McMurdo Base is located on a small volcanic island. Towering above the station is Mt. Erebus standing just under 13000 feet. And the best view of Mt. Erebus is from the top of Observation Hill (aka Ob Hill). So, as it never gets dark here now, my friend Daniel and I took off for the summit at 9pm.
Walking up the hill is very difficult this time of year as it is covered in snow and ice. To help us climb better, we used ice cleats that attach to the bottom of your shoes. Ob Hill stands 750ft above sea level and the climb is straight up the side. There are very few resting places. You don’t actually want to stop anyway, because as you get hot on your climb up and strip layers, once you stop all that build up sweat freezes. The name of the game is dress light, climb, and add layers once you summit.
At the summit, the view is amazing. You can see the hole of Antarctica mainland wrapping around Ross Island. You can also see the divide between the sea ice and the glacial ice. The difference between sea ice and glacial ice is how it was formed. Glacial ice forms when snow builds up and compresses. This usually takes several decades to centuries and is always fresh water. Sea ice forms when the ocean freezes. The water forms into its crystal structure, forcing out the salt. The salt is usually trapped in pockets throughout the ice layer. These pockets are called brine pockets.
Also at the summit of Ob Hill is a cross that was erected in 1913 in honor of Robert Scott and his three companions who perished in the pursuit of the South Pole. The team had reached the pole and was on their way back. Eleven miles away from shelter they made their last camp that would become their grave. During the night a fierce storm rolled in form the south and Scott and his team were trapped on the ice shelf. The storm lasted nine days and according to a journal left by Scott, the team died on the 7thday. Scott’s camp was discovered in at the end of the summer in 1913. The rescue team left Scott and his men entombed in their tent. Today their camp site has become part of the glacier and is estimated to be 75 feet below the surface and 35 miles closer to the ocean than it was in 1913. It is estimated that the part of the glacier containing the camp will break off the main glacier in about 275 years.
The climb up Ob hill took about 45 minutes. The climb down took less than 15. How may you ask, sliding. There is a wonderful hill, about half a mile long, covered with snow and ice. Instead of climbing down the rocks, Dan and I sledded on our butts down the slope. We used our elbows and snow cleats to help control our decent, which I may stay, doesn’t work well on ice. I had my camera on video and half way down the hill it froze into place and unfortunately no video was saved. But it was one of the most epic adventures of my Antarctic Trip.