I was presented with opportunity that few backpacker’s get not long ago. To work short-term in Antarctica. One of the best things about working there, for the New Zealand base, is the ability to get out and about off base. From organised days out, to simply the ‘freedom’ to roam about on-foot or skis, it was these varied experiences that really made my time there more amazing. The second weekend there, a small group of us set off to make the trip, in a hagglund, to Scotts hut at Cape Evans.
Cape Evans on the western side of Ross Island, was used as the headquarters for Scotts 2nd Antarctic Expedition in 1910-1913. The hut, built by the expedition team, still stands, containing many of the items used by the expedition, in the same state as they were left - including glassware, Bunsen burners and an emperor penguin, awaiting dissection. Among the team were a number of scientists (mainly biologists and geologists) who carried out basic studies.
Scott ran the expedition as a military operation, with officers and ‘enlisted’ men. The hut is large - 15m long and 8m wide and against that main building is a stable to house the 19 Siberian ponies that were used to pull the sledges (much like the explorers, the ponies didn’t fare too well either.)
The day we visited the weather had deteriorated to a ‘condition two’ - low visibility, high winds - perfect setting for visiting such a site. Once inside the hut I was amazed at the ‘insulated’ feeling - both of warmth and lack of noise. The screaming wind was shut out once we stepped inside, and though not hot inside, you could definitely imagine that the team staying there did manage to get the hut nice an warm. They insulated with seaweed, sewn into a quilt and then placed between double-planked inner and outer walls. The roof is a sandwich of three layers of plank, two layers of rubber ply with more quilted seaweed enclosed inside. With acetylene gas they had lighting and the heating came from the kitchen and a supplementary stove - coal fuelled.
I think the thing that struck me most was the lack of ‘ageing’ - no cobwebs, dust, mould or decaying. Seal skins stacked up neatly between hut and stables, still with blood and lots of visible fat, not to mention the smell.. a box of eggs, never did find out from which bird, but looked far too big for chickens eggs, tools hanging on the wall, clean and ready to go - things left as they were found, as if the guys could walk back through the door again any time soon and pick up where they left off.
On a second visit to the site, in nicer weather, I was able to see more of the outside, including the view from the memorial cross standing on the hill just outside. Completely different concept and view but nice to get a sense of direction and placement.
There is such amazing work being done here by the team from Antarctic Heritage Trust in their pledge to restore and record the Antarctic huts and their workings, a truly remarkable piece of history.