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Pony Snowshoes

Posted by Conservators May 28, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 22 May 2013

Temperature: -26 degrees C

Wind Speed: 25 knots

Temp with wind chill: -44 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

When it comes to working with historical material that is only 100 years old, most things we recognise at least by function, if not from our own lives and times, then perhaps from those of our grandparents.

 

When reading Captain RF Scott's journals from his last expedition (1910 until his untimely death in 1912), he makes a number of references to the Norwegian snowshoes they took along for their ponies. The ponies hauled the heavy loads as he and his team erected their hut at Cape Evans and laid food and fuel depots southwards towards the Pole. Click here to see a photo of Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard with their ponies, 1911.  http://http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.963/

 

When they first trialled a pair of the snowshoes, on a pony they named Weary Willy, Scott wrote: 'The effect was magical. He strolled around as though walking on hard ground in places where he floundered woefully without them'. Scott offers nothing by way of a description but records that many a discussion was had over the snowshoes' efficacy and design.

 

Not being a person with much horse or snow experience, I imagined these snowshoes to be quite basic and to look something like a plate or a tennis racquet. My first glimpse of one was during my visit to Scott's hut where a couple hang on the wall of the stables and others fill some nearby boxes. (A quick search of our project database reveals there are 44 pony snowshoes at the Cape Evans hut.)

 

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Pony showshoes on the wall of the stables, Cape Evans (SB)

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A stash of pony snowshoes in a stall of the stables, Cape Evans (SB)

 

And then we were fortunate to have six come through the lab recently for conservation treatment, allowing closer examination. They truly are expertly crafted with a base of coiled cane, bound neatly with copper wire, around a framework of iron links. A leather-wrapped fibre upper fits around the hoof and a buckled strap or woven tie attaches around the ankle ... probably not the most comfortable of winter attire, but splendidly made nonetheless!



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Norwegian pony snowshoe from Cape Evans (Marie-Amande)

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.963/ Photo credit H Ponting, SPRI.#

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To plunge or not to plunge

Posted by Conservators May 26, 2013

Author: Jaime

Date: 22 May 2013

Temperature: -26

Wind speed: 10-15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -37

Sunrise: Still August

Sunset: Long ago

 

 

There are a number of traditional events that take place during the long winter season at Scott Base; the midwinter dinner and, the mini-golf tournament for example. But the time has now come to consider whether to undertake one of the more challenging events, the dreaded Polar Plunge.

 

For some people in Northern Europe, the idea of voluntarily leaping into water a degree or two above freezing is not completely unusual, although to be fair, they tend to have spent some time previously in a stiflingly hot sauna. Most of us however, offered the chance of an Antarctic dip, where the seawater is about -1.5 degrees would simply say No. A brave few will, for some inexplicable reason, immediately think that it is a great idea. But that still leaves The Undecided.

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A perfect swimming spot © AHT/Jaime

 

You know it’s going to be frightening, that it’s going to leave you gasping for breath and completely numb, but on the other hand you also know it’s completely feasible, others do it regularly and after all its perhaps only a few seconds discomfort in an otherwise cosy life.

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One of the undecided © AHT/Jaime

 

Why is it so difficult to decide?

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Boots and Grass

Posted by Conservators May 22, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date: 15/05/2013

Temperature: -31 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 350/1 kts

Temperature with wind chill: -39 degrees celcius

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Sometimes we encounter the most unexpected surprises during a conservation treatment and expose a piece of history that is really quite special. Recently, two dry, stiff and distorted pieces of Reindeer fur that were labelled "mitten" and "fragment" arrived in the lab as two separate objects.

 

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   Before Treatment of fragment   

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  Before Treatment of Mitten

 

The treatment of the objects involved the slow humidification of the fur and the even slower and more cautious reshaping of each object until their original shape was revealed. It slowly became apparent that first impressions (as well as labels) were misleading and the objects were neither a mitten nor a fragment, but a complete pair of fur boots. The matching fur boots present a fine example of Finnesko (a thermal boot made of tanned reindeer skin with the outside fur).

 

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  After Treatment of Finnesko

 

Inside the boots sennegrass was also revealed. Sennegrass, a sedge (carex vesicaria) from Northern Europe, was used to insulate boots by carefully arranging the grass around ones feet and toes. By the time Scott and his men set about their expedition, the use of sennegrass to insulate footwear was already a long standing tradition. Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink tells us:

 

"if you get wet feet while wearing the grass in the 'komager" (Finnesko) you will be warmer than ever, as the fresh grass will, by the moisture and the heat of your feet, in a way start to burn or produce its own heat by spontaneous combustion. The great thing seems to be to arrange the grass properly in the boots..."

 

And so with what first appeared to be a fur mitten and fragment we discovered a very fine example of a pair of Finnesko with sennegrass contents.

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A walk to blue sky

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 5/05/2013

Temperature: -25

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -30

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Last Suday to enjoy the last minutes of daylight we went for a walk that is quite famous here: Castle Rock loop. The track starts from McMurdo station, which is just over the hill, goes nice and flat to Castle rock (where we went for our first day out and also for the last sunset), comes down along the "Kiwi ski field" (open in summer but now closed). It's supposed to be a 5 to 8 hour journey, but in winter you would probably hike the loop in about 4 hours. It's too cold to stop moving or walking for long. Your camera freezes quickly if you spend too much time setting it. Alternatively, your battery goes flat quickly too if you take the camera out of your warm pocket too often.

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Jamie and Molly in their winter gear

 

We still manage several breaks, at every emergency rescue station we pass by. Our American neighbours have two red domes that look half like a metal igloo, half like space craft. One of them has even got an old style phone. Overwintering Americans have also built a real igloo (out of ice bricks) where we had our first tea break out of a thermos bottle.

 

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United State Antarctic Program Emergency Shelter

 

Down the Kiwi ski field there is a green bubble, the Antarctica New Zealand emergency shelter, where we had our last tea break before finishing our journey. The track is flagged all the way and very secure. Despite the grey weather, we enjoyed a pale light, and even some blue sky around 2pm. It was warm for Antarctica, only -25 and with almost no wind.

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Lord of the Flies/Ski's

Posted by Conservators May 16, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 08/05/2013

Temperature: -40 degrees C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -51 degrees C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

One of the most fascinating personnel choices for the Cape Evans shore party was one Tryggve "Trigger" Gran. In reading Gran's diary and that of the other members of the expedition, it became very obgious that a great frustration is held between him, and a number of the officers: "I have offered my assistance, but tey merely look at each other and laugh." - Gran on Oates and Dr Wilson. 

 

"A lazy posing fellow." R F Scott on Gran.

 

To some degree it is a palpable feeling when arriving in Antarctica today. You arrive and rub shoulders with many impressive specialists/characters, and there is often a very natural and interesting social jostling to work out where you will find yourself in this strata. Gran was often painted by others in diary accounts to be a lazy, somewhat adolescent figure. Gran was recommended to Scott by Fridtjof Nansen during the testing of the much-ill fated motor tractors, to teach the party to ski, something he was doubtlessly a master of.

 

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.583/ Please click here for an image of Lieut. Gran skiing on broken ice, October 1911. Credit - Herbert Ponting.

 

It is easy to see why there may have been a natural tendency to try and discredit Gran. He was a living, breathing representation of Norwegian skill, and Amundsen, the black cloud that hung on Scott's shoulder. Much like the use of dogs, using skis in combination with hauling was weighed up in pros and cons over and over again by the expedition and comments would swing full circle.

 

Gran's allegiances were complex. He wished in his diary that Amundsen would be victorious against Scott, but also in a very touching tribute (taking part in the search party for Scott's tent) wore Scott's skis, adamant that they would finish the distance back to Cape Evans.

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A pair of ski's I conserved last year. Credit: AHT Stefan

 

Gran went on to play football for Norway! He was the first pilot to cross the North Sea, and if that wasn't enough, was attibuted with shooting down flying ace Hermann Göring in WW1.  In an odd turn of fate Gran later headed a search party to find polar explorer Roald Amundsen, lost flying while trying to discover the fate of Umberto Nobile's North Pole expedition in 1928.

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Author: Sue

Date: 7 May 2013

Temperature: -41 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a
Sunset: n/a

 

 

In our conservation work on the artefacts from the explorers' huts here in Antarctica we often get little surprises. As we inspect each artefact very closely in the pre-treatment process of documenting its materials, construction and condition, we come across little details that may not have been immediately obvious to those AHT conservators who, in the summer months, catalogued and packed up the artefacts in the huts and transported them here to us in the lab at Scott Base.

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Physics lab in Scott's Hut

 

I had one such delightful little surprise recently. I un-wrapped an artefact that bore the description "wood slat, approx. one metre long", which had been located under the physics bench in Captain Scott's Terra Nova hut, from the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition. As I inspected it I noted that it was, in fact, exactly one metre long, was made of oak, and was covered on one side and one edge with a heavy layer of black soot. Part of our approach to conserving the artefacts is to preserve all evidence of use, and this includes preserving those soot layers that tell of the items' long history around the blubber-and-coal fuelled stoves inside the huts. But occasionally the soot is also hiding information, so we investigate a little further and may find a good reason to remove or at least reduce it. Such was the case with the "slat" as, when I did, I revealed a very neat metric (one-metre) rule, or scale, with hand-written pencil numbers "10" through "90" at ten-centimetre intervals. Nice!

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Detail, 30cm - 50m

And quite interesting, too, as Britain (and, for that matter, Canada, from where the Terra Nova physicist 'Silas' Wright hailed) was still using the imperial system of measurement until much much more recently... although scientists are always well ahead of their times!

 

One-metre oak rule, after treatment.jpg

One-metre oak rule, after treatment

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Mouse Rounds

Posted by Conservators May 13, 2013

When it's 10pm and warm and comfortable inside Scott Base the last thing you want to do is to struggle into layers of warm clothing and head outside. When it is also -27 with snow drifting in the gusting winds, it is even less appealing.

 

 

But every couple of weeks it is your turn again to make the nightly mouse round, a methodical safety check of the entire base. The inside bit is easy, but initially, heading out and away from the main buildings into the deep darkness to check the fuel pumps, is always a little daunting.

 

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Mike on the nightly mouse round - JW

 

In the end though, the time outside is never bad, in spite of the weather. You are warm, you have a radio and there is something quite cathartic about re-tracing your own well-trodden route around the quiet dark extremities of the base. Always wanting to find something interesting and always secretly glad in the end that you haven't.

 

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It pays to be vigilant; the infamous "leak" in the waste water plant. JW

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Here, when you mention "back country" cooking, it refers to some dehydrated chicken and peas, dehydrated soup, with a dehydrated orange tasting juice, and eventually some porridge powder. No offence to any "central land" gastronomy, it's just the easiest thing we can bring to have for dinner when we're going out. We warm it up on a white gas stove, and, mind you, lighting the stove was one of the very first things we learnt to do when we arrived.

 

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Dehydrated meals are not a new fashion though, and I was surprised to discover mustard powder along with milk powder in the middle of Scott's Terra Nova expedition supplies. Even so, explorers' typical 'field' meal was more often a 'hoosh', a big pot of pemmican, biscuits, cocoa, milk and grease mixed together. The expedition had Primus Stoves, made in Sweden and recently I had the chance to conserve one of them.

 

 

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When I unwrapped the artefact, my first thought was 'wait a minute, I've already seen something similar…of course!  There are two Primus Stoves above the gas fireplace in our lounge. (Yes, we have a lounge, and a fake fireplace, how amazing is that?) They're Ed Hillary's  stoves! Signed and given to Scott Base by the modern age Antarctic exploration hero!

 

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It's really nice to observe such a step by step evolution of something both so simple and so essential.

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The winds of change

Posted by Conservators May 6, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 24/04/2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -47 degrees

Sunrise: The sun no longer rises

Sunset:  And therefore never sets

 

With rapidly dwindling hours of daylight and the prospect of gradually worsening weather, it's best to make the most of any opportunities we get to be outside and to explore some of the less frequented sites around the bases.

 

Last week, we were able to join a routine maintenance visit to the three wind turbines erected in 2010 and situated on the upper slopes of Crater Hill between Scott Base and McMurdo. Access to the wind farm site is usually restricted, but accompanied by the base electrician we were able to get a close up look at the towers and feel the hum of the huge blades sweeping overhead.

 

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Wind turbine in action - JW.

 

Until recently, power for both bases had been provided by diesel generators, but New Zealand's wind turbines now provide up to a third of the electricity here, and are reducing greatly both the cost and the risk of transporting a tanker load of fuel each summer.

 

And as an unexpected bonus of the elevated site, we were treated to one of the final stunning sunsets over the Trans Antarctic mountains.

 

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Sunset over the Trans Antarctic mountains - JW.

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500 done, 1000 to go

Posted by Conservators May 2, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date: 24 April 2013

Temperature: -32.3

Windspeed: 20/ 14 kts

Temp with wind chill: -51

Sunrise: 12.16

Sunset 13.23

 

Thursday the 11th of April was a day of celebration for us as we all felt a great sense of achievement. After only a few months, we conserved our 500th object.

 

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Stefan, Stefanie, Marie, Sue and Jaime in the lab at Scott Base celebrating the 500th object conserved.

 

Previous days saw the countdown to the 500th conserved object and as we counted down each object with it's after treatment photo our eagerness to see the final winning object increased. Was it going to be a cork stopper, a glass vial, a test-tube, a canvas ration bag, a wool mitten, a tin of flour, a leather horse strap or even a wooden box?

 

The 500th conserved object is the remarkable 'Wolsey unshrinkable 100% wool' thermal top bearing a hand stitched pocket to the lower chest area and the hand printed initials 'C. G.' on the upper chest area. The 'C.G' implies that the top was owned and worn by Cherry-Garrard. Interestingly, just the previous week I conserved the matching long-john's, which also bear the printed initials 'C. G.' . However, the intimacy involved in conserving a complete set of Cherry-Garrards' underwear is the topic of another blog and for the moment we look forward to conserving the remaining 1000 objects.

 

Cherry-Garrard;s Wolsey thermal top.

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