Although my time working around Scott Base has been incredible, the portion of my trip which I was really looking forward to was the 11-day trip camping out in the field. This was divided between Cape Royds – the location of Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut, and Cape Evans – the location of Scott’s Terra Nova Hut.
I had heard many great things about Cape Royds: the hut, the Adélie penguin colony and the possibility of seeing the open sea. I was certainly not disappointed.
Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds is set in a stunning location. The hut is a lovely design, with gable ends and open-plan inside. At one end is a beautiful ‘Mrs Sam’ cooking stove which would have created a lovely warm ambience over the long Antarctic winter.
The first day we arrived the sea was open, clear of ice. The water was a very dark royal blue, different to what I’m used to seeing in New Zealand. The next day however, the wind changed and blew the loose pack sea ice back south therefore choking the area of McMurdo Sound around Cape Royds, and removing all signs of open water as far as we could see.
The hut is situated near an Adélie penguin rookery. The proximity of the rookery to the hut gives the whole area a real sense of life – watching the penguins go about their lives is a constant source of amusement.
During our three days at Cape Royds, Martin, Nicola, Lizzie and I completed a range of maintenance and monitoring tasks including: snow shovelling, timber moisture measurements, hut structure and artefact collection monitoring, and collection of hut environmental data.
Cape Evans was next up on our Antarctic field trip – we spent seven busy days here.
Scott’s Terra Nova Hut is set in a lovely location; under the shadow of Mt Erebus, with a view to the Royal Society mountains in the distance across McMurdo Sound.
The hut is a large gable-ended structure, with a lean-to off the side, which was the stables for the Expedition’s ponies and mules. The interior of the hut is divided up into different spaces to suit the needs of those on the expedition, including: darkroom, bunks, kitchen, Officer’s dining area, and laboratories for the range of science research done.
We had a range of tasks to do while at Cape Evans, including similar monitoring as with Cape Royds, but also a couple of different jobs such as fixing a leaking flue issue, and re-wrapping and hand stitching the ponies’ fodder bales with new hessian (a great experience for all!).
When reading Scott’s diaries of his Terra Nova Expedition one gets a real sense of the hive of activity the Cape Evans hut must have been. It’s easy to imagine the men sitting around the table with the acetylene lights illuminating the hut and listening to lectures and discussions on a wide range of topics from each other, or playing football outside during the mid-winter twilight.
A large focus for the AHT team over the last couple of weeks has been catching up on jobs associated with the TAE/IGY Hut, also known as Hillary’s Hut. Hillary’s Hut was part of the original Scott Base. It was built under the leadership of Sir Edmund Hillary during the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Expedition/International Geophysical Year 1956–1957.
This hut was lovingly restored by the team at AHT during the summer of 2016/17. It now serves as an opportunity to experience Scott Base as it was 60 years ago. The hut is filled with artefacts from the early years of the New Zealand Antarctic Programme.
With the restoration of Hillary’s Hut, the team at AHT also built a replica junction box, which attaches to an original section of corrugated iron linkway, and onto the cold porch of the hut. The recreated junction box and linkway floor was plywood, so this week I was tasked with building duckboard similar to what would have been around back in the original Scott Base.
Opening the junction box front door for the first time and experiencing the small space of the linkway with its low passageway and dim lighting really gives the visitor insight into a different world, and is a great entrance into the hut itself.
The original Scott Base was a series of prefabricated ‘huts’ separate from one another, but joined together with covered linkways. The linkways consisted of corrugated iron passageways, with square plywood junction boxes wherever two linkways met.
There were multiple reasons for these covered linkways: they allowed Scott Base personnel to walk between buildings without being exposed to the Antarctic weather; in the event of a fire separate buildings with non-combustible passageways meant a fire could be contained to one hut only; and they allowed services e.g., electricity and communications, to be run between different huts. However, because Scott Base is built on scoria, personnel needed a flooring of sorts to walk on between buildings when travelling through the linkways. Walking on scoria all the time is no fun.
The solution: duckboard!
Using historical photos of the duckboard in the original Scott Base such as the one above as reference, we scaled the measurements, selected matching timber and confirmed how it was constructed.
The end result – a nice new walkway in the entrance to the hut, in keeping with the original linkway duckboard.
Carbs, fatty protein, sugar, fat, a bit more sugar – sound like a recipe for happiness or hospitalisation? The diet of the sledging man in the early 1900’s revolved around a pretty limited menu. Here’s what Campbell’s Northern Party were eating in 1911:
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That’s only around 960g of food per day. Per day! When you are hauling your share of an 1163lb (1/2 a tonne, or 528kg) sled for at least eight hours a day. To put it another way, your breakfast and lunch and dinner combined is an 8oz wodge of meat with a 25% fat to meat ratio; a couple of chunky sized Cadbury’s chocolate bars, a couple of packets of crackers, a quarter cup of sugar and one of those small boxes of raisins you used to pack in your school lunchbox. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day, over and over again.
Sugar was a highly prized commodity, and it was served out in lumps. For a special treat on your birthday, you might get an extra six lumps of sugar and another serving of chocolate. In the AHT conservation lab this week we have been working on some worn and weathered boxes of Tate sugar, and wondering if they ate the six lumps in one go or saved them up for a morale booster during the long hours of sledging. We know what we’d do, how about you?
Trust Programme Manager Al Fastier joined the UKAHT Port Lockroy Conservation Team under the Trust’s partnership to share its conservation knowledge and expertise developed during the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. The team will spend five weeks at Port Lockroy and will undertake emergency repairs, do a full architectural survey, install solar power and schedule future conservation work.
The historic Base A, also known as Bransfield House, was built at Port Lockroy in 1944 as part of Operation Tabarin, a secret war time operation to establish a permanently occupied British base in Antarctica. The base was first conserved in 1996 and is now a living museum, a post office and a shop selling Antarctic souvenirs, which helps to fund the conservation project.
Challenges include living on a small 3 square acre island, working within a Gentoo penguin colony, snow and, at times, rain. Al said it is a fantastic location to work, with this historic hut being surrounded by snowcapped mountains rising steeply from the sea and with the hut that is rich in artefacts giving the site a real spirit of place and a strong connection to the past.
This has been a busy second week, with a lot of the work focussed around the TAE/IGY Hut. However, the highlight for me this week was attending Antarctica New Zealand’s Antarctic Field Training (AFT). This is a course which all event members participate in and is designed to equip people with the basic skills required for overnight camping in the Antarctic.
We began by setting off under the leadership of Chris, our resident West Coast ANTNZ field trainer, in a Hagglund along the Ross Ice Shelf. After about half an hour of putting along we reached the AFT camping site. There were seven other participants on the course, all from a range of backgrounds and nationalities: scientists studying seals, a member of the Antarctic Society, and a new ANTNZ staff member.
Our first task was to erect the Scott Polar tents; a tent design which hasn’t changed a whole lot in a hundred years. The next task was building a camp kitchen, which would also allow the group to get out of the wind and weather. We decided upon the ‘spa pool’ design. In other words, dig a round pit with a bench seat big enough to sit a dozen people, and then cut blocks of snow to build a wall surrounding the pit to keep the wind away. The group ‘dug into it’ and after an hour we had our home-away-from-home!
Dinner was cooked on Primus stoves; all manner of dehydrated backcountry packet meals were on offer – Sweet and Sour Lamb, Beef Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala – yum, yum! The cloud cleared during dinner and provided a great opportunity for taking photos of Mt Erebus and the surrounding landscape.
Then it was time for bed. Now for the million dollar question…? Was I warm enough while camping at -15C on the ice. Yep, absolutely. ANTNZ has a sleeping bag arrangement which is second to none, and if anything, I was too hot and wouldn’t have minded if the temperature dropped a little more during the night!
The next day it was up for a quick cuppa and porridge. After breakfast we packed up camp and headed back to Scott Base. What a great experience.
For me the whole experience of travelling to Antarctica felt more like travelling to another planet. Luckily I had Lizzie, Nicola and Martin – the seasoned and awesome AHT conservation crew I’ll be working with over the next six weeks – to shepherd me through this foreign process.
We began at the United States Antarctica Programme (USAP) departure lounge, a whole separate terminal at Christchurch International Airport, where our bags were weighed and checked, followed by a quick video from the head of the USAP. We then hopped on a very old American school bus. We were shuttled across the road, and directed to board the US Airforce’s C-17; this in itself was an amazing experience.
It was totally different to boarding a regular international commercial flight. Think very loud, lunch in paper bags, basic, and military green. The flight took about five hours. When we were approaching McMurdo there was a muffled announcement over the planes intercom, and then a mad flurry of passenger activity. All of the passengers were throwing on their ECW (extreme cold weather) gear. Me as a newbie followed suit, sitting in the C-17 sweating, but prepared and ready to face whatever Antarctica had to throw at me when the plane landed.
Maybe I was ready for the weather, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the Antarctic’s onslaught on my senses. Upon landing I walked down the gangway, and then – smack! I was instantly overwhelmed… that first breath of Antarctic air is unlike anything imaginable… extremely cold and dry, but the most pure air ever. Then the overwhelming visuals… vast ice fields as far as the eye can see; mountains which seem so close you could touch them but are miles away; Mt Erebus puffing away in the background; and the whole time these behemoth red American dinosaurs (think ski field shuttles on steroids) are carting people and gear around, to and from the airfield to McMurdo. Where on earth am I…?
Written by Conservation Ambassador Mike Gillies
Congratulations to Mike Gillies, who has been selected as the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s 2018/2019 season Conservation Ambassador.
A keen heritage carpentry hobbyist, Mike is a Recreation/Historic Ranger for the Department of Conservation (DOC) and resides in Murchison, where he regularly works in remote locations in the Nelson Lakes National Park.The Conservation Ambassador initiative offers conservators or other heritage experts in the early stages of their career the opportunity to work on the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project in Antarctica, the world’s largest cold-climate heritage conservation project. This year AHT partnered with DOC to find a Conservation Ambassador to work alongside our experts, and develop their skills in a unique and challenging environment.
With a Bachelor of Recreation Management (Parks) from Lincoln University and nine years working as a Ranger for DOC, heritage conservation is both a profession and passion for Mike, who has a fascination for traditional building techniques, particularly historic hut building in New Zealand.
As Conservation Ambassador, Mike will support AHT to implement the ongoing maintenance and monitoring of Hillary’s, Shackleton’s and Scott’s Huts on Ross Island.
Along with his backcountry skills, Mike’s expertise includes hewing and dressing timber using axe and adze, making wooden roofing shingles, and traditional timber joinery. He is an avid collector of historic wood working hand tools, as well as traditional carpentry and woodworking publications.
Mike says he couldn’t believe his luck when the Conservation Ambassador role came up, as although he’d long been captivated by stories and images of Antarctica, he’d never foreseen an opportunity to actually get there.
“I am incredibly keen to participate in this programme and view heritage conservation in the toughest climate in the world.”
Welcome to the team Mike!
There’s an Antarctic specific occasion which only a few folks ever get to celebrate, and this week AHT’s programme manager Lizzie was one of them – 1000 days on ice!
Over the last ten years with the Trust, Lizzie has spent a winter at New Zealand’s Scott Base, and many summers working at the historic expedition bases of Scott, Shackleton, Borchgrevink and Hillary, as well as work on the Antarctic Peninsula. So that’s 142 weeks, 33 months, 2.7 years, five expedition bases, over 20,000 artefacts, and one magnificent cake made by the fantastic Scott Base chefs.
Lizzie says, “Cheers to the AHT and Scott Base teams over the years – Antarctica is a beautiful and challenging place to work, but the best thing about it is the pride and passion folks here bring to the job.”