A Hike Up Observation Hill

A Hike Up Observation Hill
Written by Betty Trummel

Today began with a short training on using light vehicles in McMurdo. Since I could be driving a truck or van as part of the WISSARD Project, I needed to take this course. I’ll also be doing a training on snowmobiles on Thursday. Seems like our training sessions never end around here! It’s all good though, because it means we are operating safely.

Some of the key information I learned in the light vehicle training: drive slowly, avoid backing up, use the correct fuel, notify someone if your vehicle has problems or needs to be serviced (every 400 hours), give way to heavy equipment, follow stop signs and speed limits carefully, and make sure to inspect your vehicle before use. When out on the snow road, it’s not just about driving on a slippery surface, it’s about preserving the road. There are certain lanes for track vehicles and others for light vehicles. It’s interesting to take part in the various trainings.

The WISSARD Project has daily meetings Monday through Saturday, and this was my first official meeting. I learned a few important things about how the project is progressing toward the testing period. WISSARD Principal Investigators (lead scientists) and project managers met with the Ops (operational) team in McMurdo this morning. This includes the traverse group, crane operators, people from DOER (the company that made a lot of our tools and equipment that’s being tested), and the hot water drill team led by Frank Rack , Executive Director of ANDRILL. All of these team members are coordinating their efforts to get the test site up and running. Testing should begin in the next ten days or so. Stay tuned for more information as that testing begins.

Meanwhile, I took advantage of a stellar day and went for a hike up Observation (Ob) Hill. I was joined by Dave Monk (our WISSARD videographer) and Susan Kelly (Education and Outreach Coordinator for WISSARD). Ob Hill is a prominent landmark around McMurdo Station. It stands 754 feet above sea level and is climbed by many McMurdo “residents” throughout the season. It’s an amazing vantage point, and at the top there’s a 360 degree view of the are surround McMurdo. Here’s the view looking up as we climbed the start of the trail.

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Here are some views of McMurdo and the surrounding area that I shot on the way up. Notice the large fuel tanks in the second photo. Large quantities of fuel are stored in these tanks. Also, notice the solar-powered equipment on the side of Ob Hill. Solar power is one way to use renewable energy and save fossil fuels. The fourth photo shows the wind generators used by Scott Base.

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The cross on the top of Ob Hill was originally put there by members of Robert Scott’s search party in 1913. (A new cross has been erected since the original). The party had not only found Scott and his men who had died in their tent (3 of them, 2 had died previously), but were able to collect their photographic film, scientific specimens, and other materials they found with the men during the search. They climbed what is now known as Ob Hill and erected the large wooden cross, inscribed with the names of the men who has died on the return trip from the South Pole. They also put a quote from Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” which reads: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

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We enjoyed a warm, sunny day (about 28-33 degrees above zero) and no wind! It was peaceful and inspiring to stand on top of Ob Hill and look at Mt. Erebus, Mt. Discovery, White and Black Islands, Minna Bluff, the Ferrar Glacier in the the distance, and Scott Base off on the point of land below. We spent over an hour on top…unbelievable opportunity to enjoy the views and to photograph to our heart’s content. The wispy clouds decorated the blue sky, and moved gently across Mt. Erebus and Discovery throughout our time on the top of Ob Hill. It was magical.

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Here’s one favorite view of Mt. Erebus.

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Below…Mt. Terror (both Erebus and Terror were named by James Clark Ross, an early explorer in this region. Erebus and Terror were the names of his ships).

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Scott Base looks tiny out on Pram Point. It’s a neat little collection of lime green buildings. Much smaller than McMurdo Station, it houses the science and support staff for Antarctica New Zealand.

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Dave shot incredible video footage that we’ll be using for our podcasts and educational outreach. He hauled that heavy camera and tripod up the loose rock and volcanic gravel trail. This was not an easy climb, because the rocks often slipped out from underneath our boots. It was also quite steep in some sections. I think we all agreed that taking video footage from the top was pretty spectacular.

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Here’s a photo of Susan and Dave…my education and outreach colleagues here on the ice! We make a great team!

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One last shot looking back up to where I just climbed….look at the beautiful blue sky!!!

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Even though I’ve climbed this “hill” three times on earlier visits to Antarctica, today was, by far the most incredible day to hike to the top. Tomorrow some of the newer WISSARD arrivals (myself included) will head off to Happy Camper School. That’s code for snowcraft training and we’ll learn more about surviving in this Antarctic environment than just being happy campers! I won’t be back for two days, so I’ll post more stories at that time. Meanwhile, here’s one final shot…so long for now!

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