Mount BrownSo where the hell is Mount Brown? This is what the Australian Antarctic Gazetteer tells me.
An elongated rock peak about 1,982 m above sea level which protrudes slightly above the plateau ice of Princess Elizabeth Land. Delineated from air photographs taken by USN Operation Highjump (1946-47) and named after Lieut. (Junior Grade) E.P. Brown USN, who took part in Operation Highjump. Lat -68.5833 Long 86.0833.
We left Gaussberg some time after lunch. It was a fine day which made working easy, but also hard to leave. The view from an S-76 when it is fully loaded is not the best, but I was lucky that Robyn had volunteered to sit in the middle. Not that I had expected to see much flying over the inland plateau, but I was hoping to get some nice shots of Gaussberg as we left, and a good view of the place we were going to. Especially since there were no maps and knew absolutely nothing about the place. The windows kept icying up and it didn't look like I'd see much anyway. The first interesting thing I saw was the dark black shadow across the ice. I soon decided it was the shadow of a con trail from the choppers. This was confirmed by the chopper pilots and engineers commenting on it.
A good full view of Mount Brown. The fuel dump is a fair distance to the right off the photo.
Looking into the wind scour at the far end from the camp.
A view of Mount Brown from a different angle
Ahead was low cloud, and I decided that if I could see our shadow I should look out for something more interesting. Sure enough, once over the cloud our shadow had a large ring around it, a glory, an atmospheric optical phenomena. I was very pleased with myself for spotting this and tried to explain to Robyn over the noise of the chopper. I had much less luck explaining over the intercom that everyone should look below us for a great glory.
Mount Brown appeared as a fuzzy rock out-crop whose dimensions were impossible to realise through lack of any form of scale. It looked fuzzy due to the low blowing snow from the wind we were about to be dumped in. I started pulling on my gloves and doing up all my clothes. When we landed at the fuel dump we quickly unpacked the choppers making piles of gear just out from under the rotors. I was so busy I didn't even notice if they refueled from the fuel dump. When they took off we lay over our gear to stop anything being picked up. Looking up when the other chopper had got off the ground I saw something blowing away from the other gear pile, a box, and shiny stuff going everywhere. At first I thought it was a box of booze and it was smashing bottles. It was the tool kit sending its sockets everywhere. The box had come from Davis and contained stuff we were low on, like metho and sugar, and a few odds and ends like head torches. Andy and I went off to pick up as much as possible before it got buried in drift.
The weather was not what is normally considered pleasant, with 15 knots of wind, -13 degC, and lots of drift in the air, but there was a blue sky and for plateau weather is was fine. The really striking thing was the brilliant halo display. It was by far the best I've ever seen. At first I thought there was a rainbow it was so colourful. When we got back to the gear K and R were not looking too happy. Ken was in a mild panic as he had cold hands and couldn't remember which pack he had put his mits in. I offered to find mine, but from what he was saying about them hurting I was sure his hands were far from frozen, and went and checked Robyn was okay instead. Checking with Andy we decided to get one polar pyramid up quickly in case he did start getting cold. We soon had it secure, and while Andy went and checked the others and helped them get started on the other tent I finished off pegging ours down. The others were soon in their tent and Andy and I finished off the camp by finishing putting boxes around the snow skirts and Andy put up the radio antenna.
Once the camp had been organised it was late in the afternoon and since we had had a long day packing up one camp and setting up another, we settled in for the night. Andy and I had our routine (well, the best you could imagine from lazy buggers like us) down quite well by now. We had both grabbed things to eat and so were well prepared with easy to make meals.
Over night the wind increased and the visibility dropped to below 50 meters. This ruled out any chance of reaching Mt Brown. At some stage Andy walked out and put a row of wands toward Mt Brown and that was the extent of excursion until 'The Big Assault'.
By this stage I was really enjoying tent life even if I had read everything, including Andy's Terry Pratchet novel. If I'd had more to read I could have done it comfortably indefinitely. Trouble was I was up to reading the GPS manuals and re-reading the ANARE field manual. It was these arduous conditions that led me to perfect the toasted cheese sandwich.
1 MSR pan lid/fry pan
1 Optimus choofer stove
1 can Australian export butter (covered in Arabic script)
1 can Australian export chedar cheese (Jordanian Army writen on top)
1 partial loaf of frozen to within an inch of its life white bread
1 swiss army knife
Optional for gourmet version
1 tin sardines (taught to me by the 5th dan master toastie maker - George)
Thaw out bread in frying pan on stove while opening tins with swiss army knife. Slice up cheese with swiss army knife (it helps if a way is found to thaw the cheese to slightly less than diamond hard before hand). Butter fry pan and fry sandwich with cheese inbetween the bread (doh!!). Flip regularly adding extra butter in liberal amounts remembering that ones life may depend on a good fat layer. Cover fry pan with spare MSR lid to help melt the cheese to maximum mouth scalding temperature. Serve for morning smoko or late night snack, or anytime in between.
These were the tent days, the happy days. Days of total inactivity not even mental effort required. No phones, no radios, lots of sleep. Knowing it wouldn't last I took advantage and savored it.
Stuck in the tent all day.
By the second day I was SICK to DEATH of the &^^%& TENT and we talked of trying to get to Mt Brown. The weather had eased but by lunch was still worse than when we had arrived. But Mt Brown was now visible again and the wind was easing so we started to prepare, organising gear and eating a large meal for an afternoon start. Ken at some stage had made an appearance asking where to pour the hot water over the gen set to get it going (or something). He was showing little interest in geology and a strong desire to get back to Davis so he wouldn't miss the ship due in a week.
At around 3pm Andy and I set out into a stiff wind for Mt Brown. After a long trudge with the mountain stubbornly getting closer we finally reached the wind scour at the far end from the camp an hour or so later. It was slightly sheltered here and we stopped for a breather and Kodak moment. It was at this point that the place really become beautiful. The floor of the wind scour was littered with rock from the cliffs. the ice was a deep blue and the plume of the peak sailed off over the camp.
The furthest end of the mountain from the camp had a deep wind scour around its edge.
Most of the ice to this point had been blue glacier ice which showed the typical signs of cracking of any brittle material like ice under strain, but no slots. In the lee of the rocky ridge there was a gentle slope giving access to the top of the ridge. It was obvious that all the gear we had wasn't going to be needed (well hopefully).
Heading up the easy slope, which felt like it was going to kill me, we reached the top of the ridge and caught the full blast of the wind. Dropping packs in the shelter of a boulder we grabbed cameras to try and take photos while not falling over. From here we walked along on the lee side of the ridge until finding another large rock to shelter behind with a view of the summit.
The top of the wind scour.
Traversing along the ridge we got a very good view of the top.
By this time I had a small problem in that my goggles had got sweaty and attempting to wipe them they froze on the inside. Without them I couldn't open my eyes due to the stinging drift and grit, and very bright glare. With them I couldn't see nothing. To compound things one of my crampons kept kicking off, especially with the mixed terrain we were covering. With Andy's encouraging prediction of topping out in 15 minutes and by walking right behind him and stepping where he did, we managed the last rocky section in around his predicted quarter hour.
Guessing wind velocity is always difficult even having experienced wind over 100 knots in the past. On the top of Mt Brown I'm sure it was over 80 knots. It was extremely difficult walking side on to the wind with a large pack. We found a low bank and dumped our packs and hid behind them. Andy found the brass tube in a pile of rocks and promptly burnt his finger on the cold metal by touching it without his gloves on. It contained two notes in Russian. On a page out of my spirax note pad Andy recorded our feat and the the lack of diamonds for future brave (read stupid) soles venturing to the top (if the scratchy hand writing can be read).
On the top of Mount Brown we found a brass cylinder containing two notes.
Then we decided to get the hell out of there. From the top the wind shadow of the mountain looked amazing and we realised how much shelter the two tiny dots, our camp, was getting. Continuing past the peak along the ridge line until we felt we were clear of the ice cliffs and the steep ice slopes, we started heading down, with the wind.
View of the wind shadow of the mountain from the top. The tents are down there somewhere.
With a considerable amount of tail wind and the slope increasing I was very aware that I would have trouble stopping if I had to, and the crampon that kept kicking off was playing on my mind. But exercising due lack of care brought on by extreme fatigue I followed Andy figuring he would disappear first giving me time to think of something to do. At the bottom we stopped and dropped our packs, took our final triumphal photos and just watched the wandering lines of drift over the low sastrugi. With the lack of perspective they looked an unimpressive length untill I noticed them trail off past two tiny dots kilometers away.
Andy and myself at the base of Mount Brown.
To the left above my head level is two small dots which are the tents in the distance.
Andy decided that it should be possible to get samples by chopper and the pilots when they arrived. they agreed to give it a go and Andy and Ken went of in one chopper a got samples from the col below the summit and the wind scour (I think the last is right) while we packed the tents and loaded gear.
With the sun setting and the low drift turning yellow and Mt Brown glowing golden, I started to feel the exhaustion. Every so often it would dawn on me how little of this I had left and how soon I would be back in Oz. This was one of those moments, but was brought back by my fingers starting to feel (or lack of feel) the effects of my frozen sweaty gloves and from taking them off to do fiddley things. The ice had built up around my face enough that Dewey, the chopper engineer, got me to pose for a photo. I was pleased to get inside the chopper with the thermos of hot tang I had salvaged from Andy's pack.
The pilots had a ball finding a low down tail wind and we screamed back to Davis at 180 knots.