Southern Prince Charles Mountains Traverse 1960
by Ian Bird 2019
by Ian Bird 2019
During the months of October-November 1960, I spent 6 weeks on a 370km geological and mapping reconnaissance of mountains in the Southern Prince Charles Mountains (SPCM) range, along the northern edge of the Fisher Glacier. Existing maps and geology of the area were based on aerial photographs, taken over the preceding four years, from light aircraft based at the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) station, Mawson, on the coast, some 600km north, and a few isolated aircraft landings. The reconnaissance described here was the initial ground-based expedition into the area.
Mountains, including Mt Rymill, were climbed for the first time, an extensive geological survey was carried out, surface topography was recorded and ground control points for more accurate mapping were established.
Our party of three was led by geologist, Dr Ric Ruker, and included the legendary Neville ‘Gringo’ Collins, Senior Diesel Mechanic, and me, a 22-year-old Electronics Engineer, primarily involved with the scientific programs at Mawson.
Ian on summit of Mt Rymill,
(Mt Stinear in background)
Ian, Neville & Ric.
Moraine tail Mt McCauley
Our modes of transport were by Weasel tracked vehicle and dog sled.
My role was to maintain field radio communications, alternate with Ric as dog handler and generally assist with the geology, survey, exploration and daily survival tasks in this most challenging and dangerous of environments. We three were a good mix of age, experience and skill; we got along well together.
The 1960 expedition marked the beginnings of a major thrust by ANARE into the SPCM. Mt Cresswell, unnamed at the time of our visit, became the centre of ANARE summer operations over many years.
Our traverse was history in the making, although it did not seem that way at the time, during our daily struggles to progress the work and survive. Mt Bird in the SPCM was named for me.
Thinking about it again as an 81-year-old and sole surviving member of the traverse, I rekindle almost forgotten memories of adventurous times so long ago. What incredibly good fortune and privilege to have experienced a typical ‘heroic era’ dog sled expedition, into unknown regions of the Antarctic icecap, with Ric and Neville, two good mates and lifelong friends. How did I get so lucky!
Rescuing the Weasel from a crevasse.
Dogs resting at Mt Cresswell