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!
Friday, March 27, 2009
The Antarctic summer of 2008-09 is coming to an end now. The Antarctica, being in the southern hemisphere, the Antarctic summer lasts approximately from October till beginning of April. During this time, most of Antarctica experiences an extended and unending day lasting many months. At the South Pole, the Sun does not set for six months. At Maitri (Lat: 70 Deg 45' 01.65" South, Long: 11 Deg 43' 01.45" East), the continuous day continues for nearly four months. When I reached Antarctica on 15th November, 2007, it was already an unending day, and I never saw a star in the sky till the beginning of February, 2008. I would see moon sometimes during these months, but it would be completely lackluster without its ‘chandni’. It did not stir any romantic feelings, and one could not sing ‘dhire dhire chal chand gagan mein’.
The summer period in Antarctica are months of hectic activity. All the camps and bases of various countries come alive to receive new teams and guests and bid farewell to the wintering team members. The supplies are received, offloaded, and stocked. The scientific equipments are serviced, major repairs in the station are carried out. My old mates of 27th batch of the Indian Antarctic Scientific Expedition, who wintered there, have also returned now putting the winter team of 28th batch in place at Maitri.
Summer months are also a period of wild life come alive, as many birds and some species of penguins begin their nest building, laying and hatching of eggs, and rearing of chicks. The Emperor penguin does this work during the height of winter with temperatures plummeting to -50 C. It has to do things differently from the commoners, after all it is Emperor. With sea and air travel becoming operational during summer months (during winter months, entire Antarctic continent becomes out of bounds), ice-breaker ships start traversing the Southern sea, and cruises start ferrying tourists for packages for two to three weeks. Now you can fly into Antarctica all the way from wherever you are (as I did) via Cape Town or Chile.
Summer is also the time when the ceremonial South Pole starts receiving its adventurous guests and expeditioners. Various expeditions are planned to reach the pole in a way that has not been used earlier. This year was no different; in fact, a number of new record achievements took place, like South Pole Race and a blind man reaching the South Pole for the first time in history. See the posts below.
If you ever thought that indulging in adventure sports or going to the South Pole is meant only for people who are full time into such sports, then you are mistaken. Gavin Booth and Adam Wilton, two young men in their early 30’s have just completed a 1130km trek to the South Pole to raise funds to Save Scott’s Hut. Inspired by news stories of the plight of the fragile hut, Gavin and Adam decided to support the cause and achieve a lifetime ambition, to trek unaided to the Pole.
Gavin works for GE Real Estate in London, and runs marathon, road cycling and climbs mountains as hobby. Adam works for Investment bank in London and has similar hobbies. But going to the South Pole is not just an ordinary hobby. For them it was an expedition of lifetime and the effort over the past 5 years – sacrificing holidays for training, negotiating time off work, getting up in the early morning to drag tyres, and negotiating time off work. In November 2008 they left for a 2-man expedition to the Geographic South Pole, starting at the edge of the Antarctic continent. The expedition was unique in the sense that it was not to have any resupplies and would be self sufficient, dragging 120kg pulks over the ice and sastrugi, in one of the harshest environments on the planet. The team successfully reached South pole on 27th December, 2008 after a grueling work of 45 days. More on Scott’s Hut in next post.