Skip to page content

Antarctic conservation blog archive

Archive for the 'Discovery Hut' Category

Views of Hut Point Ridge

Mindy, Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Temperature: -27.1°C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Temp with wind chill: Approximately -47.6°C
Sunrise: 08:00
Sunset: 20:00

At the weekend Bobbie, the Scott Base chef, and I decided to go on an adventure so we turned our attention to the nearby Hut Point Ridge. This particular track starts at the end of Hut Point where Commander Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut is located (the base built for his 1901 – 04 expedition).

A historic view of Hut Point and Discovery Hut © Canterbury Museum, Kinsey Collection

A historic view of Hut Point and Discovery Hut © Canterbury Museum, Kinsey Collection

Walking along the road towards Hut Point we found ourselves relatively sheltered by local hills and the buildings of McMurdo Station, home to the American Antarctic programme, but the open approach to Discovery Hut exposed us to the wind. We were adequately clothed and equipped though, and confident that weather conditions were manageable, so we began to ascend the ridge. Braving the mildly breezy conditions, we were rewarded by spectacular views of McMurdo Sound. We could see open water in the distance, assorted islands dotting Ross Island’s coast, and the Royal Society Range on the continent.

Discovery Hut sitting exposed at the base of Hut Point Ridge © AHT, M Bell

Discovery Hut sitting exposed at the base of Hut Point Ridge © AHT, M Bell

Clambering back down the ridge, we spotted a reminder of the risk that can sometimes come with such stunning landscapes. At the end of Hut Point sits Vince’s Cross, built to commemorate a member of Scott’s Discovery expedition who slipped down the hill into the sea during a blizzard in 1902.

It’s truly a cautionary tale, and we took its point. Don’t take any chances with the weather, and always mind your feet – even when you’re enjoying the view.

Vince's Cross on the bluff at the end of Hut Point © AHT, M Bell

Vince’s Cross on the bluff at the end of Hut Point © AHT, M Bell

Inspection trip to Discovery Hut

Antonia, Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Weather on day of visit: -28°C; wind 10 Knots: clear sky & full moon

With the end of the Antarctic winter drawing near we recently had to undertake an inspection trip to Discovery Hut to see how it is holding up to the wind and weather.

Discovery Hut was originally designed to be the expedition base for Commander Robert Falcon Scott’s National Antarctic Expedition (1901 – 04). But in the end the team decided to stay on the ship as the hut was too difficult to heat.

We chose a beautifully still, moonlit day for our visit and it gave us a great idea of what the building would have felt like for those who stayed in it during those long cold winters early last century. Now I can quite see why they chose to stay on the ship, as the temperature in the hut during our visit was only 2°C warmer than that outside!

Discovery Hut by moonlight at 10:30am © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Discovery Hut by moonlight at 10:30am © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Because the hut was so cold it was only used by the expeditions for scientific observations, drying equipment, repairs and as an entertainment venue.

Discovery Hut is often seen as the poor relation to Captain Scott’s second base at Cape Evans (associated with his 1910 expedition) and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base at Cape Royds (associated with his 1907 expedition) as it holds so many fewer artefacts, but historically speaking it is probably the most significant of the 3.

While spurned by Scott’s first expedition it was later found to be a very welcome refuge by both Scott and Shackleton’s subsequent expeditions when the sea ice conditions kept them from returning to their main bases.

It is a privilege to be, in some small part, responsible for the maintenance of such a historically important structure and its contents.

Inspection of artefacts in Discovery Hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Inspection of artefacts in Discovery Hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

First trip to Discovery Hut

Antonia, Friday, May 29th, 2009

Weather on day of visit: -15°C; wind 10 Knots; some cloud
Weather today: -33°C; wind 5-10 Knots; pitch black!

I was recently asked to give a talk to the Americans based over the hill at McMurdo Station (40 minutes walk from Scott Base) about the Trust, the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project and what we have been up to out here.

This got me thinking back to those halcyon days when we still had sunshine, and to our first trip to the hut associated with Captain Scott’s 1901-04 expedition.

Discovery Hut as approached from McMurdo © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Discovery Hut as approached from McMurdo © Antarctic Heritage Trust

It was such a thrill to finally see the setting for some of the objects Mindy and I had been working on for the past 6 months back in Christchurch, New Zealand. And it gave us an idea of the type of environment the material had come from that the 4 of us would be working on for the next 6 months.

A small part of the collection © Antarctic Heritage Trust

A small part of the collection © Antarctic Heritage Trust

We finally had a chance to experience the magic of the location and the feeling of history associated with the huts in February. It is impossible to describe the effect that the sights and smells have on your senses, and how they help to take you back in time. I can only describe it as incredible, and I can’t wait to visit Captain Scott’s second base at Cape Evans (associated with his 1910-13 expedition) and visit Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base at Cape Royds (associated with his 1907-09 expedition). The visit to Cape Evans will be of particular interest, since that is where the objects we are currently working on have come from.

The team inside Discovery Hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The team inside Discovery Hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Rediscovering Discovery Hut

Lizzie, Monday, July 28th, 2008

The view from Discovery Hut towards Mt Discovery and the cross erected to the memory of George Vince © British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (Terra Nova) Image 386, courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute, UK

The view from Discovery Hut towards Mt Discovery and the cross erected to the memory of George Vince © British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (Terra Nova) Image 386, courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute, UK

Discovery Hut was the base for the 1901-04 National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. It sits just above the shoreline of Winter Quarters Bay, at the end of the Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island - a spot Wilson described as “the most perfect little natural harbour imaginable”.

It may have been a perfect little harbour, but it is generally regarded by McMurdo-ites and Scott Basers as the coldest and windiest spot locally, and certainly not the perfect place to build a house - although the view is rather splendid.

Discovery Hut in the 2007 sunlight © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Discovery Hut in the 2007 sunlight © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Discovery Hut was designed by Professor Gregory, (appointed as leader of the scientific staff, he resigned before the Discovery headed south) and prefabricated by James Moore of Sydney (cost: £360.14.5d). Intended to house a small landing party, it is 11.3 metres square with an open verandah on three sides of the structure which was to be enclosed below the verandah edge with provision cases, against which snow could accumulate, providing additional shelter.

Snow build up under the verandah © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Snow build up under the verandah © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Without the packing cases there, snow drifts under the verandah and up against the building year round, and there is little shelter from the wind whilst conservators struggle to free ice from the lock. Why is there a lock? Well, part of the conservation management plan means restricting visits to the huts to a maximum of 8 people in this instance, and they must be accompanied by a trained hut guide who ensures visitors disturb the site as little as possible. The lock is to make sure people don’t just pop in unannounced.

Therese de-icing the lock © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Therese de-icing the lock © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Therese, Carla, Susanne and I were there to make one of the regular maintenance inspections AHT performs. Active conservation of Discovery Hut is not scheduled to begin until work on Scott’s hut at Cape Evans is completed. Once we had dug away the snow which had built up inside the door, we spent some time photographing areas of snow build-up on the interior, checking clothing, fabrics, and shoes for mould, and metals for signs of active corrosion. We also made a general check of the internal and external structure, to note any damage/issues prior to any maintenance work in the summer. I’m pleased to say that we found little change from previous seasons, although the amount of snow that manages to work its way in through the tiniest of cracks never ceases to amaze me.

Snow build up, Discovery hut interior, 2008 © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Snow build up, Discovery hut interior, 2008 © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The design of the hut will be familiar to many Australians and New Zealanders. It was described by Bernacchi as “more adapted as a summer house than a polar hut”, and by Armitage as a “colonial shooting lodge”. It does have a double layer of timber tongue and groove boarding on the walls and floor, with felt insulation in the walls, but even Scott said “on account of its size and the necessity of economizing coal, it is very difficult to keep a working temperature inside; consequently it has not been available for some of the purposes for which we had hoped to use it. “(Scott, ibid, pp 306, 307).

In the end, the men mostly lived aboard Discovery, with the hut being used for scientific observations, for drying furs and tents after sledging, for skinning birds, as a repair shop and as a venue for entertainment, leading to it also being known as the ‘Royal Terror Theatre’.

The hut was also used by later expeditions: The Nimrod expedition (Shackleton, 1907-09); the Terra Nova expedition (Scott, 1910-13); the Ross Sea Party (Imperial TAE expedition 1914-17, Shackleton). In 1911 as many as 17 men lived in the hut!

It was bitterly cold in the hut, about -40C, and I thought of Antarctic men huddling around the blubber stove, planning their next march, with home a very long way away. Cold as it was working in the hut, it was worth taking a walk around and looking at the lights of McMurdo ablaze on one side, and the soft persimmon glow of the sunrise lighting up McMurdo Sound on the other. For me, views like that emphasise the everlasting questions of Why? and What? and Where? And I suspect it was the same for them.

Sunrise over Discovery Hut July 2008 © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Sunrise over Discovery Hut July 2008 © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Archives