Sunday, July 13, 2014

8. Shackleton’s Room

Excerpt from chapter 8.

photo of north side of Shackleton's Hut, Cape Royds.
North side of Shackleton's Hut, Cape Royds, McMurdo Sound, 
1989. Entrance on right. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

[Scene: Bruce and Team (seven total) travel north across the sea ice from McMurdo to Cape Evans, camp by Scott’s 1910 hut. The next day they go to Cape Royds site of Shackleton’s 1907 hut. From here he had attempted to reach the Pole. They explore the penguin rookery there and approach the hut.]

November 24, 1989

…We approached the west side [of the hut] that faced the frozen lakes, mounted a few steps to the front door - padlocked.

“I have the key,” said Chris, she came forward, unlatched the padlock, swung open the front door. She stepped inside, I and the others followed. We stood in a covered porch, the vestibule and weather lock. Another door faced us, not locked. We pulled it open, crossed the threshold and entered the hut through a short hallway, gathered in a small group at the near end of an open room. I wasn’t prepared for what was before us. Nobody spoke. What can be said of a moment like this?

A good light came in through two north windows. We took a few steps. Our rigid mountaineering boots clunked on the wood floor, made soft echoes. Twenty-one years later, in 2010, crates of whisky and brandy would be discovered under these floorboards. We stopped, looked about. No spiders or cobwebs. More than a dozen men had lived here.

Metal cots and wood beds along the sides of the room, iron stove at the far end. Two Nansen sledges hung from the rafters, skis along one wall. Ragged, decayed bedding on the cots and bunks, boots on the floor and hung on the wall with coats and socks, one curtain between bunks. Wood food boxes labeled British Antarctic Expedition 1907, cans of beef loaf, jars of jam, wood crates of biscuits, food everywhere, packaging still intact, cook gear, pots, tea kettle on the stove, pictures on the wall, King Edward and Queen Alexandra?

Giants had slept and lived in here, Edgeworth David, Mawson, Priestly and Shackleton. I turned to my right, saw a walled off cubbyhole with a narrow, dark doorway in the southwest corner. A private space, this had to be Shackleton’s room. I hesitated then approached, looked into a dark volume. Eyes adjusted, I saw a bunk and table inside. My scalp crawled. He lived in here, the man who led me to Antarctica.

I felt the need to go, to not violate this space further. I backed away, went to the hut entrance, and was the first outside.

The others filed out soon after. We walked up the low black hill behind the hut, down the other side to the sea ice, our snowmobiles and sledges. I pulled the start cord on my snowmobile. It began to warm. We prepared to leave. I checked my camera photo count. Same number as after my visit to the penguins. I didn’t take pictures inside Shackleton’s hut. I won’t need any.