Landscape: Observation Hill

 “‘Yes, the life which we call blessed is to be sought for on a high eminence, and straight is the way that leads to it.  Many, also, are the hills that lie between…’” 
–Petrarch, from “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux”

Observation HillI have admitted my love of the mountains, in general, and mentioned my fascination with Antarctica’s Royal Societies, in particular, so it should not be surprising that I’m at least a little interested in Observation Hill, the 800-foot tall mound of volcanic rock that sits right on the edge of town.  From one angle, it’s shaped like an almost perfect pyramid, and at McMurdo, we literally live in its shadow (depending on the time of day and year). 

  Walking from the center of town, a hiker can reach the summit of Observation Hill in less than thirty minutes by way of a steep scree slope that meanders upwards into a nice ridge.  During some portions, the walk feels like you’re doing high-intensity intervals on a stair-stepper at the gym, but then you look up and realize that you’re in Antarctica—it’s gorgeous outside—and you’ve only got this far to go:

Ob Hill Summit

 And when you get to the summit, your reward isn’t a blinking panel of red lights on the stair-stepper’s console; instead, it’s a miniature McMurdo, finally so far below you that the town’s humming generators and clattering snow-tracked vehicles can’t be heard. 

McMurdo from Ob Hill Summit

  Two weeks ago, a new trail around Ob Hill officially opened up, allowing a good running route with lookouts over the ice shelf.  The black volcanic dirt set against its whiteness creates a striking contrast. 

Ob Hill Loop View

Melted pools of ice are scattered along the way, their cracks spidering out in wavy lines.

Ob Hill Loop Ice Pools

Since 1912, a memorial cross has been perched on top of Ob Hill in honor of polar explorers Scott, Scott's Memorial CrossWilson, Bowers, Oates, and Evans, who died that year on their return journey from the South Pole.  The inscription reads:  “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”  The last lines from Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” those words will be important to remember for the upcoming post…on—yes—Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”  See you then.     


One response to “Landscape: Observation Hill

  1. There is no more treacherous nor austere a route on Ob Hill, of course, than the MacNamara coulior, a steep trough on the north side filled with hard-packed snow that runs out into a pile of jaggedy rocks. That route really ought to be approached with crampons and ice axe during winfly–when Traci lead me up it kick-stepping in plain old hiking boots.


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