Sunday, November 1, 2009

good time at the halloween party last night...
went out to Cape Evans today and visited the hut that Scott and his party wintered in during 1910-1911 before they started on their fatal South Pole expedition. They set out on this very day- November 1 - 98 years ago. They reached the pole just after the rival Norwegian Amundsen expedition. The norwegian expedition made use of arctic standards such as skis and dogsleds, while Scott used a less effective combination mechanical sleds, manpower, and horses. On the way back Scott's party ran into rough weather and their progress was slowed. Starving and frostbitten, the team lost first one man to injuries and a then second who, near death, walked out into a storm rather than be a burden to the desperate team. The three surviving members of the original 5-man group hunkered down in their Scott tent through a storm at the end of March and never woke up again. Their bodies were recovered later that season.
There's a joke that goes: why did the English come to Antarctic?
Answer: to put up crosses.
Scotts hut was used as a refuge a few years later by some of Shackleton's men when their ship broke free and drifted away north in the pack ice. Above the hut on a hill is a cross dedicated to three members of the Shackleton expedition who died nearby. After 1917 the hut was buried under drifts until the 1950's, when it was dug out and its contents were found to be remarkably well preserved. The hut is 50' by 25', constructed of wood with a rubberized roof, and insulated with seaweed. A addition on the north side was built to house Scott's horses.
The hut's interior is dim and saturated with a smell of rancid seal meat that was strong enough to make me feel slightly nauseaus after a while. It included a large kitchen still stocked with boxes of flour and butter, cans of "pea flour" and preserved cabbage, and bags of cocoa. The hut was kept quite warm by a combination of acetylene, coal, and blubber burned in the kitchen stove and a second warming stove. The center of the hut held a long well-worn dining table, and its edges were lined by sleeping areas, storage, and benches covered with scientific equipment. At the huts rear was a 1911 era darkroom complete with necessary chemicals. Scott, the doctor, and an officer had semi-private sleeping quarters in a rear corner. The beds were short wooden platforms, still holding reindeer skin sleeping bags and surrounded by shelves of spare wool socks and sweaters. Scotts rough wool blankets looked a lot like the ones they gave me for my bed.
The wind and sun had dried the hut's exterior to a bleached white color. Scattered nearby lay the bones and skeletons of what seemed to be every dog and seal that had died in the vicinity. A couple of dogs were whole and mummified, one still attached to its chain.
From the hill above the hut I enjoyed the most beautiful view I've ever seen- looming Mt Erebus with its glacial tongue pushing out into the ice of the bay, sea ice bounded by high ice cliffs stretching north, permanent surface of the Ross Ice shelf stretching south, and the tall rugged Royal Society Range across the bay. All was painted in the array of blue, purple, yellows, white, and orange light peculiar to the Antarctic.
On the Delta ride to the Hut we stopped and got out to look at some penguins standing half a mile from us. To our surprised delight as soon as they saw our 21 member group they waddled over to within a few feet of us and checked us out. When they got close enough their yellow necks identified them as Emperors. They slid around on their bellies some and made that funny lonely call that penguins make. I'll have to try and get some of Docs pictures of the event. They had a good look at our Delta then continued on across the road.
Our final stop was an ice cave created by the interaction of seawater with the Erebus ice tongue. It was very beautiful, filled with intricate ice crystals and deep blue light.

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