Cape Royds

I’m just returning from three days and two nights of camping at Cape Royds. Cape Royds is an amazing place, it has an Adelie penguin colony of 4000 birds located right next to Shackleton’s hut, which was used as the base for his attempt at the South Pole in 1907/1908. The landscape is unlike any other I have seen anywhere, all black lava flows and pillows, which gives the effect of being on the Moon. It’s hard to choose my favorite part of the cape, the Adelie colony or Shackleton’s hut. Mike Lucibella, the Antarctic Sun writer/editor and I spent the three days walking the entire Cape from end to end. From the black sand beach with ice flows moving swiftly past, to the tops of the lava flow hills overlooking the penguin colony, the iceberg dotted Ross Sea and Mount Erebus, it’s a stunning and captivating landscape.

The combination of the hut and landscape and penguins has made it a favorite place of mine here on Ross Island, among the many remarkable places I have seen over the past six weeks. It just so wonderful to see life again. The Adelie’s are such fun to watch, ever inquisitive, they will walk right up to me and give me a good look over before flapping their stubby wings and shaking their heads in disbelief and trundling off to pilfer another stone from their neighbors nest. I watched them for hours. They are currently nesting, many pairs have an egg on their pile of stones, and they switch off with their partner, alternately roosting or making the long walk to the ice cliff where they jump as a group into the Ross Sea to feed on krill and fish.

Jean Pennycook and Katie Dugger were excellent hostesses, they shared their food and their polar haven, a large blue tent used in field camps as a heated kitchen and dining area, and showed us the colony up close. There is nothing equal to experiencing the Royds colony with a field biologist who has been studying the colony for many years. I could have stayed a week or more alternately watching the penguins and photographing the hut.

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Shackleton’s hut and the Cape Royds Adelie penguin colony on the hillside behind. The small lake is called Pony Lake.  All the yellow color on the hillside? That’s not dirt.
the moon-like landscape of Cape Royds with lava pillows being the predominant landscape feature.
The moon like landscape of Cape Royds with lava pillows being the predominant landscape feature.
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The colony is really groups of smaller colonies of birds.
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The penguins usually return to the exact same nesting place each year.
Adelie footprints at black sand beach. This same beach was used by Shackleton to exercise the pony's used for the south pole attempt.
Adelie footprints at the sand beach. This same beach was used by Shackleton to exercise the ponys used for the South Pole attempt.
Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds.
Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds. The roof is stretched canvas held down with batten strips.
Adelie penguin sprinting past Shackleton's hut after walking from Backdoor Bay.
Adelie penguin sprinting past Shackleton’s hut after walking from Backdoor Bay.
Inside Shackleton's hut.
Inside Shackleton’s hut.
View out the window.
View from the window.
Shackleton's pony's tack.
Shackleton’s pony tack.
Shackleton's signature that we finally found in the hut after searching for two days, giving up, we finally asked on of the New Zealander's visiting the hut where it was.
Shackleton’s signature that we finally found in the hut after searching for two days, we gave up, and finally asked a New Zealander’s visiting the hut where it was.
The darkroom.
The darkroom.
Shackleton's kitchen garbage heap.
Shackleton’s kitchen garbage heap.
...and the privy, now covered with penguin feathers.
…and Shackleton’s privy, now covered with penguin feathers. Some things have not changed at all in the 100 years since Shackleton’s expedition.
Adelie penguins gathering for the group dive into Arrival Bay, Flagstaff Point beyond.
Adelie penguins starting to gather for the group dive into Arrival Bay, Flagstaff Point beyond. That black lump on the snow is a weddell seal.
The view across the pack ice.
The view across the pack ice. Orcas, or Killer Whales cruise in large pods in the pack looking for penguins…
Shackleton's hut and Mount Erebus.
Shackleton’s hut and Mount Erebus.
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3 comments

  1. The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust is in charge of upkeep and preservation of all three huts on Ross Island – Discovery hut at Hut Point, Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans, and Shackleton’s Nimrod hut at Cape Royds. I met some of the preservation team at Cape Evans documenting the hut conditions.

    As an aside, I just finished reading Shackleton’s book Heart of the Antarctic, his account of his 1907-1909 Nimrod expedition where he reached within 100 miles of the Pole before being forced back by lack of food. It’s a great story and one that tends to be less known. He pioneered the route up the Beardmore Glacier, which Scott followed a few years later.

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