Jane, Monday, March 15th, 2010
Wind speed: 10 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -35⁰C
Wintering over in Antarctica is a challenge for everyone, with the lack of light and minimal contact with the outside world. The chef, in particular, has a very difficult job but manages to keep us all happy.
Our last delivery of fresh food was a few weeks ago and with no more until late August we are making the most of the fresh fruit and vegetables, before moving on to frozen veg. It is a challenge today for our chef, Bobbie, to keep the menu exciting with limited supplies, as it was for Clissold, the cook on Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition back in 1910-1913.
We tend to eat a lot here. We like to think that it’s because we use so much energy when out in the cold or because we work such long hours as part of our winter work programme, but really it’s because it all tastes so good.
Some things in Antarctic cooking haven’t changed since Clissold was cook. When Bobbie visited our conservation lab and saw the tins of food we are conserving, we discovered that, like Clissold, she too uses powdered egg. We were shocked and asked her not to tell us when she does.
Even the long-standing tradition of sausage rolls continues, only now our vegan chef makes amazing vegetarian ones just for me!
Mindy, Friday, March 5th, 2010
Wind Speed: 2 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -12°C
In the wee hours of February 21st the sun set for the first time this winter season. The days will keep getting progressively shorter until we are surrounded by the 24-hour Antarctic night skies.
So, while we still have some light and temperatures are reasonable, our little Antarctic Heritage Trust group made its way up to the top of nearby Observation Hill (about a twenty minute walk from Scott Base). Not only is it good to become familiar with local recreational routes before travel is complicated by the dark and cold, but we also had a chance to see the cross at the top of Observation Hill and carry out some conservation work on the memorial cross.
The view from the top is completely worth the 250m climb up the hill (even after carrying a ladder). Looking out over the Ross Ice Shelf, you can gaze straight south – exactly as the men of the British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913) did while waiting for Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s return from the South Pole. With the tragic fate of the Polar Party confirmed, a tall wooden cross was erected in their memory at the top of the hill in 1913.
Any opportunity to see the famous Observation Hill Memorial Cross is an inspiring experience, and hopefully we will have a chance to visit more of the local landmarks before the winter fully descends.
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…’
Fran, Monday, January 11th, 2010
Wind: 2 knots
Given we try to be as environmentally sustainable as we can when camping out in the field it does make you wonder what the early polar explorers did with their waste, as they all spent considerable periods of time resident in their respective huts, and the produce that they brought with them all had an extraordinary amount of packaging (which was very typical for the era).
Here at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base at Cape Royds, many fragments from the original supplies and equipment have been found in the surrounding area.
But it’s very hard to make assumptions as to whether these have ended up here accidentally or whether they were deliberately thrown away. Some of the more interesting objects at the site today are things that were pulled out from Pony Lake (a small expanse of water in front of the hut) including a sea dredge and the wooden wheel from a motor vehicle.
We know from the early polar explorers’ diaries it was common practice for the explorers to put their rubbish down tide cracks (these often form where the sea ice butts up against shorelines, glaciers or icebergs) where it would be swept out in the next tide.
This would have been an acceptable practice at the time but it’s great to know that there are now strict guidelines and environmental protocols in place today.