Scott's Discovery Hut

November 24th, 2001

"Herbies come from that way."
- Andy Klein, Assistant Professor of Geography, Texas A&M

I'd been here for a day figuring out how to exist in a place where wandering too far from the marked path can cause you major problems. In the winter, walking around outside the flag lines would probably kill you. You'd fall into a crevasse in the sea ice. Or the wind would knock you down and you'd crack your head on a rock, or you'd freeze solid.

In the summer you'd just get pretty cold and they'd have to send someone to find you. Of course first they'd have to realize you were gone.

It's "illegal" to leave the immediate base area without checking in and getting a radio. You need to go through an hour long training class on "base leaving" that goes over things that should keep you alive unless something unexpected happens, like a herbie comes.

A "herbie" is a hurricane blizzard. At the time of this writing some people are sure we're going to have one fairly soon. The wind is coming from the right direction, between Black and White Islands. The wind doesn't come from that way unless something bad is going to happen with the weather. Yesterday it was nearly 40 degrees F, or about 5C. Today it's down to 10. Yesterday there was squishy mud and rivers of melting ice running down the "streets". Today everything is frozen again.

But the Herbie hasn't come and we're still in condition 3.

Condition 3 means everything is fine, the captain has extinguished the seat belt sign and you are free to move about the continent.
Condition 2 means you are free to move between buildings in McMurdo, but you must wear ECWs and follow flagged lines.
Condition 1 means you have to stay wherever you are until it's not condition 1 anymore.

When I was a kid my parents told me a story to try to get me to eat my peas. The story was of a kid who didn't eat and got so skinny a big wind blew him away and they never saw him again. I always felt sorry for that kid.

What they didn't tell me was that he lived in Antarctica. When it's Condition 1, you will be blown away. Even if you're 200 pounds, they will never see you again. You will be frostbitten. Visibility will be zero so unless you have radar in your parka, you can't see where you're going. Forget about a white cane, that will be blown to Argentina.

Yesterday we had some free time and I wanted to go see Scott's hut. It's within sight of the base. In fact, I can see it from my dorm window. It's no more than 1/2 a mile from my dorm.

The wind was picking up and my roommate, an ice core driller, said he'd just come back from Williams Field and they were closing up because the weather was going bad (which means anyone planning to come down from NZ is bounced or boomeranged).

I was with Andy Klein and it was still sunny. He said, "Hey, I'll go for a walk for you." Tony told me to put on my heavy parka.

So I went back and suited up in my super cold weather stuff, got my camera, and we took off for Scott's hut.

But by the time we got there the wind had picked up to about 30mph. Loose gravel and ice was flying. I had to maneuver into the lee of the hut to get the picture I did above. I apologize it's not very straight--because just before I snapped it Andy pointed out over the sound beyond McMurdo and said, "That doesn't look good."

I was seeing what didn't look good just as the camera snapped. What it was, was a dense wall of white so solid it cast a shadow on the sea ice. It obscured the mountains beyond and appeared to be approaching at about 60 miles per hour.

"Not good?" I said, euphemistically. But Andy couldn't hear me because by then the wind was blowing hard enough he had to lean to stand up straight.

I quickly snapped a few pictures of Scott's hut.

Here's the front door. On the ground you can see some lumpiness. These are the remains of canvas bags of coal. In the distance are the carcasses of seals shot by the expedition team for food and fuel. It's hard to tell from this picture but the black mass is a dessicated, 98-year old seal sitting atop a canvas bag full of other carcasses. The bag is tied in ropes. Behind it you can see other canvass bags similarly tied.

I hope to get inside the hut later this week and get more pics. then.

Here's a view of the hut from the side, toward the good weather.

And that is Andy Klein trudging up toward Vince's cross. You can barely see the cross at the top of the hill in the background. I had to take the picture quickly as the wind was really coming up by then. Lens flare blots out the cross pretty badly. The storm is behind me, so it looks like a bright sunny day. If you look closely you can see the snow being blown across the ground by the wind, which by that time was about 40 mph.

I had about enough time to walk up to the cross and snap this picture. The wall of white was parallel with the McMurdo station, and despite the blue sky and puffy sublime clouds, the wind was picking up to the point we were both very apprehensive about standing where we were.

George Vince fell from this spot (most likely was blown off by the wind) and onto the ice below. At the time the ice wasn't solid and he fell through and was never seen again. The crew of the Discovery erected this cross in his honor. While I stood there the only danger was being blown off the hill and sliding down onto the sea ice. The ice in the McMurdo sound is now about 20 feet thick. It never blew out last year because a HUGE iceberg to the west called B15 is wedged between two islands and won't let the ice out. The berg is the size of Delaware and it's not going to move. This year they're sending in two ice breakers to cut their way through to the station. The main supply ship comes in January, and if that can't make it, nothing will happen here next year.

On the way back to the McMurdo station the wind died down. The squall passed and by the time we were at the station the wind was nearly down to nothing, or about 25mph. In my thick red parka, fleece, gloves, and hat, I was sweating even in the 50mph gusts. At its peak the wind was so harsh I had to lean to walk straight. And people considered this a NICE (read: Condition 3) day.

The final picture's McMurdo station as viewed from across the tiny spit that serves as the Ice Pier. When the breaker comes in through the sound it docks in the water between the orange building and the brown buildings beyond. Those brown buildings are dorms. I am staying on the first floor of the one furthest to the right in this picture. It's number 209, for anyone who cares.