Sarah, Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
You’d think it would be hard to get more ‘away from it all’ than we already are out at Scott Base, in the middle of Antarctica. But there are times when we need a break from our quarters.
We are very lucky to have the A Frame as a retreat. It’s an old hut that was originally at McMurdo. In the sixties it was towed out on to the sea ice, to wait for the break up of the ice to send it to the button of the ocean. This is how most of the rubbish from McMurdo was treated at the time. (You’ll be glad to know that these days McMurdo and Scott Base are very rubbish and pollution savvy. All waste is separated and then send back via ship to New Zealand for recycling or disposal.)
Thankfully the A Frame didn’t sink to the bottom of McMurdo Sound. It was rescued by the ever-resourceful Kiwis for use as a get-away cabin. It’s about 20 minutes from Scott Base at the side of the Hut Point Peninsular, with Mount Erebus in the background and expansive views of the Ross Ice Shelf, White and Black Islands. The cabin has no power or running water, but it does have a good diesel-powered heater and once the kerosene lanterns are lit, it’s quite cosy.
Last weekend Jacinda, Victoria and I headed out for a night at the A Frame on Saturday. Being at the A Frame is was a great way to relax and recharge one’s batteries. We had a lovely evening with the best aurora I have seen, and then the brightest stars.
We all got to bed reasonably early and managed to sleep in till late which was very nice indeed. Sleeping in is easy at the A Frame, because all the windows have been covered with Styrofoam for the winter to keep the heat in, which makes it very dark when the lanterns are turned off.
Jacinda was first up, cooking a magnificent breakfast of pancakes, bacon, maple syrup and tinned mandarins. By 11am the light outside was wonderful, so we spent quite a bit of time taking photos of pink skies, Mount Erebus and a crescent moon.
I was using a camera with slide film, so I don’t have any shots for the blog. I also discovered that my cable release doesn’t like the cold, which made it start to make the camera take photos even when I hadn’t pressed the shutter release. There may be some interesting results.
Ainslie, Monday, July 3rd, 2006
This week has seen the culmination of the most important sporting competition this winter: the play-off for the tenpin bowling championship. I was fortunate to be part of the winning Kiwi team of the ‘Battle of the Bulge’- that is the championship for the middle-order teams rather than for our expanding waistlines! (I’m sure some of you have read about Donna’s excellent cooking.)
We had to overcome three formidable teams. It seems everyone from America can bowl well, they were quick on the draw and could bowl from the hip with unbelievable precision. However, I suspect the preliminary lubricating drinks may have worked to our advantage on the night. The scoring was close, with no clear breaks, adding palatable tension to a fun sporting evening amongst friendly neighbours.
This Sunday will see the staging of a traditional midwinter run from the coffee house at McMurdo down to Hut Point (around 1.4 miles), around Discovery Hut and back. It seems mad in these temperatures, almost as mad as the polar plunge.
Looking forward to it!
Sarah, Monday, June 19th, 2006
Yesterday the conservation team went to Scott’s 1901 Discovery Hut. We left shortly after lunch, and the journey took about 10 minutes in a four-wheel drive, travelling along a wild, snow-drifted road.
We walked the last 100 metres, past some concrete barricades which have set up to protect the hut, which is close to the ice pier and (believe it or not) a hive of vehicle activity in the summer. The lights and sounds of McMurdo Station hummed in the background as the old hut slept peacefully as we approached.
There was not a breath of wind, it was about -30°C and the stars shone brightly. There was a pink glow on the northern horizon, even though it was two days before the middle of winter. This isn’t something we can normally see at Scott Base because we have the Hut Point Peninsular to our north.
When we opened the door we discovered that the doorway was about a quarter filled with pillows of snow, and there were icicles hanging from the lintels. Once we had dug out the snow, we entered an icy realm in which many of the artefacts were crowned with snow and the roof twinkled with ice crystals.
It feels colder inside than out - but perhaps that’s just the dark griminess of the hut, where the burning of seal blubber by Scott and his team have left many of the artefacts covered in greasy soot. I can understand why some of the explorers set a tent up inside the hut! The discomfort the men suffered is still really evident today, and certainly makes us realise how lucky we are to be here now and not 100 years ago.
Nicola, Thursday, March 23rd, 2006
We did get to Hut Point yesterday, where Scott’s Discovery Hut is. It’s relatively easy, we can drive there because it’s on an exposed promontory right next to Mac town, but boy was it cold! Minus 21oC but windy, it cut right through you.
The hut was re-used by Shackleton after Scott’s first expedition. This was where the store-laying party returned when he tried to cross the continent and had to turn back, and they were left to survive over winter, which they barely did.
I think actually it’s the most atmospheric hut. Royds and Terra Nova (Cape Evans) are clean inside, but at Discovery they were burning seal blubber for heat and light (and eating it as well) so the inside is covered with black soot.
They were weak and starving, but the hut had filled with ice so they had to dig out a small area inside it to live in and left the rest of the hut full of ice. And the ice here is really hard, it really is like iron or concrete, even icicles are hard to break, and if you bring one in to the lab the next morning it still hasn’t started to thaw.
We went there to put out some test samples of metal coatings that we will revisit throughout the winter to see how they function in the extreme low temperatures, mainly to see how brittle they get.
At the hut we are just testing the flexibility of various clear surface coatings that we have and use for conservation - including Paraloid and Microcrystalline wax of course! We expect that as the temperature decreases the coatings become more brittle and they are not designed for temperatures down to –40oC and we don’t want to use coatings that will ping off during the winter, as the objects expand and contract with the thermal change. So I’ve put the coatings on flexible plastic sheet and we will go periodically through the winter and bend then to see how they do. Hopefully we’ll test them down to -40oC, but that will be a cold trip.
‘Trivia Night’ last night so the Americans came over to play, there were seven teams and we came third - from the bottom!