Antarctica’s Outposts: Abandoned at the End of the World

    Across the unforgiving landscape of Antarctica are deserted outposts haunted by the ghosts of the past.

    From forsaken whaling stations to abandoned expedition headquarters, there are outposts in Antarctica that remain frozen in time. Weathered wooden crates and dated ration cans sit upon the shelves, marking the moment they were deserted. An icy aura hangs over these vacant structures; there are even reports of paranormal experiences and encounters with the ghosts of former inhabitants. Haunted or not, the sight of these lonely buildings scattered across the barren continent send shivers down the spines of the living.

    antarcticaRobert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova hut

    One of the most known of these abandoned buildings is Scott’s Hut, on the north shore of Cape Evans on Ross Island. Built in 1911 by the British Antarctic Expedition (also called the Terra Nova Expedition), the team was led by explorer Robert Falcon Scott. From this hut, Scott and the members of his 25-man crew planned their successful—though ultimately fatal—push for the South Pole in 1911. Surviving expedition members stayed in Antarctica through the following winter of 1912, to search for the bodies in the spring. Afterward, they returned to England, leaving the hut well stocked at their departure.

    An interior shot of Scott's Hut

    Two years later, from 1915-1917, 10 marooned men found refuge in the hut, and the preserved supplies were crucial to their survival. After their rescue, the hut was closed up, locking all of its contents—and the haunted histories of its former inhabitants—inside.

    antarcticaPink skies over the Discovery hut

    While Scott’s Hut on Ross Island is a well-known point of interest in Antarctica, less mentioned is Scott’s other hut, just twenty km south of Cape Evans. For differentiation, this hut is known as Discovery Hut, as it was built and abandoned by Scott’s previous Antarctic excursion, the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904. When leading the Terra Nova Expedition seven years later, Scott decided against returning to the same structure, as his ship had gotten trapped by ice at the first site, and the hut itself was quite cold for living quarters.

    antarcticaRescue personnel survey the wreckage of the 1979 flight (via: SouthPoleStation.com)

    Nearby on Ross Island exists perhaps the easiest place on the continent to imagine spirits still lingering—the frozen wreckage of a plane crash. In 1979, a sightseeing flight out of New Zealand crashed into Mt. Erebus due to a tremendous error in coordination, killing all 257 of its passengers and crew. Rescue personnel traveled to the inhospitable terrain to collect the bodies; their two weeks of intensive work in the gruesome aftermath set the bar for what is now standard protocol in similar crash situations.

    Included in the chronicle of abandoned locales in Antarctica are the ghost towns and settlements of Grytviken, Leith Harbor (or Port Leith), and Deception Island. These whaling stations were established just after the turn of the century, and operated well into the mid-1900s. An explorer first spotted Deception Island in 1820, and buildings were erected as part of a whaling station. Now the structures serve as tourist attractions as well as research outposts for Argentine and Spanish scientists.

    antarcticaAn abandoned research base at Whalers Bay on Deception Island
    antarcticaThe Whaler’s Church of Grytviken

    The ghost stations of Grytviken and Port Leith are complete with residential and commercial buildings, libraries, cemeteries, and even a church. While the towns are usually visited only by passing tourists on adventure ships, there are occasionally ceremonies held in the Grytviken church—a modest white steepled building, isolated against the stark backdrop of snowy mountains. Grytviken, too, is the final resting place of Ernest Shackleton, the Anglo-Irish explorer whose men were marooned and holed up in Scott’s Hut.

    Antarctica may not be a top tourist destination for all—it certainly isn’t the most accessible place to visit. Yet despite its frigid appearance, the continent is awash in history. Scattered across its icy surface are abandoned sites, perhaps still visited by the men whose lives were dedicated to exploring the end the Earth.

    Photos (in order): Wikimedia Commons; lin padgham / Flickr (CC); Alan Light / Flickr (CC); Plane wreckage via SouthPoleStation.com; Liam Quinn / Flickr (CC); David Stanley / Flickr (CC); Wikimedia Commons

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