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The Winter Journey: Part II

A Very Keen Wind

After the first day, the Crozier Party managed to pull their sledges almost 10 miles out onto the sea ice and set up camp along the western side of Hut Point Peninsula. Now the really hard work begins….let’s check in and see how the weather was on the morning of June 28th, 1911

Position: Camp 1

Time: 07:45

Temperature: -24°F (-31.1°C)

Wind Direction: SW

Wind Force (Beaufort): 1 (1-3 knots)

Wind Chill: -35°C (-37.2°C)

Sky Condition: Mostly Cloudy w/ cirrostratus

Overnight Minimum Temperature: -25.5°F (-31.9°C)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69

After striking camp, the men continued to pull southward over a rough sea ice surface, only managing a 1 m.p.h. pace. The party reached Hut Point around 13:30, and stopped to have lunch at the eponymous Discovery Hut.

Scott’s Discovery Hut

After lunch, the men set out to the southeast in a -26°F (-32.2°C) temperature and rounded Cape Armitage (the southernmost point of Ross Island), enjoying what Cherry-Garrard described as “the only good bit of good pulling we were to have.” After two miles of sledging, the men encountered the edge of the McMurdo Ice Shelf. The sea ice surrounding Hut Point Peninsula had largely broken out near Cape Armitage in the previous autumn, giving the ice shelf edge a cliff like appearance. In a rare stroke of good luck for the men during this journey, they were able to find a snowdrift slope up to the top of the shelf fairly quickly.

However, this stroke of good luck was soon tempered by a painful setback for Cherry-Garrard:

We had therefore had to find a place where the snow had formed a drift. This we came right up against and met quite suddenly a very keen wind flowing, as it always does, from the cold Barrier down to the comparatively warm sea-ice. The temperature was -47°F (-43.9°C), and I was a fool to take my hands out of my mitts to haul on the ropes to bring the sledges up. I started away from the Barrier edge with all ten fingers frost-bitten.

The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 229

Ouch. Only two days in to what is supposed to be a six week journey and one of the party member’s hands are already stricken with frostbite. After hauling the sledges up on to the ice shelf, the men were able to tack on another half mile of pulling before pitching camp for the night. As the men settled in for the night and finished dinner, Birdie Bowers recorded the following observation in the meteorological log:

Position: Camp 2 (17 miles from Cape Evans)

Time: 21:10

Miles Made Good: 7.25

Temperature: -46.5°F (-43.6°C)

Wind Direction/Force: Calm

Sky Condition: Partly Cloudy w/ cirrostratus

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69
Crozier Party progress after two days sledging

Within a few hours of pitching camp, painful blisters developed on each of Cherry-Garrard’s frostbitten fingers; the Antarctic has a way of extracting a heavy toll for even small mistakes.

Commentary

Even though the men encountered some rough surfaces and rapidly dropping temperatures, they still managed to turn in a respectable 7.25 miles of pulling. The sudden drop in temperatures was not out of the norm, however. There is almost always a fairly pronounced temperature gradient that exists from the eastern side of Hut Point Peninsula to the western side. I’ve observed a gradient on the scale of 10-15°C quite frequently during the Antarctic spring. A modeled surface temperature chart produced by the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) illustrates this temperature gradient quite nicely.

AMPS WRF 0.89km Resolution Surface Temperature Chart. Red star denotes approximate location of Camp 2; yellow star denotes approximate location of the Discovery Hut.

As seen in the chart, there is approximately a 10°C gradient from Camp 2 to Hut Point, with even colder air located further east on the Ross Ice Shelf. How do conditions today stack up against those recorded in 1911? The closest automatic weather station (Willie Field) reported a minimum temperature of -34.2°C (-29.6°F) before rapid warming occurred with a storm sweeping across the Ross Island region. Current wind speeds at Willie Field are ranging from 35-40 knots, with the temperature hovering at -17.6°C (0°F) – an increase of 30+°F in just a few hours! The unique combination of orography, temperature gradients, and localize wind patterns make forecasting in the greater McMurdo/Hut Point Peninsula region a vexing endeavor at times.

Tonight’s post was powered by music from amiinA and Julie Fowlis…definitely helped me get in a groove!

Tune in tomorrow as the Crozier party really starts to feel the cold…but just how cold did it get?

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