Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Observation Hill Cross Centennial: January 22, 2013

"Tuesday, January 22. Rousing out at 6 a.m. we got the large piece of the cross up Observation Hill by 11 a.m. It was a heavy job, and the ice was looking very bad all round, and I for one was glad when we had got it up by 5 o'clock or so. It really is magnificent, and will be a permanent memorial which could be seen from the ship nine miles off with a naked eye. It stands nine feet out of the rocks, and many feet into the ground, and I do not believe it will ever move. When it was up, facing out over the Barrier, we gave three cheers and one more"--Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, pp. 338

A hundred years ago today, the surviving members of Robert F. Scott's Terra Nova expedition erected a cross on top of Observation Hill, overlooking the Ross Ice Shelf ("the Barrier") and McMurdo Sound. The cross, a permanent memorial of the deaths of the five members of the Polar Party, still stands and is still visible from miles around.

The five members of the expedition that had made it to the pole--Scott, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans, Henry Bowers, and Lawrence Oates--all died on their return journey. Evans died at the base of the Beardmore Glacier (which Super-TIGER flew over a few days ago), while Oates famously left the expedition's tent in the middle of the blizzard with the words "I am just going outside and may be some time" and was never seen again, sacrificing himself so the others might continue without being slowed down by him. The other three died in their tent about 11 miles from a depot full of food in late March 1912.

They were discovered by the rest of the expedition in November 1912, and plans were made for a memorial.

Observation Hill was chosen for reasons that Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of the expedition, describes here:
"Observation Hill was clearly the place for it, it knew them all so well. Three of them were Discovery men who lived three years under its shadow: they had seen it time after time as they came back from hard journeys on the Barrier: Observation Hill and Castle Rock were the two which always welcomed them in. It commanded McMurdo Sound on one side, where they had lived: and the Barrier on the other, where they had died. No more fitting pedestal, a pedestal which in itself is nearly 1000 feet high, could have been found"--Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, pp. 338

The names of all five members of the polar party are inscribed on the center of the cross.

The inscription, from Tennyson's Ulysses, was also a matter of some debate:
"There was some discussion as to the inscription, it being urged that there should be some quotation from the Bible because "the women think a lot of these things." But I was glad to see the concluding line of Tennyson's "Ulysses" adopted: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"-Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, pp. 337

Since today was the centennial, JohnE and I hiked up the hill shortly after lunch. The recent snowfall made this a bit more difficult than it had been in the past, and the wind was blowing quite a bit, but we made it to the top and got treated to an amazingly clear view of the surrounding area. It really is amazing that a wooden cross has been able to withstand the winds of a hundred years of storms basically unscathed.

In other news, Elio from BLAST was finally able to get out to the payload today and get their data and other important equipment. They're planning on one more flight out (hopefully tomorrow) before leaving the rest for the returning South Pole Traverse (considerably more equipped than Scott's party) to pick up.

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