28 January, 1999
Greetings from McMurdo!
The Starlifter has just come in and so all the people who were waiting to leave have been able to go. I helped Dr. Denton and Dr. Sugden finish up a few things to get the plane. I will join Dr. Denton on the Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand next week.
This afternoon I picked up the key to the Discovery Hut on Hut Point. This hut was prefabricated in Australia for the Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 which was led by Robert Falcon Scott, RN. It served as a store room, laboratory and theater for members of the expedition living on the ship Discovery.
Four years later during Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909, which was based further north at Cape Royds the hut became an important advance base for sledging operations.
Scott next returned to McMurdo Sound for the 1911-1913 expedition. Although he decided to overwinter at Cape Evans, he used this old hut for the sledging parties.
In 1915, a Ross Sea depot laying party of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) arrived on the Aurora. It was during this expedition that the hut assumed its greatest importance with sledging parties sometimes living here for many weeks, in cold and dirty conditions. Mackintosh and Hayward, members of this party set out over the sea ice for Cape Evans, but they were never seen again.
The hut was not visited again until 1947 during "Operation High Jump."
Restoration of the Hut began in 1964 with New Zealand's antarctic Division leading the effort to salvage the ice filled hut. The Discovery Hut is now protected and maintained be the Antarctic Heritage Trust. These wooden structures are susceptible to the ravages of the continent-especially the wind.
The hut was surprisingly cold and today was only moderately windy. There were a few windows, but the inside was still dark because it is covered with soot from the seal blubber stove. As a matter of fact one of the first things that you see as you enter is a stack of flensed seal blubber. You can see the axe marks on the floor next to the stack. There are also hoof marks from Scott's ponies.
In the "meat room" just off the entrance are the remains of some penguins - Edward Wilson was Scott's biologist and he prepared skins for study here. You can still the esophagus of the birds.
There are the old crates that say BAE (British Antarctic Expedition) and R F Scott, and many old containers of food. When we were out in the field we ate Cabin Bread for lunch everyday - and here were old boxes labelled Cabin Bread!! A long tradition here in the Antarctic.
I have just seen Drew and Adam, my colleagues from the field. We will be spending some time putting away supplies and returning food from the camp in Beacon Valley. I am feeling nostalgic now that it is all over.
I will soon be leaving Antarctica and my emotions are very mixed. I would like to stay and learn more - have different experiences - I know that I was one of the truly lucky ones because I was able to travel extensively throughout the Dry Valleys and had the opportunity to see wildlife almost every night I was in town. I was able to work with some incredibly interesting and bright people in Beacon Valley. Still I wonder what it was like to be on a ship, to be at pole, to work exclusively here in McMurdo. I am reminded of a quote from Thomas Pynchon - "You wait. Everyone has an Antarctic." Each of us had a different Antarctica, but I wonder if the end result will be that we are changed in a similar way.
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