Finally, Wednesday morning, the much-anticipated day where we get to make up camp and stay in the field! The day began with an early breakfast and final checks before setting out in our Hägglund with my team members, Lizzie, Ciaran and Sue. The main aim for this trip is to monitor the artefacts conservation, removing the snow from around the huts and any general maintenance. It takes around a couple of hours to drive around to Cape Evans including all our photo stops and stopping to check cracks in the sea ice. These cracks form over summer as the ice is melting and moving with the tide. The sea ice moves around like bumper cars forming ridges and crevasses. Where the ice is moving apart our field staff Mark and Jeff measure the thickness taking turns drilling holes in parallel to the crack. A Hägglund requires 60 cm of ice to drive over but there is the reassurance that if the ice does break, the Hägglund can float with an escape hatch on the ceiling.
We arrive at our campsite, 200 m around the corner from Scott’s Hut. After lunch we set up several polar tents away from the wind, around the already permeant camp facilities from previous summers. AHT teams have camped up to three months out here during the conservation over the summer of 2012. Lizzie told us how she got very good at doing all her washing including a shower using only one ice-cream container.
At camp there are two containers joined together housing our cooking facilities, table and chairs with a heater. This is like a 5star camp ground in Antarctica where most of the time you only have tents. The environmental regulations are also extremely tight in Antarctica, so anything that you take into the field must come back with you including all waste. We were all issued with pee bottles (a drink bottle size container with a huge P sticker) acting as your own personal portable toilet when you are in the field. We are even treated to the luxury of having a toilet facility… well sort of, it was more like wooden box where we put a bucket and a lid which we can dispose of back at Scott Base. Everything that we don’t want freezing can be put in the main container and only our sleeping kits are left in our tents.
After settling into camp we used the rest of the afternoon to familiarise ourselves with our new location and more importantly to see Scott’s Hut!! Captains Scott’s final expedition to Antarctica was the Terra Nova Expedition. The British team set off in hope to complete their ultimate goal of reaching the South Pole. Due to thick sea ice, this prevented Scott’s ship from reaching Hut Point where his pervious hut was built (Discovery Hut). Instead they landed on a volcanic beach along a peninsula, named Cape Evans. Prefabricated huts from London were erected and completed in nine days becoming home to 25 men. The hut has since been restored to its original state in time with all the artefacts placed where they were more than 100 years ago. Bedding, food and clothing is placed around the hut and it is amazing to picture Scott’s party living over the winter months all huddled around the main table. Comparing the hut with the photos from the early nineteen hundreds, the Antarctic Heritage Trust has done a fantastic job at recreating the atmosphere both inside and outside. After listening to the stories retold from the historic journals, it is hard to believe that the men endured such conditions to the point where it was so cold your teeth would crack. They definitely did not have the luxury of the equipment and gear we have today.
My first night sleeping in the polar tent was actually pretty comfortable, although I think I did wake up every hour, taking me a couple of seconds to work out where I actually was. I was pretty toasty cocooned in a combination of an outer bag, 2 sleeping bags and a fleece liner.
The next morning, I couldn’t have asked for a better view to wake up to. Untying my tent door, I looked out over the sea ice across the Barne Glacier. With the sun shining down directly on the glacier, produced millions different shades of blue. My first task was to remove the snow built up around the hut from the winter months, preventing any snow melt getting underneath the floor. Filling our wheel barrels, we took turns taking the excess snow down to the sea cracks. If you are looking for a new workout try pushing a heavy wheel barrel over soft snow. I have also made a new friend, one of the locals that I have named “Charlie” – a very intrigued little Adele Penguin who has taken residence near our camp.
Over the week I removed corrosion from the metal clouts around the dark room, cleaned the metal edging on the venneersta cases, removed more snow, dust penguin eggs and photographed the hut for comparison documentation. The venneersta cases were the boxes used to transport their goods and then were reused to make the walls within the hut. Over the years the iron alloy had rust, so it was my job to remove any corrosion then applying a tannic acid, coated in a thin microcrystal wax to prevent any further corrosion. During summer, the Hut can have over 1000 visitors creating a lot of foot traffic through the hut. There is special foot brushes and rubber walkways to prevent the scoria damaging the floors.
In the evenings I explored further around the hut looking at the surrounding glaciers, walking out to the point and investigating the previous American team project diving under the sea ice. The US divers use a hot water drill to create a two meter diameter hole in the ice, allowing the divers access to the water beneath. Most of the drilled holes had frozen over but the last one had an awesome surprise! Walking up to the last diving spot, we could hear this very heavy breathing noise. There was a seal who had stuck his head through the thinner ice layer that had formed, taking a rest before continuing on with his journey.
On Saturday we had some special guests visit us including Nigel Watson the Director of AHT, and Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry. Maggie announced to us that the government has just announced a donation of $180,000 towards the TAE hut project. There were celebrations all round including Nigel bringing out a very special bottle of whisky brought for the occasion. This whiskey was a recreation of the original malt whiskey that was abandoned under Shackleton’s bed in 1909. In 2007, whilst carrying out conservation work on the Shackleton’s expedition hut, AHT discovered the crates of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt and flew one to the Canterbury Museum for careful thawing. Three of the bottles were flown to Scotland for detailed scientific analysis to reproduce the whiskey today. That was my fun fact of the day!
It’s Sunday today and although it is meant to be our ‘weekend’ we only have a small amount of time in the field to get all the jobs done. We are also joined by more guests, including our ‘Fam’ trip or familiarisation trip from Scott Base for anyone that is interested in seeing the huts. Also two of our team members, Doug and Geoff are joining us to help with the last of the repairs of the chimney for the hut. What an incredible week and I still have Shackleton’s Hut and the penguin colony to see yet. I’m still getting use to the 24 hour sun however, once I’m all tucked up in my cosy tent after the long week it’s not hard to fall asleep at all.
BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2016