Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cape Evans Part I: History

Lesson 1: Antarctic Geography

Here it is, Antarctica:


North, south, east and west get a little messy here, so I'll use good old up, down, right, left. This is a typical way to map Antarctica, and the large part of the continent on the right is often referred to as East Antarctica, though it makes little sense.

I should mention here that if you click on the map (or any picture here, for that matter) you'll get a bigger version of it. McMurdo station is located on the lower right edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, towards the bottom of the map. New Zealand is directly north of McMurdo, so straight down off the map. The Palmer Peninsula, in the upper left corner, points to South America. This is where the third US station is, aptly named "Palmer".

So here it may get a bit confusing. This is a local map of Ross Island, which is oriented normally (north is up, south is down, etc.):


About 30 miles west (left) of Ross Island, and just off this map, is the Transantarctic Mountain Range, which runs north-south. But if you look at the first map, the mountains are to the right of McMurdo. It's a bit ineffable without waving arms and rude gestures, so I say "eff it" and leave you to figure it out yourselves. Just flip a map over and try not to lose your bearings when they fall out.

Here's what you need to know: McMurdo is at the southernmost point on Ross Island, the tip of Hut Point Peninsula. Cape Evans is 15 miles north-northeast of McMurdo, just above the small islands called Tent and Inaccessible.

There are a couple "morale" trips out to Cape Evans every week. It's a bit of a task to wait in line for a slot on the list, but well worth it. I went on Monday.

OK, I told you all that so I can tell you this...

Lesson 2: Antarctic History

British Captain Robert Falcon Scott set out to be the first to reach the South Pole in November, 1910. His ship and crew reached Ross Island and erected a hut at Cape Evans in January, 1911. The Cape was named for Lieutenant Edward Evans, the expedition's second-in-command. Between January and May, 1911, several teams placed depots of supplies for the journey to the Pole that would occur the following summer. Twenty-five men wintered at the Cape Evans hut in 1911:


The push for the pole began in October (remember, the austral springtime is opposite our own). Several teams relayed supplies and laid depots until January, 1912, when Scott and four companions continued south unsupported. The distance from Cape Evans to the pole is about 900 miles.

Scott reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912, only to find a small green tent left behind 35 days earlier by Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

The return journey was plagued with bad weather. Two men died during the traverse, one from injury, the other from cold and fatigue. Scott and his two remaining team members were eventually pinned down in a blizzard 11 miles from their next supply depot and only 175 miles from Cape Evans. This was late March of 1912.

In November, the frozen bodies of Scott and his two companions were found huddled in their tent, along with Scott's journals.

Several other scientific studies continued through the next winter. Then the remainder of the men departed Cape Evans, leaving behind enough supplies to last "a dozen resourceful men through one summer and winter at least." -Lt. Edward Evans


Two years later, ten men were stranded at Cape Evans with little more than these supplies for their survival. Part of Ernest Shackleton's Ross Sea Party, their ship was blown out to sea in May of 1915. Despite their abandonment, these men laid supply depots as far south as 83° 37' (McMurdo is at 77° 51') for Shackleton's intended traverse of Antarctica, which had itself gone terribly awry on the other side of the continent. In January 1917, seven remaining men were rescued from Cape Evans by Shackleton himself. For the amazing Shackleton half of this story, check out "The Endurance Expedition", which took place in the Weddel Sea on the other side of the continent.

The Cape Evans hut remains much as it was, preserved by the cold: clothing, bedding, supplies, tools. Scribbled on one of the bedposts is "Losses to date" and a list of names. A somewhat smelly pile of seal blubber remains in the stables. This was used as fuel for the stove and its un-decomposed state after 100 years serves as a reminder of how truly desolate and inhospitable this place is.

Stay tuned for the exciting sequel, Cape Evans Part II: Critters. Exciting for me, at least, and less dry for you, at most.

3 comments:

Mom said...

Not dry at all. Fascinating...and sad too. Did you get to go inside the hut at Cape Evans? Did you take the hut picture or is it from a book? What did you do there? I loved the lesson. Looking forward to Chapter 2.

briantarctica said...

I took both pictures, so yes, we went in. Just looked around inside. Our hut guide, Katie (who is in the Thanksgiving picture on the left), had lots of info for us. She kindly passed me the paper version so I could get the facts right for this post. Not much else to do there, but climb a short hill to a viewpiont. That'll be in Part II, but the history lesson is over, so if you want more details, I can pass you the paper version.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very useful maps. My great uncle was Harry Pennell, Captain of the Terra Nova and I've decided to do some research on his life (he went down with the Queen Mary at the battle of Jutland). I'm focussing on the part of the expedition he was invoved in and not Scott's last journey.
Your maps are helpful in showing where the ship went. Thanks again!