A professor has located a lost campsite from Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition exactly 100 years after the explorer’s team struggled to the frozen peak.
Members of the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition fought through thin air and freezing temperatures to climb Mount Erebus in Antarctica on December 12, 1912, with the Plymouth-born explorer Scott.
Yesterday, at 1am New Zealand time, Professor Clive Oppenheimer re-enacted the ascent and became the first-known visitor to the site since Scott’s men left.
He based his search for the campsite on written accounts and historic images from the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at the University of Cambridge.
Prof Oppenheimer, a volcanologist in Antarctica as part of the United States Antarctic Program, said: “Despite many scientific missions to Erebus over the past four decades, no-one has ever discovered the original ‘highest camp’ – as it was described in a 1913 account called Scott’s Last Expedition.
“Looking through the thousands of photos on SPRI’s Freeze Frame portal, I saw several pictures of the 1912 site, tried to memorise them, then fired up a snowmobile and set off around the summit cone.
“I was beginning to think I was looking for a needle in a haystack when I noticed a gateway to an almost hidden area I had not previously spotted on many routine travels. Within another minute or two, somehow, I’d found it.”
He added: “I was tremendously excited to discover the campsite.
“In my mind’s eye, I saw the four men fussing around their tent – transposing again the historic photographs on to the snowy stretch in front of me, I couldn’t help smiling and saying ‘hello boys’.”
Following his discovery, a shared effort between the UK, US and New Zealand is under way to ensure the camp site is protected.
An archaeological survey is also expected to record the area and search for any items that may have been left behind by the 1912 party.
A team of five Britons and one Norwegian from the shore party of the Terra Nova expedition took part in the original Mount Erebus climb.
They undertook mapping and collected geological specimens.
The climb is of historical significance as it was during his time on Mount Erebus that geologist Frank Debenham had the idea of a polar research institute.
After serving in the First World War, Debenham became the founding director of the institute.
Philippa Foster Back, granddaughter of Prof Debenham and chair of The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, said: “Clive Oppenheimer’s location of the original ’highest camp’ is a wonderful addition to all the activity which has taken place throughout 2012 to mark the centenary of Captain Scott’s expedition.
“It is a reminder of both the dangers and thrills of Antarctic science and a fitting tribute to the great legacies of exploration and discovery left to us by all the brave men of that party.”