Sunday, October 31, 1999

A trip back in time

Published in the Antarctic Sun

A small prefabricated wooden house, built on the coast of Ross Island, home for several Antarctic explorers over a couple of winters. No, not the lowercase dorms, but the Cape Evans hut.

The hut was used by two expeditions to the Antarctic. It was built by Captain Robert Scott’s 1910-1912 expedition to the South Pole. The building itself, built from pre-constructed parts, was erected in two weeks.

The hut was a base for groups to lay supply depots on Scott’s planned route to the Pole. They also explored the coast of Antarctica. On May 13, 1911, the group settled down in the hut for the winter.

That winter the hut was the base for the winter trek to Cape Crozier to get emperor penguin eggs for research. That voyage, covering 130 miles over 36 days, became an ordeal written about by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in his book “The Worst Journey in the World.”

The three men, Cherry-Garrard, “Birdie” Bowers, and Bill Wilson, man-hauled sledges 65 miles across sea ice and the Ross Ice Shelf to a penguin rookery, freezing and starving most of the way.

After retrieving six penguin eggs and killing several penguins for food, the men broke three of the eggs on the precarious return to their camp at Cape Crozier.

It was a trip of which Cherry-Garrard wrote, “We on this journey were already beginning to think of death as a friend.”

But it got worse, and they weren’t dead. A storm blew away their tent, wrecked their stone shelter, and nearly killed them. After the storm, they were lucky enough to find their tent—their only shelter for the return journey. They regularly fell asleep while walking back, frozen and exhausted. Their clothes froze solid, making movement difficult; upon their return to the Cape Evans hut, their clothes were cut off them, too frozen to remove normally.

The three remaining penguin eggs survived the journey to Britain, where they languished in obscurity, useless to science and lost to archivists of polar curiosities.

A later party also used the Cape Evans hut: part of Shackleton’s famous failed expedition. While the leader and his men were stuck in the Weddell Sea, another group was supposed to lay supply caches between the Pole and Ross Island. They were unable to find a safe place to winter elsewhere on Ross Island, so they used the Cape Evans hut. They thought they had secured the ship carefully for winter, using two anchors and seven steel cables to hold it securely in place.

They began to off-load the ship, leaving the main part of the stores on board. Before many supplies could be put ashore, though, a huge storm kicked up and blew the ship out to sea, stranding 10 men on Ross Island—four at Cape Evans, and six at Hut Point. The rest of the group were still on the ship.

The 10 men on the island soon joined forces and began to improvise for the winter. Fortunately for them, Scott’s expedition had left a lot of basic stores, like flour. They made clothes out of canvas tents, and began to lay supply depots, unaware of the disaster befalling Shackleton and the others a continent away. Survival was by luck; during the setting up of supply caches, two men became unable to walk, and the others were so weak they only made headway when there was a powerful wind at their backs.

Upon their rescue in January 1917, they discovered that the world had “changed almost beyond recognition” between their last word from the outside, in December 1914.

To find out about trips to Cape Evans, call the Recreation department at 2443.

Highway 1 revisited

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Steve Bruce has been coordinating the renovations to McMurdo Station’s Building 155 since the beginning of February. Tomorrow, the day the new offices will be repopulated, Steve is leaving town.

He leaves behind a major section of the million-plus dollar project, complete except for the finishing touches. The renovation work will continue during next winter, and extend into other parts of the building.

Though the improvements to Highway 1—McMurdo’s busiest hallway— are obvious to anyone who saw the area before last winter, a lot of the changes affect more than the appearance.

Mark Neeley, the head of engineering at McMurdo, is quick to note other improvements. “There’s probably at least that much work that you don’t see.”

The work was part of an effort to bring Building 155 up to par with modern construction standards. It was built by the Navy in the late 1960s. “This building’s been here a while,” Neeley said. “Bringing a building like this up to existing codes is really a task.”

The first stage of renovations saw improvements to the kitchen’s food preparation area. The second phase, gutting Highway 1 and redoing it entirely, was this winter’s work, along with the kitchen’s dry storage, and freezer units, including refrigeration compressors.

The changes provide a laundry room, new computer training room, new barber shop, and increased office and storage space. It also makes the hallway more spacious and offers what
Bruce called “parka parking,” as well as a handwash station for people to use before meals.

“Very nice,” said the first new occupant of Highway 1, hairstylist Kim Fabre. “We’ve made it a little bit our own here with the palm tree,” she said, referring to the decorations already up in her shop.

“The walls are brighter,” said recreation coordinator Liz Evenson. Housing is enthusiastic, too. “It’s going to be wonderful,” said Heidi Kampe.

A large part of the work involved the infrastructure and building code changes. Plumbing was torn out and redone, as was almost all of the electrical wiring. Walls were replaced with more
durable, as well as more fire-resistant, material.

“This was half of the job—maybe the larger half,” Bruce said. And it wasn’t the only thing happening in town.

“We had quite a bit of work going on this winter outside of this project,” Neeley said, mentioning as an example the new Cape Roberts core storage facility in Crary Lab.

Over a dozen workers took part in the winter project, organizing and using materials delivered on the supply ship Greenwave in February. The staging area was in a small building called the Playhouse.

“We don’t have a good large warehouse where you can store stuff,” Bruce explained.

Major changes are in the works for the serving and eating areas of the galley next winter, too. The plan is to open out the seating area to the exterior walls, add windows along the walls, and put in a cathedral ceiling—including skylights.

Bruce is happy with the way things went over the winter, and is looking forward to his departure for warmer climes.

“A good thanks to all the hands that worked on it,” he said.

Sunday, October 24, 1999

Forrest's Path

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Those crystal-clear blue eyes. They’re the first thing you notice when Forrest McCarthy sits down in front of a group to give his opening lecture at the Field Safety Training Program. One-on-one, they lock on to you and never let go, like a visionary to a dream.

It’s been a long journey, through Boy Scouting, on road trips as a Deadhead after high school, on rock climbs in Colorado, treks in Nepal, and beyond. Forrest lives the dream, and made it back to the Ice this season after three years away.

Recently, he helped start a program to prevent drug and alcohol addiction among Inuit youth near Nome, Alaska. “The white guy from Wyoming was taking the Eskimos into the wilderness,” Forrest laughed. He even got to make the Eskimos do Eskimo rolls while teaching them to kayak, a traditional Eskimo skill which has been lost over the past couple of generations.

He said they were enthusiastic learners, but they had some wisdom to impart of their own. “My background is ‘leave no trace,’” he said, “and these people have been part of the ecosystem for thousands of years.” Modern backcountry methods weren’t the norm for his students.

“I’d tell them to filter their water, and they’d just look at me. They’d been drinking it all along,” he said.

Forrest has been drinking the water of Antarctic lore for years now. “I remember asking my mother if all deserts were hot, and she found an article in the encyclopedia on the Dry Valleys.” He was about 5 years old at the time, and ever since, has been interested in Antarctica.

Over the years he learned more, getting a big picture book for Christmas the year he was 10, and, later, meeting clients in the Tetons who had been grantees on the Ice. He even met Buck Tilly, a longtime sea ice safety instructor, who helped Forrest get an interview for the position at FSTP.

He didn’t come back after that first season, choosing instead to finish his college degree in outdoor education with a minor in human ecology. But his return now, older and perhaps a bit wiser, gives him a rare perspective on changes around McMurdo.

The Field Safety program has a bigger role now, he said. “No one goes out in the field, except maybe the National Guard, without going through training.”

Also, he finds that people and offices throughout the U.S. program are using the expertise of the Field Safety staff more, for planning routes over sea ice, or scouting potential deep-field landing sites. “We’re being used more as a resource,” he said.

But Forrest is not just a nice guy who teaches you how to get along in the cold. A member of the search-and-rescue team, he’s one of the people who will show up in a tracked Hägglunds vehicle in whiteout conditions, pick you up from your feeble snow shelter, and get you warm and dry and home in bed.

One day a week, Forrest and his colleagues on the SAR team train. They alternate between practicing scenarios with the primary team and helping to prepare the secondary team for the winter, when they become the primary team.

There’s more high-tech gear available to them now, and more experience with the equipment, which Forrest said leads to better training. He’s very happy with the capabilities of the new SAR vehicle, a Hägglunds outfitted with GPS and radio direction-finding equipment, but warns against feeling overly confident in bad conditions just because there’s a great rescue team with good equipment.

“It’s an incredibly powerful tool, but it shouldn’t be a crutch,” he said. It’s a lot like your town’s first aid squad getting the Jaws of Life: You don’t drive faster and more recklessly just because they can get you out of the wreck when it happens. Forrest encourages safety, and he teaches people how to practice it in the outdoors.

He does so by combining the best outdoor-equipment technology with traditional skills, choosing FDX boots, the government-issue boot modeled on the Eskimo mukluk, and building snow-dome huts with lightweight snow shovels.

Every so often it goes a bit far: At McMurdo Dome, he said, “We made an igloo once cutting the snow blocks with chainsaws.”

His Antarctic experience, while broader than most, is still limited to the official U.S. Antarctic Program. He’s never done any commercial expeditions in Antarctica, but has a client who hopes to climb Mount Vinson, the continent’s highest peak. Maybe Forrest will get to help with that trip.

Antarctica’s a tough environment in which to live and work, but Forrest still said, “I truly believe the world would be a better place if more people got outside.” He helps make it possible for that to happen safely, even here.

High society, Antarctica style: Wine tasting draws connoisseurs to Coffee House

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Vivaldi was on the stereo. Golden light glowed on the polished wooden walls. The McMurdo Coffee House was warm with cheer and conversation over wine Thursday evening. The recreation department sponsored a wine tasting of six “regional” wines: Australia and New Zealand have excellent wine-producing regions which supplied the evening’s beverage samples.

“Six wines to go!” cried one eager taster before walking up to the first of six tables.

All the wines found fans in the group, who happily held out their plastic wine glasses for more. The wine tasting itself won great fans.

According to an enthusiastic Coloradan who called himself simply Kyu, “You have to have certain things that keep you in touch with the outside world.” His favorite was the Church Road Cabernet Merlot, a New Zealand red wine. “I wish they had more wines, so they could do this every week.”

The old Quonset hut, the type used during the Korean War, was jammed with people taking advantage of the free wine, as well as the shop-price bottles available only during
the tasting.

Even a soon-to-depart McMurdo winterer braved the crowd for some quality wine. Liz Muck, from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is a Merlot fan whose favorite among the evening’s selection was the Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon, though she also liked the Delgats Reserve Merlot. She said she was a bit intimidated by the number of people, but was glad she’d come.

“It’s a very good idea,” said Christine Foreman, a Dry Valleys research grantee from Toledo, Ohio.

Another fan agreed: “I think it’s a great idea; I love wine,” said Kenda Andersen, a construction general assistant from Montana.

“It’s fun opportunity for a new person to meet everyone,” said Vicky Miles, a recreation finance clerk from Denver. She didn’t taste all the wines, but while she was busy serving samples, she overheard lots of comments about the wines, among which there was no clear winner. “There was no consensus among the tasters,” she said.

Bill McCormick, from the Field Safety Training Program, liked the Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz. The wine tasting gave him hope for McMurdo’s future. Remembering that the wine bar was to be torn down for lack of use a few years ago, he said, “I toast the actual place itself.”

Cold Hard Facts

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Captain John Davis, aboard the Huron out of New Haven, Connecticut, may have made the first landing on Antarctica at Hughes Bay, on the Antarctic Peninsula, on February 7, 1821, on a sealing trip. The next known landing on the continent was at Cape Adare in Victoria Land on January 18, 1895, 74 years later.

Jules Dumont d’Urville, in addition to exploring the coast of Antarctica, discovered the statue Venus de Milo and brought it to France.

The South Magnetic Pole was east of Ross Island in 1600. It has moved roughly northwest at the rate of 6-9 miles per year, and is now in the Dumont d’Urville Sea.

The first people to winter on the Ice were in a British-funded team under the leadership of Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink, a Norwegian. The 10 men(three British, five Norwegian, and two
Finns) lived in two huts (called Camp Ridley) at the base of Cape Adare from March 1899 to January 1900.

On March 12, 1842, the Erebus and the Terror, James Clark Ross’s ships, collided in a storm in a field of icebergs, crippling the Erebus. Three days later, both ships were repaired enough to continue the voyage.

Robert Falcon Scott’s first voyage to the Antarctic, in 1901-1904, began poorly: The expedition’s ship, Discovery, was found to be leaking on the voyage from Britain to New Zealand.

The first newspaper on Antarctica was the South Polar Times, published by Scott’s expedition each month. Ernest Shackleton was the editor and printer. Submissions were solicited from
all members of the group.

Source: Antarctica: The Extraordinary History of Man’s Conquest of the Frozen Continent
(New York: Reader’s Digest, 1988).