When I got back to McMurdo from Byrd camp, a friend of mine surprised me by arranging for a tour of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1902 hut. It was prefabricated in Australia and erected on site at what came to be known as the Hut Point Peninsula, right next to present-day McMurdo Station. There’s a road connecting the two now and in between lies the ice pier where the resupply vessel will dock later this week carrying winter supplies for the station.
Turns out the hut was really hard to keep warm (why were there so many windows??) so it was hardly ever used for sleeping when it was first built. But Scott’s 1902 expedition used it to store food and supplies and kept it as a backup in case anything happened to the ship.
Shackleton used it again in 1908 during his expedition bound for the South Pole. They didn’t make it all the way, but returned to the hut in bad shape and were finally able to signal the ship for help.
Then Scott and his team used it again in 1911 when they returned to make another attempt at reaching the South Pole. This time it was used more for living quarters, as shown by the photos of the kitchen and clothes.
Finally, Shackleton used it one more time during his 1915 expedition to cross the entire continent via the South Pole. Each time it was used, the hut had to be dug out from ice and snow that entered during blizzards, but everything inside was incredibly well-preserved.
It’s not the only expedition hut on the continent, but an interesting thing is that the others are in the process of being restored. From what I’ve heard, some of the original artifacts from those huts have been taken for restoration and preservation and replaced with fake replicas. Discovery Hut, though, is still exactly as it was left when Shackleton’s party last left it in 1917. What’s more, Shackleton made a point of leaving it just as it had been in 1902 when Scott’s expedition had first used it.
The site was chosen because Hut Point is the most southern point in the world to which you can sail. That way, it got explorer’s as close as possible to the South Pole before they had to get out and bear the harsh Antarctic elements on their own.
It’s also really close to the water (obviously…it’s on a peninsula) so there was plenty of seal meat available, which provided meat for food and blubber for heat. Even the seal carcasses, blubber and all, are preserved in the hut 110 years later.
Food, lamps, dishes, and clothes were left lying around the hut. It was incredible to imagine the early explorers living and working there as if it was only yesterday.
Scott, a British explorer, preferred ponies over sled dogs when travelling in the Antarctic, though he brought some of both. His team was never very adept at using the dogs, though, and they reverted to “man-hauling” their gear after their ponies inevitably died. This was perhaps one of his fatal mistakes, as Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole using sled dogs for transport and lived to tell the tale, unlike Scott and his men who are memorialized on Observation Hill in McMurdo.
Cocoa powder and biscuits, including for the dogs, seemed to be the prevailing theme of what they Antarctic explorers ate. I know butter and chocolate are known to be some of the best foods to have in the polar regions because they’re calorie-dense. There was a LOT of chocolate to go around in McMurdo, though I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary these days…