Saturday, March 28, 2009
If one ever thinks of Antarctica explorers, one name that invariably conjures up in memory is that of legendary explorer of Antarctica, Robert Falcon Scott. Scott was the person who fired up the imagination of European explorers in early 20th century to reach South Pole. He was a British Royal Naval officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. During this second venture Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, to find that they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen's Norwegian party by a few days in an unsought "race for the Pole". The chosen group had reached the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by five weeks. Scott's anguish is palpable from his diary: "The worst has happened; all the day dreams must go; Great God! This is an awful place". "I'm afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous", wrote Scott on the next day. On their return journey Scott and his four comrades all perished because of a combination of exhaustion, hunger and extreme cold.
Scott's Hut is a building located on the north shore of Cape Evans on Ross Island in Antarctica. It was erected in 1911 by the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913 (also known as the Terra Nova Expedition) led by Robert Falcon Scott. From here Scott and four companions set out on the ultimately fatal trek to the South Pole. Although abandoned in 1913, the hut and its contents are remarkably well preserved today due to the consistently sub-freezing conditions.
In selecting a base of operations for the 1910-1913 Expedition, Scott rejected the notion of re-occupying the hut he had built on Ross Island during the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904. This first hut, known as the 'Discovery Hut' was located at Hut Point, 20km south of Cape Evans. Scott's ship, the Discovery, had been trapped by sea ice at Hut Point, a problem he hoped to avoid by establishing his new base further north. Discovery Hut was never fully occupied during the Discovery Expedition, as most expeditioners elected to live aboard the ice bound ship. Ten years later when members of the Terra Nova Expedition journeyed south from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans they found Discovery Hut intact (although full of snow and ice), along with supplies left over from 1903. Discovery Hut was cleaned out and used during 1911 and 1912 as a staging and rendezvous point for Terra Nova expeditioners heading south towards the Pole from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.
Scott's Hut is rectangular, 50 feet long and 25 foot wide. Insulation was provided by seaweed sewn into a quilt, placed between double-planked inner and outer walls. Considerable effort was made to insulate the building, and to extract the maximum amount of heat from the flues from the stove and the heater. Terra Nova expeditioners described the hut as being warm to the point of being uncomfortable. During the winter of 1911 25 men lived in the hut.
New Zealand and the UK have undertaken responsibility at various times to preserve these nearly 100 years old structures, while they were built to last only five years. By a stroke of luck, these have survived all this long duration, but may not survive further until and unless regular efforts toward preservation are not put in place. Most people don't know about these huts, and those who know think these huts must be in perfect condition being frozen and in Antarctica. The decay comes in all forms: biological, chemical, environmental - and, despite low visitor numbers, human intervention. It happens from knocking things, scraping the floor, through to people putting stuff in their pockets!