Education

On the Ice With Education Week, Page 3

By David J. Hoff — January 11, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Assistant Editor David J. Hoff and Photo Editor Allison Shelley are filing periodic travel dispatches from Antarctica, where they are on assignment covering a National Science Foundation program for teachers. Here Mr. Hoff tours a historic explorers’ hut that calls up images and stories of the “heroic age” of treacherous South Pole expeditions.

McMurdo Research Station (Jan. 11)—If you walk less than half a mile from this site, one of the beacons of 21st-century scientific research, you can step into a building for a glimpse of life nearly 100 years ago.

The author takes a minute to reflect inside of Scott Hut.
—Allison Shelley

Around the bend of McMurdo Sound is a hut used by four expeditions of explorers dating back to 1902. Inside, you can smell the residue of burned seal oil, see the tins of leftover English biscuits, and read the graffiti drawn by the British explorers who used this area as their base camps for their attempts to reach the South Pole, 800 miles away.

The hut may be the most important relic of the Heroic Age, the period when explorers competed to reach the South Pole.

“It’s possibly one of the most famous places in the history of exploration,” says Donal T. Manahan, the dean of research at the University of Southern California. Manahan, a biologist by training, is one of the many scientists who have studied the history of the area that is the center of the U.S. Antarctic research program today. “It paved the way for the discovery of the South Pole,” he says.

Members of Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition—the first attempt to reach the South Pole—built the hut when they arrived in the sound in 1902. The Discovery crew built the hut, which looks like a shed, as a storage facility, and occasionally created a stage for amateur theatrical productions presented as entertainment during winter nights. It also had a small room to the left of the entrance where early biological research on penguins was conducted. The dry and cold Antarctic air has preserved some of those bones.

Members of a Quark Expeditions Antarctic cruise visit Vince Cross, at Hut Point as their ship waits for them in McMurdo Sound.
—Allison Shelley

Because the Discovery was frozen into the ice over the winter, the ship’s crew usually slept aboard ship. During their stay in the area, one of the ship’s seamen slipped near the hut in the winter darkness and slid down a hill into the sea ice. A cross commemorating his death stands overlooking the shelter.

Three other expeditions relied on the hut over the next 15 years. In 1907, Ernest Shackleton—an officer on the Discovery voyage—returned to McMurdo Sound for his own endeavor to reach the South Pole. Shackleton built his own hut closer to the sea because the sound remained frozen in the summer.

Shackleton and his crew on the Nimrod stored supplies in the Discovery hut and occasionally slept there if an exploring party needed emergency shelter. In the annex, a member of his team carved the name of the ship into the floor.

Scott returned in 1910 for his second effort to reach the South Pole. He built another shelter farther out. At his original hut, he stabled ponies on the porch, and the expedition’s scientists used it for their laboratories.

Scott and a party of four of his men reached the South Pole in 1912, but all died on the return. The men awaiting them built a memorial cross and erected it past the Discovery hut at the top of the hill that overlooks the McMurdo Research Station.

Shackleton’s men used the hut again, starting in 1915. While Shackleton led a party to the other side of the continent, he sent the crew to McMurdo Sound. He assigned them to march inland and store supplies for his transcontinental journey. One day, while anchored near the Discovery hut, the ship broke away from its anchor, stranding 10 sailors on land.

The 10 sailors completed their mission; little did they know that they didn’t need to. Shackleton’s crossing party was mired in sea ice and never managed to reach the shore. Every man accompanying Shackleton was rescued in one of the most challenging survival stories ever told.

Seven of the stranded men survived by living in the hut for almost two years. One died of scurvy, and the others set off to find their ship, the Aurora, by marching across the sea ice. They never made it.

The evidence of the Aurora survivors is mostly what I see when I tour the hut today. Seal carcasses are still strewn on the floor. Slabs of blubber used to light the lamps are oozing onto the floor. The stoves built from emptied food tins have small streams of oil sliding down them at the pace of a glacier.

Scott Hut, assembled in 1902 during Robert Scott’s first Antarctic expedition.
—Allison Shelley

Most of the unopened tins state their contents: Hunter’s Famed Oatmeal, Fry’s Pure Concentrated Cocoa, Bird’s Baking Power Absolutely Pure. I wonder what I’d find if I opened one. The rails of the front porch are dented where Scott’s ponies gnawed while tied there.

The hut is a better reminder of the explorers and their hardships than the crosses erected for the dead. Those kinds of markers can be seen in any cemetery or memorial.

In the small, square shelter, I get a sense that people lived here through harsher weather than I experience today, and without the waterproof and windproof clothes I wear in McMurdo. Somehow—I don’t know how—most of them survived.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP