Discovering the hut

A valuable piece of history sits on a windy prominence within view of McMurdo. Discovery Hut was built in 1902 during the Discovery Expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. What is now known as Hut Point is only a 10-minute walk from base.

On Saturday, it was open for tours. As a lovely Christmas gift from my boss, my shift members and I were let off an our early to make sure we got to go see the Hut.

The Hut is designated a historic site by the Antarctic Treaty and is managed by a preservation group from New Zealand. The group only allows 2,000 people to enter the Hut each year. That includes multiple visits by the same person, so tour guides count each time they enter. To be able to visit the Hut before it’s closed to the public each year is a rare opportunity.

The Hut is a pre-fab design purchased in Australia and was designed to be an outback cabin which would keep the interior cool during the blazing summers in Australia. That said, it is usually colder inside the cabin than it is just outside.

Scott originally used the cabin as storage while the crew lived on their vessel just off shore. It was used as an emergency shelter a few times in the first few decades, but only for a few months at a time.

Now, the Hut is kept as a museum. There are many, many tins of leftover food. The expeditioners did not understand nutrition, so they many brought carbs for sustenance. When the carbs turned out not to be enough protein, fat or nutrients, they resorted to eating seal blubber and dogs and horses that died of their own malnutrition or exposure. Many of the expeditioners got scurvy. Some died from a vitamin A overdose from eating dog liver.

The Hut still smells like the seal blubber that has been hanging out in there for 100 years. Kind of fishy, kind of fatty, but overwhelming when you first walk in.

The cabin is dark because of the five-foot-deep veranda around the outside. Again, a nice feature for the Australian outback, but dark and cold for Antarctica.

A group of five men were stranded at the hut from March to July, 1917, during one of Shackleton’s expeditions. Rather than go outside to defecate, they cut a hole in the floor of a smaller room where crews in the past had butchered seals. The poo hole is still there.

While it was really interesting to learn about the history of the Hut and see it and smell it, I was glad to be able to step back outside into 2015 and the amenities of McMurdo. It was a windy walk back to base, but the hot chocolate, heated buildings and electricity were nice and welcoming.

This supply box was from Scott's expedition from 1910.
This supply box was from Scott’s expedition from 1910.
Here's a tin of Ginger Nuts, which are still popular in New Zealand.
Here’s a tin of Ginger Nuts, which are still popular in New Zealand.
Me in Discovery Hut by the one window that let in light.
Me in Discovery Hut by the one window that let in light. Behind me is a seal blubber stove and walls made of hung canvas and boxes. One group that stayed here built the wall because the other side of the cabin was full of snow and ice thanks to a broken window.

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