Here at Scott Base, we are extremely lucky to be provided with opportunities to get off base. On Sundays, these opportunities often come in the form of familiarization (fam) trips, which are put on by our lovely field guides. These trips are usually to places that we are unable to get to ourselves. The last fam trip I was fortunate enough to be a part of was to Cape Evans. Traveling by Hagglund (hag) over the sea ice, Cape Evans takes around three hours to reach. The attraction to this place? One of the historic huts. We were pretty lucky to have the opportunity to visit this hut, it is an important part of Antarctica history dating back to the days of early Antarctica exploration. In fact, the hut was constructed by Robert Scott’s party for their ‘assault on the pole’. While Cape Evans is named after Scott’s second in command Edward Evans, the hut is named “Captain Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’ hut”. The hut housed the sixteen scientists and officers and the nine crewmen that made up Scott’s party. The men on this expedition spent the winter here before setting off on the 24th of October 1911 with the goal of obtaining the pole, leaving Cape Evans behind. On the 17th of January 1912, Scott and a small party of men reached what they thought was the pole, only to find that the Norwegians had beaten them there. Unfortunately, the party died on their return from the pole including both Scott and Edwards.
Our trip to Cape Evans took place on Sunday the 15th of October 2017. We woke to a very flat light, grey, windy day. Despite the seemingly average weather, it wasn’t bad enough to prevent us going. So, we packed our snacks for the day, put on our layers and clambered into the hags. There was twenty of us on this trip split over two hags, four people can sit in the front cab leaving six of us in the back. With no real view outside due to iced up windows, I put my headphones in, squished my back into a corner and tried to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Although, I can’t say it was restful. As we chugged towards Cape Evans we made a few brief stops. The first was out the front of McMurdo, the American base. It was interesting to see the base from the sea ice, it’s not a view you usually get. The base looks like a small town, the size of it still amazes me. However, with the wind battering us, creeping in between our layers, everyone was soon scrambling back to the warmth of the hags. We stopped again a little while later. This time to do some sea ice drilling. We had reached a place where there was a rather large crack, large enough that the hag can’t simply drive over it. The Americans have put a bridge in to make it passable but we still needed to check that the bridge sits in the correct place. We huddled together watching Tom and Malika (our guides) drill the crack, checking the depth of the ice and how far the crack stretched. With the all clear, it was time to get moving again. Cape Evans was now in sight, we were almost at our destination.
The hut sits on the flat, protected by the hills around it. Covered with snow, it’s a blip on the landscape that could easily be missed. We got out of the hag to find the wind was gone, a welcomed change. After we organized ourselves in to groups, the first group headed to the hut. The first thing you notice when you step in the door is the smell, it’s interesting, unfamiliar, I couldn’t pick what it was. Walking into the main hut area, it’s surprising how big the hut is. The kitchen is stacked with tins and jars. There’s Fry’s pure cocoa, Lipton’s coffee and cheese from Geraldine, as well as an assortment of other dried goods. Cups, pots and utensils hang on the wall or stacked on shelves. Opposite the kitchen there is a sleeping area and table. This area is divided from the rest of the hut by a wall of wooden food boxes, the manufactures labels still stamped on them. Past the kitchen and first sleeping quarters there a large wooden table in the middle of the area. Two bunks are on the back wall, still complete with their mattresses and some rugs. Fur boots sit on a ledge on the wall by a photograph of a women, no doubt someone special to one of the men that once inhabited this space. A collage of pictures, which look like they have come from various publications, hang on another wall, small personalized touches. On the other side of the hut there is another cubby with a bed and table. The table is filled with glass bottles, vials and other science equipment. In the middle of the back wall of the hut there is a small room complete with a door. A flick around with a flash light revealed this room to be a photography room. On the left side of the room sits two more beds and not far from these a table. The table had a random assortment of items on it but the most striking is an emperor penguin. Potentially the subject of someone’s scientific work, one can only guess.
Back at the entrance to the hut there was another corridor that led to the stables, which presumably housed Scott’s Siberian ponies. The smell became more powerful as I moved into this space. The source of the stench was soon revealed; sitting in a corner was a massive pallet of seal blubber. The seal blubber would have been used as a fuel source. I wonder if you would get use to the smell if you were here long term. There are all sorts of other bits and bobs in the stables. I wandered along making out what I could in the dim light.
While the other groups had their turn in the hut I headed up to the cross that is perched on the hill nearby. The cross reads “Sacred to the memory of Capt, A.L.A. Mackintosh V.S. Hayward who perished on the Sea-ice in a blizzard about May 8th 1916 and of Rev. A.P. Spencer-Smith S.A. who dies on the Ross Barrier on March 6th 1916”. Cape Evans hut was not only important for Scott’s expedition but also came to play a part in Earnest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the continent. Shackleton’s second party had moored off Ross Island and decided to use Cape Evans hut as a base for laying out supplies for Shackleton. The ship became marooned leaving them stuck there for the winter. They raided what they could from Scott’s supplies that were left behind and stayed here until they were eventually rescued.
The afternoon was getting on and we were soon due to depart back to base. So, after a quick lunch of last night’s frozen bean wraps, chocolate and biscuits it was time to leave. The journey back was rather uneventful. We tried to find some penguins but had no luck. It was a long but fantastic day. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to see this part of Antarctica history.