers and guide the passengers.

Approaching  Brookes Hut across Shirokaya Bay
View to the Southeast – Brookes Hut on the shore of Shirokaya Bay – The two FTO’s are on the snow to the left of the hut
Circling around to approach the landing spot, from the northeast, into a light wind 
Jock steps out of the helicopter onto the snow in front of Brookes Hut

Now that we were all at the hut, the FTO’s, Psycho (Chris) and Gideon gave us a talk on Map reading and compass use. I must say this is one of the most amazing classroom’s.

Group photo of everyone at Brookes Hut
Some final instructions before going out on the snow 
View to the Northeast from the balcony of Brookes Hut

After a group photo we did some practical training out on the snow. How to use a ‘throw bag’. As the name implies it is a bag that contains rope and should be part of everyone’s survival pack.

If a fellow expeditioner falls through the ice – the rescuer, while holding on to the rope end and then throws the bag towards the person in trouble, who grabs the bag and then holds onto the rope or ties himself to it, while the other person or persons pull the stricken expeditioner out of the water or across the thin ice.

Being shown the use of a ‘throw bag’ and also using pulleys and anchors to gain advantage in pulling a heavy weight

As we had 24 hours of daylight – we participated in another practical excercise.

At 6pm we set off on a hike. We split into 2 groups each with a group leader. We were to navigate using map, compass and dead reckoning to make our way to a high point to the Southeast of Brookes Hut.

Departing Brookes Hut – hiking through the hills on a navigation exercise
The Vestfold Hills has has many interesting geological features – this is about 1 metre in length and has been well weathered by the sometime fierce winds that blow through these hills

Once we reached our desired destination we had further lessons in navigation. We also had a lesson in radio protocol and how to carry out a scheduled radio call (SITREP) back to the Station.  These scheds occur at a pre-determined time – usually 7pm and sometimes also in the morning. A group or party in the field also has to radio in, when leaving or arriving at a destination.

The SITREP is as follows

Alpha: Position information – can be a Lat and Long, Grid reference points, Feature or Hut name.

Bravo: Number and Health of the party.

Charlie: Conditions of vehicles – mechanical or otherwise.

Delta: Intentions – describe intentions for the next 24 hours, including intended routes and departure and arrival times.

Echo: Weather – Provide a weather observation.

Foxtrot: State of the track or route.

Golf: Other info or requests.

Finding our way in the Vestfold Hills to our next waypoint
Group Photo on a hilltop
Navigation training on a hilltop in the Vestfold Hills about 1 km from Brookes Hut

Just after 7pm we headed back along a different route towards Brookes Hut.

We walked along a narrow valley, which would end up at a point behind and near the hut
Continuing along the narrow valley that is behind Brookes Hut

We arrived back at the hut just before 8pm. We were all very hungry, but first we had another training session in the use of fuel stoves.

FTO Gideon shows us how to prime a fuel stove

It was time to prepare and cook our evening meal using the newly acquired skills of using the fuel stove. Before leaving station, we had each selected freeze dried or dehydrated  food packs which we now re-hydrated and heated.

I had an army ration pack of dehydrated beef stew, which I re-hydrated and cooked in it’s own pack, using water boiled up from melting snow and ice in a saucepan. It was quite tasty, though that may have been because of being quite hungry.

After dinner it was time to prepare our sleeping quarters? Most opted for the idea of digging a hole in the snow and ice. The hole was dug to a depth of around 50cm (2ft) and 75cm wide and 180 to 200 cm’s long. The advantage of sleeping in this ice ‘coffin’ was that it was out of the wind and quite well insulated.

I, along with 4 fellow expeditioners opted for sleeping in a bivvy bag (essentially a tent without poles). I found a position on the hill behind the hut, that was reasonably flat and sandy and preferably behind a rock or boulder to provide some protection from the wind.

One person set up a polar tent, which probably was the most comfortable option.

Tent in front of Brookes Hut – Only one person chose this sleeping option
There are several snow sleeping ‘coffins’ being prepared in the snow below the ridge – while others prepare their ‘bivvy’ sleeping site

Before going to bed and I went to the hut (heated) and had a nice hot cuppa. Then it was off to brave the elements.

One of the weathered support beams on the eastern (windward) side of Brookes Hut
Just after 11pm – settled in my warm down sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag. My survival pack is also inside – providing a support (like a tent pole)

Several things happened overnight…..

Firstly – trying to get comfortable on a narrow, 1 cm foam mattress on rocky ground isn’t ideal. Surprisingly I was quite warm, probably because of the several layers of clothing and the down sleeping bag.

I did wear ear plugs, though they didn’t seem to help that much – the slightest breeze made the bivvy bag flap around and when the wind picked up occasionally the noise is likened to ‘sleeping inside a potato chip packet’.

The next problem is light – at the time of the year (December) we were already experiencing 24 hours of daylight. I wore the headband over my eyes so that alleviated that problem.

During the night i came to realise that the bivvy bag doesn’t breath very well. Once I did get to sleep, it was short lived as I woke up with the strange sensation of snow falling on me. My breathing resulted in moisture condensing on the inside of the bag, then quickly freezing and flaking off with the slightest waft of breeze. Hence my exposed face was covered in ice and snow crystals.

Despite all of this it was an amazing experience and I woke at around 7am feeling quite refreshed. After packing everything away it was time for breakfast – Gideon had prepared a large pot of hot porridge.

6:38 am – the view from my bedroom
7:30 am – Beautiful ‘delta wing’ cloud over Shirokaya Bay

By 8:30am we were all watered fed and packed. The two groups that were formed yesterday were to stay the same and we would depart Brookes Hut 20 minutes apart. I was in the first group and over breakfast we had marked or intended route on our maps, including land marks that would confirm we were on the right path.

We left for Davis around 9am.

8:35 am – Packed and ready to go
9:12 am – Our first part of the journey was to walk along the shore of Shirokaya Bay until we reached a small island the was near the entrance to a valley that headed south

After reaching the island we decided to cut across some low hills and intersect the valley. This didn’t work to well. Although we came into a valley it wasn’t the right one – so again we decided to go cross country on a compass bearing – this required us to climb a steep ridge.

9:48 am – At the edge of a valley contemplating the steep climb up the ridge
9:57am – reassessing our options after reaching the top of the ridge

After reaching the top of the ridge – the plan was to follow the shallow valleys that generally were on a heading to the Southwest – the only disadvantage of travelling in valleys that the snow melt found its way into them forming little tarns which we had to make our way around. Also many sections of the ground were soggy under foot.

10:08 am – ‘Broken Heart’ rock

We came to a valley that was at 90º to the one we were travelling in. It was heading south and we could see a large lake at the end. Realising that it was Lake Stinear, we decided to change our plan – head to the lake and turn west and follow the northern shore.

10:54 am – The north shore of Lake Stinear is a well travelled route to and from Brookes Hut
11:20 am – View of the amazing dolerite dykes of the Vestfold Hills – taken from the North shore of Lake Stinear
12:07 pm – Maybe we should have travelled the South shore of Lake Stinear to look for buried treasure

After reaching the western end of Lake Stinear we travelled across and open wide valley that lie between Lake Stinear and Dingle Lake. As with a lot of the Vestfold Hills it was strewn with rocks and boulders. One has to be constantly aware of the next foot placement in this landscape.

12:26 pm – Travelling across the rock and boulder strewn landscape can be treacherous – the western end of Lake Stinear can be seen in the left of picture 

Finally we came to Dingle Road – it was now just a case of following the road for around 3.5 km to Davis.

1:06 pm – Stopping for a lunch break on Dingle Road 
1:20 pm – heading toward Davis Station along Dingle Road
1:25 pm – A geologists paradise

Dingle road was a nice change to walking over the stone and boulder strewn landscape. As we got closer to the station the road deteriorated – There was still a lot of last winters snow and ice across sections of the road. Other sections were under water and we had to go off-road to avoid getting bogged down in the mud.

1:46 pm – The ice and snow made the last sections of Dingle Road wet and muddy

We got back to Station at 2:15 pm. It was a successful Field Trip – a good preparation for the year ahead.

Please Share and send questions and comments.

Until Next Time…..


One thought on “Overnight Field Training at Brookes Hut

  1. Hi Baz, I really enjoy reading your posts & looking at the photos. Had to smile at the one of a couple of the guys in t shirts. Melbourne went into a tailspin last Sunday because after weeks of lovely warm weather it was cold,wet & windy. We’re a bunch of wimps! Looking forward to the next description of life at Davis Station.


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