Hiking to Watts and Marine Plain
Last week, the opportunity arose for me to go on a part work, part recreation hike to two of the field huts near Davis Station. Thanks to the lack of sea ice in the fjord, we had to walk the long way in both directions, but I’m cool with that. It was a total of around 40 kilometres. Below are some of the sights we came across, and the luxury accommodation we slept in.
This is one of many interesting vistas we hiked through on our journey (sorry about the poor quality; I had some dramas with my point-and-shoot and can’t stitch this one any better). Click to see the full size image and see the dykes a little better. I’m slowly preparing a few panoramas to upload in a separate post. Until I finish working out the technical details, please accept my assurance that this was one of many spectacular scenes we saw.
Though the alien shape and composition of the place is stunning and will appear more in the afore-mentioned post, the smaller details were what really grabbed my attention on this walk.
Rocks of all shapes and colours appear throughout the Vestfolds. Many of these strange colours are caused by oxidising minerals. In this case, there is so much copper in this rock that the exposure has left it this bright colour (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patina). It really stood out from its surrounds.
These rocks have been sandblasted into these shapes by centuries of being blasted by rocks and grit that are picked up by the high winds, especially when there is no snow covering most of the Vestfolds. This same sand-blasting effect takes paint off of buildings and cars, wears our our ANARESAT dome and is otherwise punishing to anything in its path. It also covers the snow and near-shore sea ice in heat-absorbing grit, causing it to melt quicker when summer arrives.
In this situation though, it makes for some unimaginable shapes and curiosities in the landscape. Some boulders have even been hollowed from the wind scouring effect. Some of them remind me of coral, in fact.
Speaking of living things, it amazed me to discover how many things cling to life in this extreme environment. Moss, lichen and algae eke out a surprisingly successful living if you keep an eye out for them. We also came across the tiny calcareous tubes of some kind of sea worm that lived here when the sea level was much higher, though my camera couldn’t be convinced to take a good photo of one.
This is Watt’s hut, as seen from the South as we approached. We spent the first two days thoroughly engrossed in both hiking and navigation, so I didn’t document the first part of the trip. Our return route was simply following the path we’d already used, so there was more time for photography. This hut is quite old and I’m yet to find out its story, but it’s certainly quite comfortable. Inside it are four bunk beds, a propane stove and heater, a table and four chairs. Combined with the triple-glazed windows, it’s more than comfortable enough all year.
The view isn’t half bad either. In winter, the fjord is frozen and it’s a simple matter of walking a few kilometres down along the sea ice to make the trip back to station a quick one. With the fjord flowing, it’s a 14 kilometre walk along hilly, rocky terrain. And it’s 14km that we covered with a turn of speed as we wanted to make it back in time for the afternoon’s social function.
We were stopped by two last fascinating finds. One was a penguin skeleton, found in a valley a few kilometres away from the fjord. Perhaps some navigational drama befell this poor critter.
The last delay was a much more lively critter, fortunately. As we passed by the fjord for the last time, a Weddell seal was pulling itself out of the water. We watched it for a few minutes, much as it watched us. It writhed around some and generally looked like it had an itchy back it couldn’t scratch. When it eventually found a comfortable spot, we left it to its business and continued our hike:
All in all it was an enjoyable experience, even if it was mostly about the walking rather than the scenery. We did make it back in time to enjoy a carbonated beverage or two with our colleagues, so the mission was declared a success. I look forward to documenting the more mundane parts of travelling the area in a future blog post 🙂