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 beApsley 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!