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.


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?


The Winter Journey: Part I

A New and Bold Venture

Winter Journey Sledge Weights
Expendable Storeslbs
‘Antarctic’ biscuit135
3 cases for same12
Spare parts for primus, and matches2
Toilet Paper2
The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 223
Permanent Weightslbs
2 9-ft sledges, 41 lbs. each82
1 Cooker complete13
2 Primus filled with oil8
1 Double tent complete35
1 Sledging shovel3.5
3 Reindeer sleeping bags, 12 lbs. each36
3 Eider-down sleeping-bag linings, 4 lbs. each12
1 Alpine rope5
1 Bosun’s bag and 1 Bonsa outfit (repairing material and tools)5
3 personal bags, 15 lbs. each45
Lamp box with knives and steel21
Medical and scientific box40
2 ice axes, 3 lbs. each6
3 Man-harnesses3
3 Portaging harnesses3
Cloth for making roof and door for stone igloo24
Instrument box7
3 pairs skis and sticks (discarded before departure)33
1 Pickaxe11
3 Crampons, 2 lbs. 3 oz. each6.5
2 Bamboos for measuring tide if possible4
2 Male bamboos4
1 plank to form top of door of igloo2
1 Bag sennegrass1
6 Small female bamboo ends and 1 knife4
The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 224

The three men of the Crozier party stepped off into the darkness from Cape Evans around 11 a.m. on June 27th, 1911 hauling two sledges bearing approximately 757 lbs. of gear (ski gear was left behind at the last moment). The men were not able to fit all of the supplies on a single 12-ft sledge, and so opted to bring two 9-ft sledges. At first, the men were assisted by 5 other members of the Terra Nova Expedition, boosting them through the hummocky sea ice near the Erebus Glacier Tongue before turning back. The first partial weather observation was taken at 13:15, near the edge of the glacier tongue:

Off Glacier Tongue

Temperature: -14.5°F (-25.8°C)

Remarks: Breeze came away from E, Force 3-4

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

At this point, Apsley Cherry-Garrard noted that his sweat was already starting to freeze within his clothing. After the men pulled for another mile, they stopped and pitched camp for lunch at 14:30. This was the first time the men would set up camp in the dark, and Cherry-Garrard referred to the experience as an “education.” All three of the men were experienced sledge travelers, but none had yet had the distinct pleasure of pitching camp in total darkness with a stiff breeze in their faces. Another issue that would plague the men in the weeks to come also presented itself during this first lunch camp – the accumulation of ice in the tent. The act of cooking released a significant amount of water vapor, which would then freeze along the interior liner of the tent. As Dr. Wilson noted in his journal:

The lowest third of our tent, as a matter of fact, became badly iced up, but the upper parts we managed to keep clear of ice.

Diary of the ‘Terra Nova’ Expedition to the Antarctic 1910~1912

In addition to the enormous weight the men were already pulling with their supplies, the weight of accumulating ice was something they would also have to contend with. The men would later encounter additional trouble with the accumulating ice, but that is for later posts in this series.

After removing as much ice as they could from the interior of the tent, the men struck camp at 16:00 and got back in harness. After pulling for another 3 miles, the men decided to pitch camp for the night in the shadow of Castle Rock. At 21:30, Birdie Bowers took a full weather observation:

Position: Camp 1

Miles Made Good: 9.75

Temperature: -15°F (-26.1°C)

Wind Direction: ESE

Wind Speed: Force 5 (17-21 knots)

Wind Chill: -44°F (-42.2°C)

Sky: Clear

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

That the men managed to pull 757 lbs. almost 10 miles in complete darkness was a feat in itself. The men did not know it yet, but this would be their best sledging effort with respect to mileage until the last day of the journey.

Crozier Party Progress after Day 1

The Winter Journey

The Cape Crozier Party before their departure from Cape Evans From left to right (Henry “Birdie” Bowers, Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson, Apsley Cherry-Garrard) (Image Credit: Popperfoto/Getty)

On June 27th, 1911, three men set out into the polar darkness from Cape Evans on the windswept western shore of Ross Island, Antarctica. Behind them, the men dragged two 9-foot wooden sledges laden with 757 pounds of food and supplies – an average of 252 pounds per man. Their destination? The Emperor penguin rookery located at Cape Crozier on the far eastern end of Ross Island, a 70 mile trek.

Why undertake such a journey in the heart of the Antarctic winter? Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson, FZS, a veteran of Scott’s Discovery Expedition and leader of the party, had noticed that Emperor chicks were present at the Crozier rookery in September during his Discovery days. The Emperor penguin was considered to be the most primitive species of bird during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and Dr. Wilson hoped that obtaining Emperor embryos and eggs in early stages of development would provide the missing link between reptiles and birds. As such, the men sledged out into the cold in what one member of the party described as:

The weirdest bird’s nesting expedition that has ever been or ever will be

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World

I’ve been fascinated with the stories of the men of the Terra Nova Expedition since my first deployment to McMurdo Station in 2012. The story of the Winter Journey resonated with me…I felt an almost personal connection with their story after exploring the expedition huts that were left behind. The Winter Journey is not only an epic story of survival in the face of insurmountable odds and immeasurable suffering, but a testament to the bonds of friendship and the perseverance of the human spirit. That these men managed to survive unimaginably cold temperatures and brutal sledging conditions is nothing short of inspiring.

As a lifelong weather nerd and former Antarctic meteorologist, I was thrilled when I obtained a copy of the meteorological registers for the Terra Nova Expedition. Naturally, the first set of observations I looked up were those from The Winter Journey. I wanted to see just how cold the overnight temperatures were in the Windless Bight and how strong the gales were that raked the stone hut at Cape Crozier. As I pored over the daily records and journal entries from the Cape Crozier party, the idea behind this series of blog posts was born.

From June 27th to August 1st, I plan to post daily updates detailing the progress of the men and the weather conditions they faced to commemorate the 109th anniversary of their sojourn. I will also post the current conditions from the Ross Island region. I wanted to share the story of these men as they experienced it, as well as provide some meteorological context and background as well.

I hope you all find the story as inspiring and interesting as I do!


Bio General

About the Author

I’ve always been fascinated by the weather. As a child, I spent many an hour watching The Weather Channel (yes, they actually talked about the weather on-air back then) and anxiously awaiting every thunderstorm or winter weather event that impacted the greater Charlotte, NC area. My interest in hurricanes grew as well, especially after listening to my grandparents tell stories about the infamous Hugo.

I joined the military right out of high school in 2003, and I was thrilled when I learned my ASVAB scores allowed me to choose my desired job of Weather Apprentice, fulfilling a lifelong dream of working the field of meteorology. After my technical training, I spent time forecasting the weather for the southeastern United States, Southwest Asia, and Korea. I left the military in 2012 and took a job as a contractor providing meteorological services to the United States Antarctic Program.

I found that forecasting the weather in Antarctica was the most challenging and rewarding assignment in my career. I spent countless hours reading scientific journals and looking at data in order to hone my skills, and I loved every minute of it. I felt a certain sense of accomplishment every time an aircraft delivered fuel, cargo, and scientists to a remote field camp, knowing that it was supporting important research.

After seven years and four deployments to “The Ice,” life circumstances necessitated a more stable home environment for me and my children. I traded in my parka for a pair of Dockers and now work as an analyst at an IT company. I started the Antarctic Weather Blog as a way to stay connected to my passion and to share the wonders of Antarctica with the world.

Feel free to drop me a line at my Twitter page @AntarcticWx

“Antarctica has this mythic weight. It resides in the collective unconscious of so many people, and it makes this huge impact, just like outer space. It’s like going to the moon.”

Jon Krakauer