Nicola, Monday, August 2nd, 2010
Wind speed: 23 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60°C
Last week I conserved a small cardboard box filled with little gas canisters that were for use in a soda siphon to make sparkling water. Both Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Scott took soda siphons with them on their expeditions, and a couple can be seen on the table in the picture of Scott’s birthday celebration in 1911.
The sparkling water would have been used as a mixer for spirits, and this seems very apt in the week when a whisky crate excavated this summer from under the floor boards of Shackleton’s 1908 hut at Cape Royds was put on display at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. The crate was kept frozen while it was flown from Antarctica to New Zealand, then immediately placed in a freezer, and it’s now slowly being thawed so that conservators can open it up and examine the contents.
We were very lucky to see the crates at Cape Royds when we first arrived in February, and have recently been following progress at Canterbury Museum through the blog on their website which is updated every day.
Today we’ve learnt that the ice has sufficiently melted for Lizzie and Sasha to remove the lid and for the first time the top of a bottle in its straw wrapper can be seen. I can’t wait to see what the bottles look like, and if there is still some whisky inside.
Nicola, Friday, July 30th, 2010
Wind speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40°C
Moonrise: above horizon
Moonset: above horizon
Where ever you are on Ross Island you are always aware of the active volcano Mount Erebus sitting on the skyline topped by a plume of smoke. Erebus, and Mount Terror, the extinct volcano next to it, were named after the ships of Captain James Clark Ross, the first explorer to sail into McMurdo Sound in 1841.
From Scott Base Erebus looks serene, as if you could stroll up to the summit in an afternoon, but it’s actually 20 miles away and its slopes covered with crevasses and hazardous ice fields. Men from Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition were the first to climb Erebus in 1908, taking 5 days. Now the crater is reached during the summer season by helicopter, which takes scientists up to carry out research on volcanic activity, the lava lake and the toxic fumes - carbon dioxide, chlorine and sulphur dioxide that it pumps out.
Erebus is constantly changing, reflecting the weather and seasons. As the sun disappeared we saw it silhouetted against a sky turning from blue to pink to rich red and finally filled with stars and auroras. But over the last week the sky behind Erebus has gradually been lightening and a faint apricot glow now indicates that with Midwinter over we are heading back towards the first sun-rise on 19th August.
Mindy, Thursday, April 29th, 2010
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -47°C
Inspired by accounts of the early Antarctic explorers man-hauling across the frozen Antarctica landscape, I desperately wanted to give it a go. With 3 other willing participants, we carefully planned and procured the necessary supplies and equipment.
The words ‘[Left]…a little before 11 in the morning after being photoed with our sledge in the dark by flashlight…’ could easily have been an account of our own expedition, but it’s really an extract from the journal of Dr. Edward Wilson, Chief Scientific Officer of Captain Scott’s 1910-13 Antarctic expedition. Wilson, Lt. Henry “Birdie” Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard spent 19 days in 1911 on a superhuman journey to procure Emperor penguin eggs from Cape Crozier, (located on the other side of Ross Island).
Despite re-tracing a portion of their route, our mini expedition was nowhere near as ambitious. On a relatively calm day and in the dying light of the season, we covered the 12km round-trip between Scott Base and the Antarctica New Zealand field training site in 4 hours. Our loaded Nansen sled required us to pull a load of 50 kg per person. Comparatively, Wilson and his companions trekked 97 km from their base at Cape Evans to Cape Crozier in the darkness and bitter cold of winter, with 106 kg per man on two sleds.
It’s hard to measure up to those numbers. Reflecting on the experience, it’s humbling to know that we plodded through what Cherry-Garrard considered to be ‘the only bit of good pulling we were to have’ (The Worst Journey in the World).
If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, I can now fully appreciate how tough these men were.
George, Monday, February 22nd, 2010
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -22°C
Last week our team flew out by helicopter to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 hut at Cape Royd’s, and then on to Captain Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’ 1910 base at Cape Evans. Amazing! The trip allowed for an on-site handover between the summer and winter teams, and a chance to catch up with Al, Lucy, Fran and the carpenters before they jumped on a plane back to New Zealand.
After working so closely with the artefacts in the Reserve Collection at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, it was breathtaking and inspiring to finally visit the huts themselves and see the context from which they had come. It will also help us during the winter to work out suitable conservation treatments for the artefacts so that they will fit in with the appearance and environment of the huts.
Cape Evans in particular was stunning. Although we were all naturally excited, a hush fell over the group as we entered and moved about the silent rooms. Even if we had no knowledge of the expedition stories, there would still be something truly special about the place.
There was an abundance of artefacts showing the early explorers’ day-to-day life and work, all caught in the suggestive quality of natural light and its shadows. The impression was of abandonment, of its inhabitants having only just upped and left. Only the deterioration attests to the passing of years, and also of the peculiar rigours of the environment. It has impressed on me yet further the importance of the work we are doing and the very great need to get things right.
Nicola, Friday, January 15th, 2010
Working on the tent associated with Shackleton’s 1914-17 Trans Antarctic Expedition last week inspired me to read accounts of the sledging trips with a particular interest in the kit that was taken. Once the tent was up the most vital pieces of equipment were the Primus stove for cooking and the Norwegian fur sleeping bags.
In the laboratory this week we have a one man sleeping bag made from sections of hide with the thick fur on the inside.
Under the microscope Paul Scofield, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at Canterbury Museum, identified the fur as reindeer, used because its hollow hairs have good insulating properties. Whilst smooth fur from the flanks was used on the inside of the bag, two outside flaps were cut from the softer more woolly belly. These would have been folded across the chest and secured with wooden toggles.
The bag is in good condition despite being well used, patched and repaired. The skin is still soft and there is only minor shedding of hairs. But it’s filled the lab with that distinct seal blubber smell of the historic huts.
The state of their sleeping bags was a frequent topic in the men’s sledging diaries. Whilst the fur could be warm and comfortable, the bags became miserable at extremely low temperatures.
Sealed in their sleeping bags at night their breath condensed and froze onto the fur lining. Ice accumulated over weeks so it became an unpleasant experience in the evening to thaw a way in. After one sledging journey the weight of the sleeping bags had increased four times from their usual 10lbs. Relief only came on sunny days when the bags could be turned inside out to rid them of ice and allow them to dry.
So perhaps it’s easy to understand why Apsley Cherry-Garrard, in his account of a winter sledging trip, talked of the ‘blissful moment of getting out of your bag…’