Field trip to Utpostarne

Ready to go before the first longer field trip. In the background you can see the mountain Basen and on the crest you can see Wasa. Photo: Karna Johansson.

Text by: Karna Johansson, expedition doctor

The first excursion and mission is to collect rock samples in Vestfjella, the pearl band of nunataks on which our station Wasa stands and stretches in a southwesterly direction from the home mountain Basen. I, expedition leader Håkan, researchers Jane and Martim, and our technician and guide Andreas set off on Wednesday towards the extreme tip of Vestfjella, aptly named Utpostarne by our Norwegian predecessors.

We all drive snowmobiles that either pull arks for accommodation or a sled with equipment, fuel and food. We are packed to be away for a week, with a margin to consider the weather and changed conditions. The transport occurs in fine weather, but the roughly twelve miles takes almost the whole day as you cannot drive fast over wind-swept skerries. In the evening, we camp at Finnefjella, a little nunatak surrounded by nesting ice petrels uninterested in our arks and colourful toilet tent. We bury the food in a box in the snow, light the stoves and boil water before falling asleep in our down sleeping bags.

Sampling trip at Audunfjellet, Antarctica.
Sampling trip at Audunfjellet, Antarctica. The sunbeam points out our little camp. Photo: Karna Johansson.

The following days are the same, but still not. We get up and heat water for porridge, coffee and thermoses before packing the equipment required for a day out. We ride along a route on the GPS that we planned in advance with the help of satellite images to avoid glacier crevasses and steep drifts. Once we arrive at the nunatak, we climb up with the necessary equipment; it can be crampons and ice axes, but usually, it's a relatively easy hike on exposed rock, considering cliffs and loose rock. Once Jane has selected a location for sampling, it takes at least half an hour before we move to the following location. We usually eat freeze-dried food for lunch and many energy bars during the day.

The days are long, and we come home tired and sunburnt, no matter how much sun protection we put on. Right at home, we heat water for the vacuum-packed food that our chef Linda has sent. The solar cell-powered batteries mounted in the arks are enough to charge GPSs, radios and phones. You only have a phone to take cards because we haven't had any coverage since South Africa. We don't have internet for very long moments. The evenings are still short, and after planning for tomorrow's route, we often fall asleep around ten o'clock after drawing the curtains in our housing modules. The next day, people have almost always slept well.

Jane Lund Andersen and Martim Mas e Braga, happy researchers after successful sampling
Jane Lund Andersen and Martim Mas e Braga, happy researchers after successful sampling. Photo: Karna Johansson.

We spend three days around the Outposts. The mountains are so rarely visited that they do not have official names, but unofficially we do tours on Pyramiden, Utpostarne, Finnefjellet and Audunfjellet while the rock collection grows. Even Jane's and Martim's satisfied smiles grow every day. We go higher than they expected and get nice transects with samples along ridges and heights.

At the far end of Utpostarne, it's like it's suddenly coming to an end. No more nunataks peeking out of the horizon. White windswept glacier against deep blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see, both embraced by sharp rays from the sun emerging from the veils of cloud. Sky and sea, ice and sun. We call it "the end of the world", and devoutly drink a powdered coffee and eat some Singoalla, contemplating this mighty view. Then we head home to basecamp, knowing there are many nunataks left to explore.

The roof tent, perhaps from Amundsen's time but fulfills its function well
The roof tent, perhaps from Amundsen's time but fulfills its function well. Photo: Karna Johansson.
Along the ridge of Skuafjellet
Along the ridge of Skuafjellet. Photo: Karna Johansson.
The end of the world? Or maybe its beginning!
The end of the world? Or maybe its beginning! Photo: Karna Johansson.

Publishing date: 29 Dec 2023