Cape Crozier and Wilson’s Stone Igloo

I flew to Cape Crozier, the eastern most point on Ross Island,  to visit Wilson’s Igloo, a stone igloo built by Edward Wilson, Birdie Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard during the 1911 Worst Journey in the World expedition. At that time the only known emperor penguin rookery was located at Cape Crozier, and they were attempting to collect emperor penguin eggs.  It was thought that studying the embryo would provide significant evolutionary clues linking primitive birds and dinosaurs to modern flying birds. The journey was made in mid-winter, in June & July, the coldest and darkest time of year, with temperatures reaching 70 degrees below zero, and 24 hour darkness. The journey was made at that time of year in those conditions because that is when the emperor penguins have their chicks. That they survived the journey is no small miracle, dragging 800 lb sledges through deep snow in pitch dark, crossing crevasses, glaciers, sea ice and mountains with only the occasional light of the moon to guide them.

A hurricane strength blizzard struck the party when they were in this stone igloo, and it’s the telling of this story by Cherry-Garrard that makes this ruin significant. The roof was torn from the igloo, and their tent was carried away, leaving the 3 men stranded in the igloo enduring hurricane force winds and getting buried under snow for days. In the end they managed to collect three frozen eggs. There is a famous photograph of the three men taken by Ponting on their return to Cape Evans, and their faces tell the tale of the hard journey they endured. I highly recommend reading Cherry-Garrard’s account of their journey, and the entire Terra Nova expedition, in the Worst Journey in the World, one of the best travel and adventure stores ever written.

My experience at Cape Crozier was enough to convince me that it is a hostile and forbidding place. To arrive there is to feel like arriving at the end of the earth. The pilot landed the helicopter about a half kilometer from the igloo site, it was overcast with low clouds and flat light, but the winds were fairly light at about 5 mph. None of us had visited the site before, so we used GPS coordinates to locate the igloo, which is difficult to pick out from the surrounding landscape.  Within five minutes of arriving at the igloo the wind started to pick up, and in ten minutes it was getting difficult to hold my camera steady. By fifteen minutes the pilot was urging us to leave, the wind was blowing at about 30 mph, strong enough to make it difficult to walk straight. We were supposed to stay at the site for an hour but were forced to retreat to the helicopter and make a hasty takeoff.

More (and larger) photos of the Cape Crozier photographs on my main website here.

click pics for larger images

Arriving at Cape Crozier by helicopter.
Arriving at Cape Crozier by helicopter after flying across the Windless Bight.
Helo landing site about 300 yards from Wilson's Igloo.
Helo landing site about a half kilometer from Wilson’s Igloo.
Cape Crozier.
The Knoll, a landmark known in the early exploration days, Cape Crozier and the Emperor Penguin colony beyond.
Wilson's Igloo looking back toward the slopes of Mount terror. Helo can be seen in the distance on the upper right.
Ted Doerr environment scientist, John Radford helicopter pilot and Ben Adkinson  mountaineer accompanied me to the ruins of Wilson’s Igloo. This view looks toward the slopes of Mount Terror and Bomb Peak. Helo can be seen in the distance on the upper right.
Igloo with Cape Crozier in background.
Igloo with The Knoll in background.
Wilson's Igloo showing a wooden box inside with a few unidentifiable objects inside.
Wilson’s Igloo with a wooden box inside.
Objects in the box include what look like socks, canvas, rocks, and penguin skin.
Objects in the box include what look like socks or a sweater, cloth, canvas, rocks, and penguin skin.
Looking toward Mount Terror.
Looking toward Mount Terror and Bomb Peak.
Rope used to fasten down the canvas used for the roof.
100 plus year old rope, used to fasten down the canvas for the roof.
Some of the Willesden canvas can be seen among the rocks.
Some of the green Willesden canvas used for the roof can be seen among the rocks.
DSC00128-Edit-12
Looking toward Minna Bluff where the storms blow out of the south, and where the hurricane that struck the igloo came from.
The slight hill that overlooks the igloo.
The small hill that overlooks the igloo. This exposed site was chosen because it was the only site which offered building materials, rocks and snow, to make the igloo.
Making our escape, Ben the mountaineer packing up his gear among the high winds.
Making our escape, a view of Igloo Spur and Ben the mountaineer packing up his gear in the high winds.

Full disclosure – a sign describing the site is placed right next to the igloo, and I mean almost inside the igloo, and I have photoshopped it out of a few of the images. IMHO the sign should not be so close to the ruin, and should certainly be moved away from the igloo to a distance that allows appreciation of this historic site without this unnecessary intrusion. It’s not like there is no other place to locate the sign! End of rant.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Outstanding – the only thing missing from these photos is the winter darkness. The extraordinary courage and determination (and teamwork) of Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Gerrard (legally blind as he could rarely wear his glasses on this journey) comes more into focus when you see the windswept moonscape they tried to survive in. Thank you so much for documenting this place at the end of the earth. Ultimately, Wilson and Bowers died the next year returning from the pole and it was left to Apsley Cherry-Gerrard to tell the whole tale in Worst Journey in the World. It is indeed the greatest travel and adventure book ever written.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s