Friday, November 16, 2007

Stepping Back in Time: Discovery Hut

Just outside of McMurdo on Hut Point Peninsula sits Robert Falcon Scott’s ‘Discovery Hut.’ Scott was a British naval officer who led two memorable expeditions to Antarctica. Discovery Hut was built during his first expedition in 1901-1904. (and you thought my 2 ½ months in Antarctica was a long time!) During this expedition Scott achieved the record for reaching the furthest point south at 82°17’. He also explored the Ross Sea area and discovered the Dry Valleys. (The Dry Valleys are the 2% of Antarctica that has no snow or ice cover and has had virtually no precipitation in the last 15 million years. This is where I was camped in 2002.)
Looking toward Cape Evans from the hill above the hut, you can imagine
watching Scott’s party trudging over the ice and snow to get to this depot.

During Scott’s second expedition to Antarctica, his goal was to reach the South Pole. His ship became icebound, but most of his crew lived on board and only used the huts at Cape Evans and Hut Point Peninsula as a staging base and storage facility.
It is generally so cold in Antarctica that there is very little decomposition.
This is a mummified seal on top of some canvas left outside of the hut by
Scott’s men. The seal is probably a century old!

It was this second expedition from 1910-1912, that is the most famous and also the most tragic of his stories. Scott and his men set out to be the first to reach the South Pole, man-hauling their sledges loaded with supplies. They survived fierce winds and storms, but were buoyed by the knowledge that they were approaching the South Pole. Using their sextant, they calculated the exact point and upon reaching it, instead of a joyous celebration of conquest, they were met by a rock cairn and the Norwegian flag. By just a month, Roald Amundsen had beaten them to the prize. The defeat was disheartening, and the men faced another 800 mile treacherous journey back to their ship.

Some historians have questioned Scott’s leadership. On his earlier expedition, several men suffered from scurvy, a disease that as a naval officer he was keenly aware. Another questionable decision was that the men had collected rock samples for scientific studies, but they continued to haul them, even as they grew weaker and weaker. The group was on the verge of starvation; many became ill; they were besieged by frostbite. Two men died on the journey back, and then a fierce storm forced the last three to hunker down in their tent, and eventually they all succumbed to starvation and the elements. The saddest part of the tale is that they were just a mere dozen or so miles from the hut and their ship. Scott wrote, "Our luck in weather is preposterous...the conditions simply horrible". The truth of the matter is that Scott’s team did endure terrible, unusual weather for that time of the year, and that bad luck probably did play a large role in the sad outcome.

The supplies are left in the hut pretty much as they were when Scott and his men were here. There were times that you expected one of these heroic explorers to step around the canvas curtain hanging in the center of the room and greet us.

Instead, I peeked through the curtain!
On the other side of the curtain was the cooking space, so I tried my hand at cooking.

Would you like a little New Zealand lamb for dinner?
We found it hanging in the food storage room. Not exactly
fresh meat now that a century has past!

I had to put this picture in of Hunter's Oatmeal--this is for my son, Hunter!

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