Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cape Royds

On Tuesday 1 November the weather cleared and the wind dropped. Al, Martin and I needed to gather some gear from AHT’s camp at Cape Evans to use at Cape Royds. Normally the AHT camp put in would be by Haggunds convoy but plans changed due to the poor sea ice so the helo’s are being used. The rest of the team stayed at Scott Base to continue packing and preparing gear for Cape Royds. The thud of the Bell 212 (basically a civil Iroquois) could be heard as it took off from McMurdo. All our gear was loaded, it is amazing how much you can pile in. Summer camping trip Antarctic style. Cape Evans is only about 15 minutes by helo from Scott Base, over the hill and north up the coast, about two thirds of the distance to Cape Royds.

The Cape Evans camp is about 200m from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, which is currently covered in large snow drifts: my job next week will be to clear all of that snow. The beach is gently sloping and reaches the sea ice which continues for as far as the eye can see. Emperor penguins wander in groups. I sat on the sea ice and they came right up and investigated. An amazing experience. They are a large bird, standing as high as me sitting. The penguin experts say these penguins are likely to have failed raising chicks or breading. So seeing the penguins is a bit sad having heard that. As we departed, Henry Worsley and his team landed in a Twin-Otter to begin their expedition to the pole. An interesting expedition for you to Google if interested.

The tools, fuel drums and generators were loaded in a fashion so the cargo net would pick it up evenly. Finally bed at 2am, then back up working again at 6am. We packed the remaining gear and the helo arrived as the wind died down. It took the rock drill back to Scott Base for repairs and returned to load the sling and us to Cape Royds where we met the others and began the mammoth task of setting up camp. Pegs had to be put in with the rock drill, through the concrete-like permafrost.

This is an amazing and quite intense place. A rocky volcanic cape, stripped of snow. An Adelie penguin colony is 400m away. The chicks are hatching now. An American research team is camping up the hill. They take pictures of particular nests daily which can be viewed here . A webcam scans the colony and uploads that daily. We camp in a small gully. A comparatively large tent contains the kitchen and mess area which has a diesel heater then we have individual Scott polar tents to sleep in and house all our personal gear. The mess tent is tight with 6 in it but space management is improving. Shackleton’s hut is 100m down the hill. Mt Erebus is to the SE and is an amazing sight.

A typical day, Monday through to Saturday starts with breakfast at 7am then a briefing at 7:30 to go over the day’s tasks, health and safety and any other issues. First lunch is at 11am which is generally cheese, crackers, salami and hot drinks. Second lunch is at 3pm and is more substantial, often pasta. Finally tea is at 7pm when we knock off. We eat well but the food is basic. Stir frys and pasta dishes are common. I am normally ready for bed by 10. Sunday mornings deal with the record keeping of the project and planning. We get Sunday afternoons off to go for a walk, sleep, read, clean etc. It is looked forward to. Domestic chores are a challenge here. All water is melted from snow and a lot of snow makes not much water. Waste solids are packaged and returned to Scott Base for recycling or processing, and we have a permit to dispose of our small amounts of grey water and urine directly into the sea.

We communicate with Scott Base twice a day. This passes on any important information like weather and political poll results. We have a sat phone which can be used to make calls but it is expensive and sometimes difficult to use. Luckily I brought a small 12V battery down which is connected to a small solar panel to provide a bit of power to charge cameras and radios which is handy.

The project is interesting. Shackleton’s hut is amazing. It is like a snap shot in time, the smell is strong and the items as they were left. There is an eerie light inside from the windows, it is cold and very quiet. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to visit and spend three weeks here. The Antarctic Heritage Trust began conservation work at Shackleton’s hut in 2005, and this year marks the final year of work at this site. Meanwhile conservation work continues at Scott’s Terra Nova hut, Cape Evans (where we head to next week), with conservation plans written for Discovery Hut and Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare.

The first day was spent clearing snow then carrying all the artefacts and gear to the hut. A lot of items are going back to the hut which have been away for some time being conserved. The main items are the Venesta boxes, of which there are several hundred . Most are now in their final resting place. The artefacts inside are amazing. It is interesting working out what the foods inside are. In some of the boxes there is perfectly white flour.

The weather has been clear the last few weeks but it is always, with the exception of a few hours, windy. Consistently 20 knots gusting 30. Not particularly cold, -10 to -4, but the wind chill is the killer. Exposed skin is vulnerable to frostnip. When it is calm, it is an entirely different place. We walk to the edge of the cape and watch the Adelie colony and see the wandering Emperors. The open water can be seen further to the north. The Trans-Antarctic Mountains are across the sound. Scott Base is to the south over the hill on Pram Point, the most southern point of Ross Island. The cloud formations are amazing down here and they change so quickly. Photography is easy as there is so much to look at.

Last night the American Penguin Researchers came for tea which was nice. They have a satellite internet link which they have let me use to upload this. Otherwise a blog would have to travel by disc which gets sent on the next helo flight, and these only occur every few weeks. It gets to Scott Base, waits for the next US flight then ends up in Chch to be uploaded. At this stage we may be going back to Scott Base to vote but if not it will be the end of January before my next shower.

Next update December.

more images at


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your blog. Your geographical descriptions are the most informative I have found. It's very difficult to even find Cape Royds on maps. I am looking for info on the man for whom it is named. Thank you for your report.

Shellie ROYDS

How to Travel to Antarctica said...

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