Wednesday, February 06, 2013

To the Southern End of the Earth

Greetings All,
We were able to crash through the last of the pack ice and enter the Ross Sea! We picked up speed and cruised at 14 knots toward Ross Island. The Ross Sea is full of historic sites from the Heroic-Era of exploration from 1895-1917.  During that time 4 major expeditions were launched in the quest of getting to the South Pole. Wooden huts from each of these expeditions were built to serve as bases of exploration. We hoped to visit two of theses huts, Scott's Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans and Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds. The map below slows the location of these huts and other historic sites in the Ross Sea region.

When we awoke yesterday morning and looked out our cabin window we finally had our first look at land. Beaufort Island, a craggy snow-covered hunk of rock just north of Ross Island loomed ahead.

Finally Ross Island came into view and we know we are close to our first objective, Scott's Hut. Anticipation mounts on the ship as we are all eager to get onto land and into Scott's Hut. Suddenly, there it is on windswept Cape Evans on the southern end of the Earth! You can't sail much farther south than this.

We were fortunate to be in the first group to enter the hut. It was like stepping back into time. We had to remove our boots so as to not bring any salt into the hut. The Antarctic Heritage Trust is taking good care of the huts to preserve them for future generations. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and a kitchen complete with stores of food and cooking utensils comes into view.

A large wooden table where Scott and his men ate their meals is in the center of the room. Bunks are around periphery and a makeshift lab with test tubes and other paraphernalia where scientific research was conducted is on the other end of the hut.

Towards the back is Scott's bunk.

On a small table next to his bunk, an Emperor penguin was laying.

Scott built this hut during his 1910 - 1913 British Antarctic Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. It was his second attempt. His first was with Ernest Shackleton in 1901-1904 but the team failed to reach the South Pole. They only made it as far as 82 degrees, 17 minutes south before turning back. This time Scott was determined to make it but now it had become a race. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was also making his bid. We could only stay in the hut for 15 minutes so we left to visit the adjoining stables. That's right, Scott brought 10 Manchurian ponies to pull sledges. The ponies were ill equipped to haul the sledges through deep snow and all perished or were shot for food. Their feed bags and shoes still hung on the wall.

On one end of the stables was a crate of penguin eggs

and a pile of Weddell Seal blubber. The blubber was used for heating and cooking oil and food for the men and dogs.

Amazingly a bicycle was hanging on the wall of one of the stalls.

Why Scott would bring a bicycle to Antarctica is a mystery to me. On the other end of the stables there was the skeleton of one of the 23 dogs brought down to haul sledges. I'll spare you the photograph. All this effort to reach the South Pole paid off but a little too late. Scott reached the pole on January 17, 1912 but found that Amundsen had already been there more than a month earlier!  This was a crushing blow to Scott.  Bad weather set in and Scott and the rest of his polar party perish on the Polar Plateau just 17 km shy of the next depot. Wow, what an amazing piece of history and here we are in Scott's hut pretty much as he left it 100 years ago!

We left the hut and walked to the top of Wind Vane Hill where a cross had been erected as a memorial to the three members of Shackleton's Ross Sea party who perished in a blizzard in 1916 and to Spencer-Smith who died on the Ross Barrier also in 1916.

The wind was blowing at 40 knots so we did't linger long but the view of Cape Evans was spectacular.

 Marc took this photo of me next to Scott's hut.  With the wind chill it was about -5 degrees ferenheit.

We walked around a bit looking for Penguins. There were a few Adelies and a flock of Skuas but otherwise all was quiet on the Cape.

We spent 2 and a half hours on the Cape and my feet were freezing. It was time to return to the Orion.

We cruised past Cape Royds where Shackleton's hut is located but the conditions were too rough to land. We'll have to be satisfied with a view of his hut from the ship.

Shackleton built his hut during his 1907-1909 British Antarctic Nimrod Expedition. Shackleton failed to reach the pole and turned back just 97 nautical miles short of his goal. A decision that cost him the pole but that saved his life and the lives of his team.

The clouds lifted and we were treated to one last look of the Trans-Antarctic mountains before starting for home.


We are now heading north towards the pack ice. When we entered the Ross Sea our Expedition Leader told us that the front door had closed. Hopefully, the ice has shifted and will allow us to get out of the Ross Sea. We'll reach the pack ice tomorrow morning and find an escape route.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc


Roy Neuer said...

Thanks for your wonderful posts. Roy Neuer

Jostead said...

Thanks for you're fascinating report of your trip. I trust you won't get stuck in the pack ice groping home! Jo

Tom F said...

Very cool to see the hut with everything left as it was!