An icy chill accompanied David Barnes' best day. But that
was to be expected.
After six storm-tossed days crossing the Southern Ocean and
the Ross Sea, the mood on board the Spirit of Enderby
seemed to be one of ''will we ever see Antarctic land?''
Ice conditions had taken us down the centre of the Ross Sea,
rather than cruising its western shore with views of the
Transantarctic Mountains and although we'd had some
spectacular days working through sea ice and watching whales,
many of my shipmates were over it. On Tuesday morning, I
awoke to the sight of land through the porthole.
We were passing Beaufort Island, a small snow-capped island
20km north of Ross Island. Rugging up in almost every item of
clothing I possessed, I headed for the monkey deck, an
exposed deck above the bridge. Ahead was the glacier-capped
northern tip of Ross Island. We spent the morning cruising
down the island's western coast, with Mt Erebus occasionally
To starboard, the seemingly endless chain of the Royal
Society Range dominated the far side of McMurdo Sound. Our
first landing on Antarctic terra firma was announced for
after lunch. Our destination was Cape Royds, site of
The nature of ''expedition cruising'' means that there are no
guarantees about quite where you go, but if there was one
thing I wanted to see more than anything it was the last
evidence of the great explorer's time in the Antarctic. Keen
to maximise my time there, I made sure I was near the front
of the queue boarding the Zodiacs.
Unfortunately, our boat suffered a mechanical failure and we
were left drifting until we could transfer to another boat,
luckily in dead-flat sea conditions. Once ashore, we had to
ascend an icy slope and then make a 25-minute trek across
black volcanic rocks to our destination. As we crested a
ridge, my first sight of the hut, with an ice-shrouded Back
Door Bay behind, was a dream come true.
Second into the hut (where only eight people at a time are
allowed), I soaked up the atmosphere and history. The
restoration work by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust
means that the hut looks for all the world as though
Shackleton walked out yesterday, rather than more than a
century ago. As a whisky buff, I was pleased to see a case
that had once held the famed McKinlay's whisky.
When I finally had to yield my place in the hut to another
traveller, I was able to spend a couple of hours meandering
around the area, observing the resident adelie penguins and
absorbing the wonder of just being there. Sitting on a rock
outcrop, I thought that the only thing that could have made
the day better was if my wife Anne-Marie had been with me.
After being the last to leave and on the last Zodiac back to
the ship, I sat in the bar nursing a dram and reflecting on
my wonderful day. An announcement on the PA advised we'd be
taking advantage of the good conditions and the long hours of
daylight to visit Scott's Cape Evans hut that evening. The
best day of my life was about to get even better.
- David Barnes is a keen tramper whose passion for wild
places sometimes takes him beyond the New Zealand back
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