In this blog, learn about artefact conservation projects inside an historic hut at one of the most remote places on Earth
In this blog, we hear from Anzac Gallate, a member of the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s 2020 Inspiring Explorers Expedition™ to the Antarctic Peninsula, who is the creative visionary behind My Explorer Journal.
In this blog, check out some of the wonders of Antarctica that are captivating primary school children throughout New Zealand as they embark on a unique, virtual expedition.
In this blog, we look at how world-leading technology in the Trust’s new augmented reality (AR) app is bringing historic artefacts from the Antarctic to life in a thoroughly modern way.
Krystal Paraone, Studio Manager at Staples VR, talks about the process of bringing this incredible piece of world-leading technology, to life.
Heritage Preservation through VR storytelling
Winter-Quarters Warmth – the Gurney Stove in Antarctica
Herbert George Ponting Series
by Francesca Eathorne
Blog number five from the Trust’s General Manager Operations and Communications on her first experience of Antarctica.
For Francesca’s previous posts, please see the Antarctic Blog feed.
I wake up nervous. A sort of excited nervous really. Today is the day we head out to Cape Evans. For me, it’s five days of camping out at a field camp. I’m feeling ready for an adventure and to get off base.
We have spent days moving gear and packing and repacking. Everything is weighed and gets packed into two large blue cubers that will be dragged behind our Hagglund. Al and Nic will be going on to do the monitoring and maintenance run at Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds after Evans so they need to sling their gear in via a helicopter. There is much weighing of gear and people to get the loads right for the helo.
After an extensive health and safety briefing our group of seven pile into the Hagglund and we are away.
Sam, our field support and Hagglund driver, tells us it will take about three hours for us to reach camp but if conditions are good we may make some stops along the way. I get the prime spot in the front Hagglund sitting in the middle seat. I have unobstucted views out the front. This is worth the slight logisitical difficulty of having nowhere to put your legs but cocked in front of you as straight as you can manage, amongst the gear. The side windows in a Hagglund tend to get packed with ice crystals after five minutes of travel so there’s not much to be seen.
It’s a bluebird day, with clear blue skies. Mt Erebus is stunning today. Everyone keeps commenting on how good the weather is and how unrestricted the views are. In order to get to Cape Evans, the site of Captain Scott’s second expedition to Antarctica, known as the British Antarctic Expedition (or sometimes the Terra Nova Expedition, after the ship’s name), we have to travel a long way out on the sea ice and work our way around the Erebus Glacier tongue.
It’s been a dream of mine to go to the Erebus Glacier tongue and possibly even visit one of the spectacular ice caves that have formed there. Early explorer and photographer Herbert Ponting took an iconic image of the Terra Nova ship from within an ice grotto somewhere in this same region. I have this image hanging in my study at home and it’s glorious. Antarctican Anthony Powell’s photos inside ice caves have always inspired me as well.
Our first stop is at Turtle Rock. It’s nice to stretch our legs. We are reminded to hold on to our hats, gloves and other loose items as these things tend to blow away quickly. The wind is cold but we are all so excited about the views that no-one cares. Sam and Al drill down into the sea ice to check the levels. Sam explains that the Hagglund needs at least 75cm of ice thickness for them to safely travel. He measures it at 147cm so that is good news.
I remember reading in my great-uncle Leon’s memoirs that one season a US vehicle broke through the sea ice and sank, with the loss of one person. Apparently from then on they would wait for the Kiwis to cross the sea ice before heading out. They hand drilled the ice to check its depth requiring it to be two feet or more thick. One time a spot measured only three inches. Leon says “we crept back to the vehicle and returned to base, to wait a few days for the ice to thicken”. Soon the sea ice will melt and driving out to Cape Evans will not be possible. The only way then will be by helicopter. It’s already not possible to travel overland to Cape Royds.
Another ten minutes down the ice road and we can clearly see the Erebus Glacier tongue (or EGT as the locals call it). It’s stunning. Towering ice shimmering in the light both white and blue at the same time. Sam discovers an ice cave that he thinks is safe for us to explore. It’s a one person at a time job. Up you go on a steep ridge into the small entrance to the cave. Al cuts steps in the ice to make it easier for me to navigate. I get to the top and peer into this incredible space. The ice crystal formation is unreal. I’m scared about getting into the cave as it’s a steep descent and I’m worried I won’t be able to get out easily. The cumbersome gear we wear makes it hard to move. I feel restricted in stretching my legs out to securely get my footing. Sam says I can just sit at the top. He helps me navigate into position. However, once I am there, just inside the lip of the cave, I realise I can easily slide my way down into the cave itself. I am so glad I did. It’s pure majesty standing in the cave. Sam recommends only speaking quietly, perhaps so loud voices don’t dislodge any fragile ice. But it also seems like the reverant thing to do. Quite simply, this is one of the best things I have done in my life; exploring an ice cave in Antarctica, even if it’s only for five minutes!
The colours in the cave are a wash of blue and white but it’s all translucent so the reflections draw you in. The cave pinches back to another small chamber hidden behind a curtain of ice crystals. I don’t go in there but peer under the sheet of ice and it gives me shivers to see the cave disappearing back into the glacier.
After we climb out of the cave (not a problem in the end) Al advises me the best way to get down the steep slope is to bum slide. It reminds me of the story of Shackleton, Worsely and Crean who employed a similar technique on the last part of their epic crossing of South Georgia. Al, Nicola and I bum slide down the slope, which is great fun and feels like a fitting end to exploring an ice cave.
Back into the Hagglund and everyone is hyped up talking about how brilliant the experience was. The views continue to be spectacular. Sam points out Razorback Island and Little Razorback Island—two rocky outcrops jutting up from the otherwise seamless ice sheet.
Next we stop to say hi to a team of American scientists who are studying seals. They are in their pop-up pod having a warm drink. Their furry subjects are lolling about in the background. All of a sudden a lone Adelie penguin appears. It’s waddling furiously towards us, skidding on the sea ice from time to time. We make a joke the penguin wants to hitch a ride in our Hagglund, but at the last minute it changes course and heads towards the seals.
A few more ice measurements (now we are at 95cm) and we continue on for Cape Evans. Sam points out the Barne Glacier, which we now see proudly protruding out on to the ice shelf. It’s huge. It’s towering cliffs of ice sparkle in the late afternoon sun and I’m overwhelmed at the beauty of this place.
Suddenly we round a corner and arrive at Cape Evans. Named for Scott’s second-in-command Teddy Evans. The hut isn’t immediately visible but our yellow tent camp is.
We have absolutely lucked out. Not only is it a beautiful day from a weather point of view, but a departing media team have left us their tents so we don’t have to set them up. I was dreading tackling the polar dome tent again after my Antarctic Field Training experience! Not only that but Sam is able to drive the Hagglund over the tide crack safely meaning we don’t have to unload our gear on the ice and lug it up the hill piece by piece.
The first thing to do when you get to camp, according to Al, is to ‘take five and have a cuppa tea’. Years ago when the Antarctic Heritage Trust team were initially conserving Scott’s hut they built a double shipping container shelter that housed a small kitchen and dining area. This is still on site so it means there is a place to warm up as well as cook inside. In Antarctica this is pure luxury! We crowd in and eat some of the delicious food packed from the Scott Base kitchen and cradle a hot beverage.
It feels great to be here. The views out to the ice shelf and the Barne Glacier are one of a kind and mesmerising. I’m sitting near the sliding glass doors at the front of the container and just can’t stop staring at this force of nature. I knew the Barne Glacier was here but had not anticipated that we would be staring straight at it. Guarding over us is Mt Erebus—the whole mountain can be seen today, with Scott’s hut a footnote at its base.
After warming up, the next priority is shelter so we all head to our tents and stuff our sleeping sacks and extra gear in, telling ourselves we will sort it out later.
Sharing our camp site with us are nine scientists working out on the sea ice. There are six different nationalities on the team and they have been based out here for some weeks. They are in their final few days on camp and, like us, after various delays this season will be making the most of their time here.
We will share the cooking space so we quickly work out a schedule for food that means we can work it in shifts. We all try to get our heads around where things are stored (it’s a tight space) and the proper ettiquette for moving around.
Since it’s been such a quick camp set up Al decides we have time to visit Scott’s Terra Nova hut before dinner. This is what we have all been waiting for so we scurry away to get our layers on for the short walk over the hill to the hut. We will mark out the route with green flags as is the custom here to sort safe pathways. I’ve decided not to take my camera or recording gear and just immerse myself in the first visit. I am so glad I did. (Read about my experience in the hut in the next blog.)
Later that night I head off to bed before the others. As I sit in my tent taking off my snow-encrusted boots I gaze out at the Barne Glacier standing there stoically and decide that this iconic view makes camping worthwhile. Tomorrow is my birthday and when I wake up the first thing I will see when I zip open my tent is the Barne Glacier and Mt Erebus. My great-uncle Leon wrote about the time he saw Mt Erebus erupt one winter’s evening, which would have been spectacular but not something to wish for on this trip!
by Francesca Eathorne
Blog number four from the Trust’s General Manager Operations and Communications on her first experience of Antarctica.
For Francesca’s previous posts, please see the Antarctic Blog feed.
Now that I have completed AFT (Antarctic Field Training – read that blog here) I can officially head out with Al and Nicola on the conservation team to assist with this season’s monitoring and maintenance programme.
Each season the conservation team inspect the huts and their artefact collections to ensure the buildings remain weathertight and the conservation treatments of the artefacts are holding up in the challenging environment. Alongside some manual tasks like digging out snow at the huts, there are various measurements taken and the artefacts are checked and photographed.
After lunch we plan to head out to Scott’s Discovery Hut. It’s a mild day in Antarctica at only -11 degrees, which is considerably warmer than the previous few days that were hitting around -20 with a hostile wind blowing.
I’ll be assisting Al and Nicola with the various tasks. I’m excited to see the conservation work first-hand. We pack our bags, including our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear as it’s a requirement for us to carry this with us when we travel outside of Scott Base—a good reminder that the conditions can and do change frequently. I put all nine pairs of gloves in my bag as I’m still working out which combinations I like best. I also throw in my She-wee and pee bottle as these are also essentials when venturing off base.
It takes quite a while to pack up everything we need, which includes shovels, a rake, vacuum cleaner, various tools for minor repairs, photography gear, lights and monitoring equipment. Everything is piled into one of the Toyota Landcruisers that you can book to drive off base. After the truck spends half an hour warming up, we are off to Discovery Hut.
Scott’s National Antarctic Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) chose Winter Quarters Bay, located in McMurdo Sound, a small indentation at the end of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, as the site to winter over. Scott’s original idea was to send a small winter party to stay in the hut but he changed his mind and the ship, which was secured to an icefoot in the bay, became home to all 47 expedition members.
I’d visited the hut briefly a few days earlier and I’m keen to get back and have a closer look around. Nicola tells me on the way over that the coldest she has ever felt was while working at Discovery Hut during winter as the wind can whip around Hut Point and curl over the top making working outside almost impossible at times. Luckily today the wind is mild and the temperature feels moderate (am I acclimatising already?).
Our first task is to set up the photography table and lights so Nicola can inspect and photograph various artefacts. The idea is that they can be compared season to season and any signs of deterioration can be quickly spotted and addressed. I’m pleased I can help Nicola out by holding the lights in a useful place as she moves around the huts photographing some items in situ. I’m amazed to find a sack of red onions in one corner of the hut. It’s a partially full bag and the pinkish tinge clearly identifies them as red onions. It’s just incredible to think they have been sitting there for well over a century. Nicola carefully inspects the onions to ensure there are no signs of mould. All is good.
In the meantime, Al has been completing his exterior inspection of the hut and is completing a few minor maintenance tasks. I head up to Vince’s Cross to meet Al. The cross is about 100 metres south-west of the hut and is a memorial to George Vince who sadly died early on the Discovery expedition while attempting to return to the ship during a storm—a poignant reminder of how treacherous this seemingly benign headland is. The wind is slicing across the top of the rocky point and my fingers are freezing within 60 seconds of me removing my outer layer of gloves so I can take some photographs. Down on the sea ice below there are seals with their pups lolling about. When the sea ice has broken out it’s common to see whales spyhopping here. The Hut Point peninsula shoreline is eroding badly, mostly due to the sea ice breaking out early and there being more wave action that is slowly ebbing the land away. One day it will affect Vince’s Cross so the plan is to monitor the erosion closely so that plans can be make to ensure the cross’s safety.
The wind is picking up and I can see why Nicola had her most freezing day at this site. I walk back to the hut and my eyeballs feel like they are freezing solid. I’ll have to swap my sunglasses for my goggles to stop the wind cutting into the side of my face so much. Despite my hands being quickly put back in my gloves (two pairs of them) my fingers are numb. It will be a good ten minutes before they thaw out.
Once I get back to the hut Nicola asks me to complete the annual task of sweeping out the floor of the hut. We decide to do this by hand first. Nicola shows me the scoria that accumulates from visitors’ boots that needs to be cleaned up. It’s not to be confused with the ‘historic’ dust and sediment that has gathered along the walls, between artefacts and in dark corners. This is to be left to add to the atmosphere of the hut. I wear a head torch so I can spot the difference!
Kneeling on the floor seems to be the best way to slowly move around, sweeping gently with my brush and pan. There is a surprising amount of scoria rock around and I sometimes reach into the recesses to pick the little grey stones out. I wish I had remembered to bring my knee pads—now I know why they are in my kit. It’s a good task to keep warm though and I enjoy moving around each space as it gives me a close up look at the artefacts and architecture from a unique perspective.
After a while I decide I need to use my She-wee. One piece of advice I have heard from a number of people is that when you think you need to go, go then. Don’t wait or it suddenly becomes an urgent task; and nothing happens quickly in Antarctica. I ask Al where I’m best to position myself as it’s not within the code of conduct to toilet inside the hut. He advises somewhere out of the wind and away from the various visiting Americans wandering around the site.
I’m feeling confident to use my She-wee and decide that just outside the front door will be the most private spot. I get the She-wee and my pee bottle and sort myself out. I leave one pair of gloves on and work on positioning the She-wee around three layers of pants. It’s a bit of a logistical exercise but I’m thinking it’s good practice ahead of my upcoming camping trip to Cape Evans.
The wind is really howling now and my hands go numb quickly, which makes holding the She-wee and pee bottle simultaneously quite tricky. I really hope no visitors suddenly pop around the corner or they are in for a shock. Then my body just shuts down. It’s no go. Too cold, thanks very much my bladder says. I wait a bit longer willingly myself to just relax but it’s no good.
Al kindly says he will run me down to Mac Town (McMurdo Station), which is just down the road. It’s nice to have a quick break and warm up ahead of the final part of the work programme.
Next up I’m assisting Al with collecting measurements for the hut’s monitoring programme. This is done at strategic points around the hut with Al up a ladder taking readings from the wood to test the hut’s moisture levels. The temperature in the hut is -7 degrees. Somehow knowing this makes me feel cold all of a sudden. It’s more likely that I’ve gotten cold because I haven’t been moving around so much.
Two staff from Antarctica New Zealand pop over to clear the data loggers, which measure temperature and relative humidly. This information helps to establish baseline data and to help the design team understand how the hut’s microclimate is responding to the initial conservation work. Al is pleased the hut is dry and the readings reinforce this. There has only been a little bit of snow ingress this year; again, Al is pleased as the snow mitigation measures put in place last season have been successful.
We are all quite cold now and I’m glad it’s not just me feeling the cold seep into my bones. Apparently, Discovery Hut is always a tough site to work at.
I imagine the men of Scott’s Discovery expedition realising that sleeping in the hut was not going to be possible as it is too cold, and the subsequent parties who used the hut as a staging post (both Scott’s Terra Nova expedition and Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party) and the hardships they endured. Discovery Hut is often described as dark and depressing compared with the other heroic-era huts.
I don’t have anything to compare it to yet but there’s something about it that I really like. Perhaps it’s the sense of hope and possibility the men had about the adventures that lay ahead when they first landed. Before they felt the wind cut through them day after day, before the adversity began.
The men called the hut the Royal Terror Theatre and used it to stage various musicals and plays of the time to entertain each other. I like this perspective on the hut as it conjures up images of camaraderie and laughter amongst the bleak Antarctic landscape.
We pack up quickly and, heads down, battle the wind back to the Toyota. Upon reaching Scott Base we head to the Tatty Flag bar to warm up with a whisky. A few other people join us and soon stories are flying across the bar. I smile to myself as I think about how over 100 years on that same sense of friendship and teamwork is in full force just over the hill at New Zealand’s Scott Base.