Prior to leaving for the field I had the opportunity to visit a place on Ross Island called Cape Evans. It’s a small little cove that houses Scott’s Hut – of the same Robert F. Scott I had written about previously. Scott’s hut (built in 1911) differs greatly from the Discovery Hut I had described before. In a nutshell, it’s comparatively a mansion. During his Discovery expedition (1901-1904), Scott and his men had found the first hut to be quite cold and uncomfortable living quarters. For his next walk in the park, the Terra Nova expedition (1910-1913) of disastrous fame, Scott built a new hut on Cape Evans to serve as a warmer base of operation. Despite the improvements, a foreboding shadow hangs in the air as this hut was to be the last residence of Scott before he died on his attempt to reach the South Pole.
There are several noteworthy additions to Scott’s Hut that make it more livable. Heating seems to have taken priority: double-planked walls, quilted seaweed insulation, and a supplementary stove to burn fuel. This isn’t a far cry from how we heat our own shack in the Valleys (sans seaweed). The new hut was also big enough to create different sections to address the specific goals of the expedition. There’s a darkroom for photography (a closet), an area for scientific research (someone’s desk), and private sleeping quarters. Having come from a military background, Scott would divide sleeping arrangements based on who was an officer and who wasn’t.
The bunks provide an insight into the private lives of these early explorers. A few trinkets litter the bedside along with shoddy clothing, repair materials, and leftover books that I presume were bad enough to warrant leaving behind. Above one bunk are two large boards consisting entirely of dog photos. Clearly an unmarried sailor. On one table is a newspaper and a stuffed emperor penguin. However, of all these interesting odds and ends there lies a haunting edition near the side of one bed. Scrawled in pencil a somber message reads “R W Richards August 14, 1916. Losses to Date: Heywood, Mack, Smyth, Shak (?).” These words were written not by Scott’s party, but by Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party that were forced to use the hut as an emergency shelter during a later expedition.
During Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) there were two ships: the Endurance (of epic survival fame) and the Aurora (an often overlooked story). Essentially, Shackleton’s party on Endurance were to land on one side of Antarctica while the Ross Sea Party on Aurora were to land on the other. The Ross Sea Party’s goal was to lay supply caches for the last leg of Shackleton’s attempt to cross the entire continent. In an incredible twist of fate, both ships encountered disastrous ends. Endurance was trapped and crushed in sea ice, never able to reach the continent, and is a tale of survival against the most brutal odds and conditions. This epic is made even more compelling by the fact that Shackleton brought all his men back alive. The Ross Sea Party was not so fortunate. While they were laying supplies Aurora broke free of its mooring and left the shore party stranded. These ten men were marooned on Ross Island indefinitely. They gathered the remaining stores from previous expeditions and made Scott’s Hut their new home. Only seven men were to be rescued three years later. The names written near the bed list the three deaths of the Ross Sea Party, and the unanswered fate of whether the other party’s leader Shackleton (Shak) had died. Spencer-Smith, Hayward, and Mackintosh all died during their expedition to lay depots for Shackleton’s crossing.
On January 10, 1917, the remaining 7 men of the Ross Sea Party were shocked to see Shackleton aboard the Aurora as it arrived to rescue them. When they saw his face they realized that he had never been able to attempt the crossing, and that their efforts and companions deaths had been in vain.