Eventually I did make it to the ice. However, this season in Antarctica was a slow one for airborne science. Weather was consistently just iffy enough to ground our flights for the last half of the season. In fact, our entire field campaign to East Antarctica was cancelled.
Soon I’ll post more about the kind of science we were scheduled to be doing (which will hopefully continue next season), including some that’s been getting some major media attention in the last week.
But for today I’ll share the other side of the coin: a cancelled project means more time for enjoying the Antarctic sights. In this case, a 7-mile hike that takes an afternoon I wouldn’t normally have to spare.
The hike is a trudge up a moderate slope marked by flags, which is more annoying than difficult. The trek is long, though, and takes several hours either way. A few red warming huts like the one half buried in the first photo — affectionately known as “apples” — lead the way.
To experience the Castle Rock Loop, denizens of McMurdo are required to check out with the fire department, hike with a buddy, and carry a radio. This is largely because it goes so far off station, but also reflects the danger of hidden crevasses which were responsible for the closure of the loop just past Castle Rock for much of the time I was there.
Fortunately, we happened upon a beautiful day and the trail to the Rock and back was open. We still stopped in both apples, if only for the novelty of conversation inside an apple (a la James and the Giant Peach).
For the most part the view is wide open and white, including the ice shelf on one side and McMurdo Sound on the other, which was still mostly covered by sea ice when we were there.
The scenery doesn’t get really interesting until right underneath the Rock, where the slippery slope at the base adds some challenge to the trek. The final hurrah is a fixed-rope climb to the top of the 400+ meter outcrop.
And then, of course, there’s the view. Highlights from the top include panoramic perspectives of, well, whiteness. This includes the world’s southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus, seen in the background below.