An excerpt from my iBook, “Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey”
Chapter 7 – Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans, Ross Sea
February 4, Monday (Day 19)
“We passed Franklin Island at 04:00, but I looked out my porthole and decided it looked like all the other islands we had seen, so stayed in bed ⎯ until 05:45 when Greg announced that there was a large pod of orcas ahead of the boat ⎯ so, up to the bridge. They were circling, obviously feeding. We stayed well away so as not to disturb them. We sailed past beautiful Beaufort Island with an enormous berg half circling it. We often see greenish patches on the surface which are krill.”
Sailing down the coast to Cape Evans, there is no difficulty picking out Scott’s Terra Nova (1910-13) hut. After 100 years, it still stands proud, right on the waterline. The temperature has dropped to -12oC with 35-knot winds, giving an effective temperature of -25oC.
It is snowing and the seas are rough. I dress in all my layers: 2 thermal tops and bottoms; a skivvy; polar-fleece jacket; goose-down jacket; corduroy pants; 3 pairs of socks; Hydronought overcoat; rainpants; balaclava and beanie; 2 pairs of gloves; rubber boots. The worst part is having to wear a life jacket on top of everything. It feels very restrictive. No glasses though, as they only fog immediately I pull my balaclava over my nose. Amazingly, my eyes adapt okay and I can see well enough, but if I ever return, I must bring snow goggles.
As with each trip ashore, we line up on deck to plunge our boots in a tub of disinfectant and brush them on a platform made of coarse bristles. We repeat this procedure each time we leave or return to the ship.
I stand on the platform at the bottom of the gangplank poised, ready to jump when our guide says to, with the Zodiac pitching in a two-metre swell. The deck, gangplank, hull of Ortelius, Zodiac and drivers are all white with ice, as are my daypack and outer layers as soon as the spray hits. I grab the arm of our guide in a sailor’s grip (wrist to wrist) and jump when he says “jump”, trusting that the side of the Zodiac will line up with the step as I leap into the gap. I think: gees, anyone who knows me wouldn’t believe this!
I slip on the icy deck of the Zodiac and have a job finding my feet again to sit on the rubber side, but we all help each other. It is a very rough ride and I grip the rope behind me as firmly as I can, all the while being slapped in the face by spray that snap freezes the instant it leaves the wave’s surface.
Cape Evans is made up of decomposed basalt with patches of snow and ice, which make for easy walking. I become a little panicky when I can’t breathe, or see where I am stepping (no glasses plus aforementioned clothing obscuring vision). I pull the balaclava down to take a breath and my nose instantly freezes.
I make my way straight to the hut while others walk to the memorial cross on the hill. I scrub my soles clean (again) and remove my salty coat in the little entrance, to enter another world.
I am surprised at the size of the hut. A central wall of crates, most bearing the stamp “Coleman’s Flour – B.A.E. Shore Party”, stacked almost to the ceiling, divides the interior. The workers’ quarters are at the front—kitchen on right-hand side, bare timber table in the centre, and stretchers along the left-hand side. The officers’ quarters are towards the rear, dominated by the large table around which Scott and his men gathered for mid-winter and special events.
A framed time-marked mirror hangs on the wall. It seems so out of place in a hut of explorers. Cups hang on hooks. Boxes, cans, bottles of stores fill every spare nook. At least the workers had the stove in their part of the hut—a fluted cast iron affair with a huge flue running the whole length of the roof to give as much warmth as possible before belching black blubber smoke into the icy outside.
At the rear of the hut, separated from the rest, are Scott’s, Evans’ and Wilson’s private quarters. A penguin, stuffed a century ago by Wilson, lies on a table in his room. I am amazed at how fresh it still looks.
Scott’s bed, shelves and desk are exactly the same as I have seen in photos. His hot water bottle and socks hang on a nail on the wall next to his bed. He has just stepped out…
Then … and now …
What I would give to be here on my own. What I would give to be able to stay awhile. The place and surrounds is filled with an awe-filled beauty.
The whole hut is dark, despite the windows. It must have been quite bleak, even in summer. Two sledges stored in the rafters bear the marks of wear on the runners.
I shed a tear as I sign the visitors’ book. Not too many other people in the world have done this.
Before exiting the hut, I turn into the leanto that was built to house Scott’s horses. A large stack of seal blubber at the entrance, a metre high and two metres long, still smells after 100 years. How it must have permeated the rooms as it burnt on the stove. That, and the smell of 25 unwashed men. A galvanised iron washtub hangs near a box of penguin eggs.
All is quiet except for the howling katabatic wind swooping down from Mount Erebus and the crunch of my boots on the ubiquitous black basalt. I walk along the seven stalls seeing remnants of activity: a hand-made wheelbarrow made from crates; a pot-belly stove in the corner that wouldn’t have afforded much warmth during the winters; the skeleton of a husky, still wearing its collar, chained to the end wall.
Around the back of the hut are the toilets. Apparently the class distinction even extended here, with officers’ bums needing different seats from the workers’. Behind each one is a trap door for emptying them. I am betting the officers and gentlemen didn’t empty their own.
I leave the hut and look up towards the cross on the hill. There is no-one left up there, and the snow is blowing horizontally, straight in my face. I look out to sea and can hardly make out Ortelius in the distance through the blizzard. Not quite a whiteout, but it gives me an idea of what it must be like. I decide not to make the climb. To me, the men’s spirit remains in the hut and, in all honesty, I am pretty well all out of emotion. Besides, as it turns out, my feelings for this beautifully constructed building are stronger than the feelings for the men who had lived in her. My passion for pioneer huts is almost as strong as my passion for Antarctica.
As I wait for the Zodiac to take us back to Ortelius, I notice that everyone is more sombre than usual. To enter this hut is akin to bumping into Scott and his men themselves.
But the past is past. Scott and his crew are here, the continent has been here for so long and, human beings willing, will continue long after I am gone. Many have come here as modern explorers and expeditioners. It is a wondrous place, an awe-ful place, and I am among the fortunate who have experienced it.
We huddle in the lee of a shed, and I am amazed at how much warmer it feels out of the wind. I am warm as toast the whole time, except for a few moments when I remove an outer glove to work the camera. Bad move. It takes a long time to warm my hand again.
The return trip is just as exhilarating as the outward trip. The Zodiac pitches, threatening to wrench the rope out of our guide’s hand as he pulls up close to the gangplank. I scramble onto the icy step. My “thank you” to the hands that help me sounds much lighter than I feel.
Back on board, Johnny greets us each with a small nip of Johnny Walker. What the heck! Gee, it is nice! After all, it is a momentous occasion visiting Scott’s hut.
If you would like to read more of my Ross Sea Antarctic adventures, check out “Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey” on iBooks. It contains lots of tales, over 300 beautiful images and 14 video clips and interactive maps.
Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey