HISTORIC SITES IN AND AROUND MCMURDO STATION
by National Science Foundation
The highest point on Ross Island is Mt. Erebus at 3,794 meters. The largest active volcano on the antarctic continent, it is almost always observed with a cloud of vapor issuing from its large summit crater. Within the volcano's large, outer crater is a deep inner crater; this inner crater contains an active convecting lava lake. The lake, which was discovered in 1972, has varied in size and position within the summit crater. The summit of Erebus was first reached in 1908 by five members of the Shackleton Expedition, who hauled sledges from the hut at Cape Evans up the slopes of the volcano. The ascent up the steep slope and over crevassed ice took 5 days during which high winds prevailed at the upper altitudes.
Winter Quarters Bay.
The bay is the deep water harbor used annually by cargo vessels and tankers bringing supplies to McMurdo Station. The ships are preceded to the bay by U.S. Coast icebreakers that break and push aside the softening ice of McMurdo Sound during early January. The wharf is made of a readily-available local building material--ice. Tourist ships have entered the bay for brief visits when ice conditions allowed.
In January 1902, the British Royal Navy's Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew of 50 men arrived aboard the 700-ton vessel Discovery. During this expedition, Scott's party built the "Discovery Hut" (often called Scott's Hut) near the site of McMurdo Station as a land base for sledging treks on the island and onto the ice shelf. Scott also named many prominent features including Mt. Discovery and the Royal Society Range (for his sponsors). An attempt to reach the South Pole by sledge accomplished a farthest south of 82o71' on 30 December 1902. Before the polar attempt, a three-man party made a 6-week mid-winter sledging journey around the south side of Ross Island to Cape Crozier to collect emperor penguin eggs.
The next occupants of the "Discovery Hut" were Ernest Shackleton and three companions in 1909. In 1907 Shackleton arrived aboard the Nimrod at the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf to begin an expedition to the South Pole. Decided this location was too dangerous for the approach, Shackleton sailed further south. On 3 February 1908, he landed at the Cape Royds where he built his base. After an exhausting man-hauling sledge journey of 17 weeks that included discovery and ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, he and his three companions came within 97 nautical miles of the Pole; to have gone farther with their depleted rations would have meant death on the return trek. They returned to the "Discovery Hut", barely reaching the site in time to catch the Nimrod on 1 March 1909 as it prepared for the return to England.
Scott returned to McMurdo Sound in January 1911. Unable to get to his former base at Hut Point because of the ice pack, he landed at a point 20 kilometers to the north, which he named Cape Evans in honor of his second- in-command. The objective of his expedition was again both scientific and to reach the Pole. During this expedition (British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913), the "Discovery Hut" served as a supply depot for the journey south. An advance sledging party placed supply depots along the way, as far as the polar plateau beyond the head of the Beardmore Glacier. Shetland ponies and Siberian huskies were used during the first half of the journey. One by one, the ponies were shot and used for meat for the dogs and men. The journey was completed by man-hauling the sledges. After 2-1/2 months, they reached the Pole on 18 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen's party had preceded them by more than a month.
Vince's Cross and Our Lady of the Snows Shrine.
Immediately above Scott's Hut on a small knoll overlooking the bay is Vince's Cross, a wooden cross erected in 1902 to commemorate Seaman George T. Vince, the first man to lose his life in McMurdo Sound, following a fall into the water from a steep, icy slope nearby during a blizzard. Also above the hut is the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine, a madonna statue that com- memorates Richard T. Williams, a Seabee tractor driver who drowned off Cape Royds in January 1956 when his 30- ton tractor broke through the sea ice. Near this shrine is a monument erected to commemorate Raymond T. Smith, a Navy petty officer killed during a ship unloading accident at McMurdo in February, 1982.
Raymond Smith Monument.
A steep-sided, 228-meter volcanic knoll reached by a 20- to 30-minute climb above McMurdo, Observation Hill offers a splendid panorama. At the top, a large 3-meter- high cross of jarrah wood erected in 1913 commemorates Scott and his polar party. Halfway up the hill are buildings of the nuclear power plant constructed in 1961 and used until 1972. A shieldwater leak in 1972 plus the questionable economies of operation resulted in the plant being shut down, dismantled, and returned to the United States in 1973-1975. In 1979, the Department of Energy authorized releasing the site for unrestricted use. The buildings currently are used as a back-up water plant.
Chapel of the Snows.
Admiral George J. Dufek wrote in Operation Deepfreeze, "It had been planned to hold religious services in the mess hall [in 1956] because there were no plans or materials for a church. But as the construction of the buildings at McMurdo progressed, a mysterious pile of lumber, planks, nails, Quonset hut sections, and assorted materials began to accumulate on a knoll overlooking the camp." The chaplain and some volunteers had begun gathering odds and ends for a church that the chaplain believed to be the first ever erected in Antarctica. In that year Father John C. Condit's parish was by far the world's southernmost. The chapel was constructed by volunteer labor. Dufek wrote, "The men, after a hard day's work, would drift over to the church site. Before the main camp was finished a tidy neat church with a steeple was to stand on a ridge overlooking the camp. Later it even had a bell, procured from a small gasoline tanker." The Chapel of the Snows has been relocated and built anew two times since its original construction. It now overlooks Winter Quarters Bay.
Richard E. Byrd Memorial.
This memorial has been placed temporarily near the west side of the National Science Foundation Chalet during construction of McMurdo's new science laboratory. Formerly, the memorial stood just north of the Chalet in International Square, a commemorative area displaying flags of the Antarctic Treaty nations; this area also has been removed to make way for the new laboratory. The memorial is a bronze bust of Richard E. Byrd on a polished black Norwegian marble pedestal. It was donated by the National Geographic Society and erected in October 1965. During the XVth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, representatives recommended that this monument be added to the list of protected historic sites in Antarctica.