Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Taste of History

Today we had the opportunity to visit Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Hut, just outside of McMurdo Station. Though it was just over a 15 minute walk, it was a whole new world. The wind was amazing out there, somewhere in the realm of 35-40 mile/hour as best we could guess. In addition to the wind, it was a chilly day, and with wind chill the temp at Hut Point was probably around -60 Fahrenheit, real Antarctica! To enter the hut you must have a member of the staff open the doors, and then only a limited number of people are allowed in the hut, 8 is the maximum. As we are a science group, with only a limited amount of time at base, they made a special appointment for us, and it was well worth the time. The hut was built in 1902, though proved hard to heat, and was therefore not used as living quarters; instead it was a staging area. The hut was made entirely of Douglas Fir and Scotts Pine from Australia, and has stood the test of time, which in this place is quite impressive!
The winds beat it constantly, but due to the cold, dry conditions things to not rot and deteriorate as they would in other climates, hence there are still many artifacts from the original expeditions remaining in the hut, though they have been logged and are monitored for conservation. Stepping into the hut was like stepping into history. The food in the hut is the actual food these men took when they were trying to open the continent.
There still remain animal carcass from the early 1900's, as well as goats brought from the north, and seals killed for food.
The original clothing these men wore still hangs from lines, making us very thankful for the advances in cold weather gear!
The ceiling is constantly covered in a thin layer of snow and ice, reminding you of the cold just outside! Though the hut was not as warm as the ship, it does a remarkable job of shielding you from the wind, which in our case was quite a pleasant. We took pictures, signed the guest book, and all were mesmerized by the conditions these men faced. We are here during the "nice" season, and I find the conditions at times unbearable. We have advanced gear, and plenty of food, good maps and internet, they had none of these commodities. I find it amazing these guys were able to persevere through the Antarctic weather, with no knowledge of the surroundings, or what they would find, truly amazing! After about thirty minutes, we exited the hut and made the short walk to hut point, the location of the cross honoring George Vince, one of the many men who died during the expeditions to the south.
The gusts of wind on the point were amazing, and at times I felt like I would be blown out onto the frozen ocean below! To take a few pictures I removed my mittens, and within seconds my hands were numb! It will be interesting to see how we deal with the wind and cold while performing intricate operations, though I think that will have to wait for another day.

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