Thursday 26 January 2023
It is 1.30am and the sun is shining! It is -2C with a brisk 25 knot southerly that adds a considerable wind chill. As we try to board the zodiac, the sea water spray is freezing on all the surfaces making it quite treacherous getting in. When we reach the shore we realise that the spray has also frozen on people’s clothing.
We are at Cape Evans, the site of Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut from his Terra Nova Expedition in 1910-13. This is a Special Antarctic Preservation Area that we are privileged to be able to visit. The Antarctic Heritage Trust has done a fabulous job of restoring and preserving these huts. Here the detail is especially well preserved and the surrounding area is strewn with wooden storage boxes, anchors, old tins, broken bottles etc as if they had only just vacated the premises. This is the largest of all the ‘heroic era’ huts.
Only 8 people are allowed inside at any one time, so we first climb the hill behind the site where there is a memorial cross and a weather station. It is far too cold to stay up there very long so we come down to join the queue and to clean our boots before entering the hut. Outside the hut are the latrines and various sleds and other expedition gear, including feed for the 17 horses and rather disturbingly a pile of animal skeletons.
When we enter the hut we go first into the stables where there all sorts of stores including a huge pile of seal blubber. Inside the main hut it is absolutely astonishing to see all the supplies still there. It is divided into 2 sections, one for the crew and the rest for the ‘officers’. The crew slept in the galley area which appears to be very well provisioned with all manner of condiments to spice up their meals. It was a scientific expedition so there is research equipment everywhere including an emperor penguin on a table next to the newspapers. In the laboratory area there is also a darkroom where the first pictures and movies of Antarctica were developed/printed. Medical supplies also appear to be well provisioned in one corner and we see Scott’s cubical and desk. The bunks still have personal effects on them – sleeping bags and hobnail boots hanging from the bunk.
All too soon it is time to head back to the ship for a shower and sleep (although this continues to be disturbed by announcements throughout the night as the various groups depart).
Somewhat bleary eyed we gradually emerge for a late breakfast. It is so surreal to think of all that has happened in less than 24 hours. Yesterday morning we were all resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to go any further into McMurdo Sound – but that we would go home happy. Then the enormous amount of sea ice magically disappeared northward and we have been able to go the majority of the way into the Sound. We’ve seen Hut Point and McMurdo Station (US Antarctic Base), been treated to a magical experience with orcas, and visited Scott’s Hut.
The magic is set to continue today (thanks to our amazing expedition team who have been up all night in the freezing cold and are set to take us out on more adventures so that we can maximise our Antarctic experience). We have moved the short distance around to Cape Royds – the site of Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition Hut 1907-09. This hut is more difficult to reach. The preferred route via Backdoor Bay is still blocked with sea ice so we have to go around the corner to another access point where we have a 1.5km walk in our ‘muckboots’ to reach the hut.
We will continue with the same groups in the same order as yesterday – our penguin group is scheduled to depart around 11.45. It doesn’t take long for the time to tick round to when we have to gear up again – I have it down to a fine art now although it does take a long time to get all the different layers on. We are first of the Penguins out in the zodiac, cruising through the bergy bits to land on an almost lunar landscape beach – it is heaven for Bryan as he can observe all the ‘erratic rocks’ – the paler granite rocks that have been deposited on the volcanic basalt by ice movement.
It is a tough time initially climbing up the scree slope to the top of the ridge but any fears of overheating are put to rest by the frigid southerly wind. We follow the flagged track over the tops with magnificent views of Mt Erebus, and then see the very iced up Backdoor Bay (the reason we have to come the long way). Eventually we see stacks of building materials that look like the start of a modern hut. And then over the top to where we can get our first glimpse of Shackleton’s hut. This is much better sited than Scott’s hut was – nestled into the protection of surrounding rocks to avoid the effects of the southerly winds.
As per the previous hut we only have a few people in at a time and clean our boots well before entering. We all go in at once so that we get a chance for photos without lots of people in them and John points out some of the key aspects such as the store room cum darkroom under which Shackleton’s whisky was found, Shackleton’s room and his signature on a box. Although this hut is much smaller than Scott’s was, it has a much more cosy feel, everyone in together and well provisioned. I know which I’d prefer to overwinter in.
Outside we can climb up to the meteorological station for a view down on the hut and then right out past an Antarctic Specially Protected Area with a lake and Adelie penguin colony to the headland. Then it is time to make our way back to our landing beach, passing the next group (Albatrosses) making their way to the hut. When we have enough people we are ferried back to the ship for a late lunch and then a shower and a snooze.
I tried to have a snooze but just as I was drifting off there was an announcement for afternoon tea to celebrate Australia Day. I decide to give it a miss, but just as I was drifting off again there was a second announcement. So I just read for a while but Anne goes up to participate.
Our daily briefing is cancelled today because Aaron and Captain Denis have decided to go back to where we were yesterday up against the ice edge to do some more wildlife watching. Anne and I go up to the observation lounge for front row seat to watch the world go by. The visibility is a lot less than yesterday with snow showers around. We didn’t see any whales on the trip but are surprised to find that the ice has shifted westward considerably. We keep on going and manage to get right in as far as McMurdo Station – the southern most navigable waters in the world. We get to 77 51 S.
It seems that our amazing day still hasn’t ended. Just as we are going in to dinner, first of all there is a call to see a minke whale up against the ice edge, and then the announcement that we are in communication with the US base for us to be able to visit Hut Point where Scott’s Hut from the Discovery Expedition 1901-04. The hut proved to be too hard to heat and the men ended up living on the ship and using this for their research, equipment and supplies. Future parties did visit the hut and some lived there for a while.
Hut Point really is a bleak place – it was -11C while we were there and -33C with the wind chill. Some people decide to do the “Polar Plunge” on the beach at hut point (this is NOT on my bucket list) but with those temperatures it is not surprising that they were trying to get us back on the ship. When we set out to the hut this evening the water is smooth and by the time we get back it has chopped up rough. We have to do three attempts to line up with the gangway to get back to the boat and we are all drenched by the waves – it seems we were to do the “Polar Shower” instead.
This really must be a record – visiting three huts in one day! And yesterday we didn’t think we would be able to see any of them, let alone all of them and get to McMurdo Station. We are not allowed to visit the base because of covid restrictions but Hut Point is a separate Antarctic Specially Protected Area.
We have also experienced the full gamut of weather here today with sun and clear skies through to heavy snow at dinner.
Day 1-2: Meeting and Departure
Day 3: The Snares
Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Macquarie Island
Day 7: Macquarie Island
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: Cape Adare, Antarctica
Day 13: Possession Islands
Day 14: At Sea, Coulman Island
Day 15: At Sea
Day 16: At Sea
Day 17: At Sea, Ross Ice Shelf
Day 18: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 19: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 20: Cape Evans/Cape Royds
Day 21: At Sea
Day 22: At Sea
Day 23: At Sea
Day 24: At Sea
Day 25: At Sea
Day 26: At Sea/Campbell Island
Day 27: Final Day at Sea