|Donal Manahan is a professor at the University of Southern California and has spent several years doing research in the Antarctic. During this work, he has developed a keen interest in the historical exploration of this contine nt and has collected many old books. He has picked out some good photos for us to describe for you. The tent Donal has set up (click photo) is called a "Scott tent" and is still one of the best polar tent designs used today. Here in McMurdo, the past and the present are tightly intertwined as you will see from the photos..... Questions can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org|
|The two polar regions of our planet are very different. The arctic is a continuous frozen ocean, while the antarctic has a continental land mass overlying the pole. The arctic was named after the Greek word Arctus (meaning bear) because it lies under the constellation called "Big Bear." The Greek's had a hunch that the world was a sphere and thus labeled the southern pole region antarctus (meaning opposite of the bear). Interestingly enough, we now call the Big Bear const ellation by its Latin name Ursa major and in the transition from the Greek/Roman dominated euro-culture to one dominated by Latin, not only was the constellation name of Arctus> lost, but so was the notion of a spherical world.|
Ross Island has attracted several polar explorers as a base of operations because it represents one of the closest points to the south pole that is both accessible by sailing ship and provides solid ground for anchoring a vessel.
|Robert Falcon Scott leads the first Antarctic expedition in 1902. The H.M.S. Discovery arrives at Ross Island in the middle of the austral summer and Scott sails as close to the Ross Ice Shelf as he can to establish a supply hut at what is now called Hut Point.|
Unfortunately for Scott, the summer months in 1902 were fairly mild and the frozen sea ice had broken up to an unusually large extent, allowing him to travel very close in to the permanent ice shelf. This was unfortunate because the next summer (1903) wasn't as warm and the Discovery remained trapped in the frozen sea ice, forcing Scott and his men to spend another winter here. And the summer of 1904 wasn't any warmer and it looked like the Discovery would yet again be tra pped in the sea ice, but a rescue vessel arrived with explosives and after 6 weeks of breaking ice managed to open a path to the Discovery and set her free. Scott narrowly escaped having to spend yet another winter at Hut Point.
|The hut Scott built was very simple and used primarily as a store house and cooking shed. The men hunted seals and penguins for food and used the shed for preparing the meat. Observation Hill rises on the right and provided the group wit h a high vantage point from which to view the surrounding area.|
|Today, the hut and it's contents remain well preserved by the cold dry Antarctic climate. It is now called Discovery Hut and the narrow peninsula it is on is called Hut Point. McMurdo Station is located between Observation Hill and Hut P oint. At the very tip of this peninsula there is a cross that Scott and his men erected in memory of George Vince, the only member of the party to die during the 2.5 years they were here.|
George Vince was a young seaman on the voyage. After arriving on Ross Island, Scott and his men explored the surrounding areas. Vance was in a party returning after such a mission when they encountered heavy blowing snow that severe ly reduced visibility. The party leader came to the crest of a rise and suddenly stopped because he realized that the ridge dropped away very steeply. Vance was behind him, but didn't notice that he had stopped in time. Vance stepped over the crest and hi s seal skin boots didn't provide enough traction to prevent him from slipping and then sliding down the slope. The rest of the party could only watch as he and a dog following him both slipped quickly out of sight into the blowing snow, followed a few sec onds later by a muffled splash as they fell into the water far below. It is interesting to consider that if the summer of 1902 hadn't been so mild, the sea would likely have still been frozen solid at the base of that ridge, and Vance would have presumabl y just slid out onto the sea ice, where he could have either just walked back to Hut Point (only a half mile away), or at least have been rescued if injured during the slide. The seaward side of the ridge was subsequently named Danger Slopes is located al ong the main ridge called Arrival Heights.
|This shot looks down on McMurdo Station from Observation Hill towards Hut Point on the far left.|
|From the Discovery Hut, Scott and his men were able to explore the local areas and even began a longer trek up the Ross Ice Shelf towards the south pole. With these trips, Scott was able to gather much of the information he would need ab out how to best travel to the pole on a future expedition. Scott's men also made many scientific observations about weather, geology, and the animal life around Ross Island.|
Two Polar Explorers:
A Norwegian Roald Amundsen and an Englishman Robert Falcon Scott. The two were as different as Antarctic night and day.
|Amundsen approached the pole from a spot on the Ross Ice Shelf called the Bay of Whales. The Ross Ice Shelf is not hospitable for ship landings for two reasons: First, its edge is a 100-foot ice cliff that remains unbroken across the Ross Sea, making it extremely difficult to get on and off a ship without doing some serious climbing; and Second, because once you setup a camp at the top of the cliff, there's no guarantee that it won't disappear in a month when that part of the floating glacier breaks off as an iceberg. Amundsen made a very astute observation while scouting charts for possible starting points. He noticed that the maps drawn by the earlier Ross, Scott, and Shackleton expeditions all showed that the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf was constan tly moving out and breaking off, EXCEPT for in one place: the Bay of Whales. He reasoned that the Ross Ice Shelf glacier (which extends downwards close to 700 feet) must be grounded at that point. That is, the bottom of the ice shelf must come in contact with the top of a submerged island there. He gambled his expedition on this assumption, which we now know was correct, and set up his base camp there which would allow him almost direct access to the pole by traveling across the smooth surface of the Ross Ice Shelf glacier.||Scott, on the other hand, knew exactly where he wanted to go. For his expedition to the pole, he planned to travel from Ross Island across the Ross Ice Shelf, moving along the edge of the western half of the continent. He then would trav el up the Beardmore Glacier onto the continental plateau and from there travel directly to the south pole. Scott had spent the last 7 years since his first expedition meticulously planning his journey to the pole. The biggest difference between the two gr oups was that Amundsen would use dogs to pull small supply sleds while Scott would use ponies to pull larger sleds loaded with supplies.|
Scott's Base Camp at Cape Evans
|But this time around, instead of starting out at Hut Point, Scott chose to anchor his vessel H.M.S. Terra Nova and setup his base camp 10 miles to the north on a point of land named Cape Evans. This time around he didn't want to be trapped by sea ice as he was during the 1902-1904 expedition. The building they erected this time was much larger than the one that was built at Hut Point and it was used for living quarters as well as for cooking and storage. Scott would use horses to pull sleds of supplies on his expedition and so a stable was added to the side of the structure during the first winter (after this photo was taken).|
|The site at Cape Evans was very scenic as it looked out towards the Barne's Glacier, which extended several hundreds of yards out into the sea.|
|The building is presently called Scott's Hut and is remarkably well preserved. In this photo the entrance way and stable that were added during the first winter are present. There is still hay in the stable area to this day.|
|Inside, there is a very spooky feeling because all the stuff that Scott's men left behind still looks like they're ready for use. Old skin boots, old blankets, shirts hanging from nails on the walls, old books, old snow shoes, old sleds, old food.... yes, even old food, still looks like someone at any moment will be returning to continue living here.|
|In this photo, the primary expedition group is having dinner in the hut to celebrate Scott's birthday. Although everyone pictured here didn't actually live in the hut (they remained in quarters on the ship), you can still see how cramped it must have been for the 8 or so people who did live there.|
|This is an artist's sketch of what Scott's eventual journey to the south pole was like for most of the way. Blowing snow, low visibility, extreme cold, all made for very difficult traveling.|
|Scott and four other men finally made it to the south pole on February 14, 1911. But they are not happy men. Amundsen reached the pole several weeks before them (January 11th) and when they arrived, there was a tent erected on the site w ith a letter addressed to Scott inside. The ultimate goal of reaching the pole first had been claimed by another. Scott refused to admit defeat in that he never felt that traveling to the pole should be considered as a competition. During the course of Sc ott's expedition, he and his party members made many scientific observations, and even had collected some of the first fossils ever found on the continent. It was this ultimate goal of discovery that Scott held as his primary objective.|
|By the time Scott and his party began their return journey, it was late in the austral fall season and winter was approaching. Traveling conditions worsened, the party covered fewer and fewer miles each day. But they pressed on and were able to reach a spot on the Ross Ice Shelf that was less than 100 miles from Ross Island and only 11 miles from a large supply depot that had been left behind for them to use on their return. But at his spot a severe winter storm hit and pinned them down in t heir tents, unable to travel, as their scant remaining supplies rapidly dwindled. It was here in their tent that they died.|
|Click here to see current photos of the south pole and the Amundsen-Scott Research Station.|