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.
Lucy, Thursday, October 15th, 2009
Weather: clear blue skies; -18 degrees C; less than 10 knots of wind.
When I first looked at a map of Ross Island, Antarctica, I was surprised to see that the historic huts of Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton at Cape Evans and Cape Royds are only about 5 kilometres apart. They are both built by the seashore of McMurdo Sound, convenient locations for the expedition members when they were off-loading the ships. For us living at Scott Base (New Zealand’s science base) the huts can be easily visited in a day by hagglund (an all terrain vehicle) - provided the sea ice is thick and strong enough to drive across.
Last weekend we took a trip to see the historic huts. It was a visit which both Fran and I have been looking forward to impatiently since arriving.
I have seen so many photos of the huts that when the time came to visit them I had the impresion they might seem somehow familiar. In reality, the huts and settings are quite different from expected.
Shackleton’s 1908 hut at Cape Royds is smaller, more sheltered and much cosier than I ever thought possible in Antarctica. Whereas the hut at Cape Evans, built by Captain Scott in 1911, is much larger and the outlook is more open than the impression I had from the photographs. Standing in front of the hut, the vista is wide open, over the Ross Sea towards the Royal Society mountain range and Mount Erebus (the southernmost active volcano) towers behind.
Inside Scott’s hut it is quite messy, which gave the slightly eerie feeling that the survivors of the expeditions were in such a hurry to leave Antarctica on their ship, the Terra Nova, that they didn’t have a chance to tidy up. Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds on the other hand is much more orderly and still feels almost lived in.
I don’t know which of the 2 huts I like the best at the moment but I am sure that after living at both for 3 months, by the end of the summer I will have made up my mind.
Anna, Thursday, February 12th, 2009
The time has come to say farewell to our surrogate icy continent, and head back to warmer climes. Yup, our 6 months have flown past, and we are now in our final week here in Antarctica, in a hurricane of paperwork, ECWs and teary farewells as we try to tie up our work, pack our gear and welcome the new winter conservators soon to hit our frozen shores.
Our last stint in the field has been extremely successful, and Jana and I are well chuffed with the work we were able to get done out there the past month: conserving the Wardroom stove and flues, the fodder bales, cataloguing all the new artefacts that were uncovered, treating a large whack of artefacts - the list goes on!
Now we depart with a hoard of memories - penguins talking outside our tents all night, the sound of the ice floes crunching against each other with the waves on the beach, the smell of the seals tanning themselves on the shore - such a beautiful bonus to our work.
But by far the most important memory we will be taking is the magnificent experience of having the honour of working on the huts, being given the opportunity to camp at Cape Evans and Royds and experience the spirit of the sites while working, and having the supreme privilege of treating those artefacts that the explorers left behind, that we now appreciate as a memento of their adventures.
We hope you all continue to follow the adventures of our new winter conservators once they get on the ice! Ciao for now!
Jana, Thursday, October 2nd, 2008
During the heroic era, tramping across the thick, semi-permanent sea ice that forms around the shores of Antarctica was the only way for the early explorers to cross from their huts on Ross Island to the mainland (and thus the South Pole). This sea ice was also the easiest place to travel around Ross Island itself, it being far easier to skirt along the shore on relatively flat ice than to try to navigate the pesky glaciers and craggy contours inland. Today, just as in historic times, most travel on and around Ross Island is done via seasonal roads on the ice, often along routes established by the early explorers.
While these explorers relied upon visual observation (and often their own impatience) to decide if the ice was safe enough to travel on, today there are strict standards as to how thick the ice must be before roads can be opened and vehicles allowed to travel on the ice. This is determined by drilling and measuring holes in the ice using specialized equipment.
One place where it is critical to monitor the thickness of the ice is around the large cracks that form near the shore and around icebergs trapped in the sea ice. Because cracks are prone to change and move more than the rest of the ice, measurements must be taken at multiple locations on each side of the crack each time it is to be crossed. If the ice does not meet the thickness requirements, we simply do not cross.
Currently, for instance, the large crack at the foot of the Barne Glacier is not thick enough to traverse, meaning that the hut at Cape Royds remains inaccessible to us for now. While for the early explorers this might have meant hunkering down in a hut with dwindling supplies for another few weeks, for us it just means that we go about our work elsewhere until the time comes when we can safely cross.