To celebrate the final sunset of the austral summer season, I went on a night hike with a group of scientists. Even though the sun set this night, it wasn’t really dark, as the sun just barely skirted below the horizon and hid behind the mountains for a while before rising again on the other side. It’s a surreal time of the year at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The moon hangs itself on one corner of the sky, while the sun is barely hidden on the other.
We bundled up in our Big Red parkas and carried lots of warm layers for the Castle Rock loop hike. I chose to wear my extreme-cold-weather FDX boots, and I didn’t regret it, as some portions of this hike simply involved suffering for long stretches in the cold and wind (even though I’m still smiling here):
This twelve-mile hike took us four and a half hours to complete, so even though we left McMurdo after dinner, we didn’t return until around one o’clock in the morning. For the first two miles or so, we hiked on a dirt-ice road from McMurdo to Scott Base, the New Zealand Antarctic station just over the hill. From there, we stepped off onto the sea ice and got our first good wide-open views:
As soon as we rounded the corner and started the ascent towards Castle Rock, the winds kicked in, and we all put our hoods up—isolated into our own little cocoons while the wind howled around us. For about an hour, we hiked up a big hill along a trail marked by flagged bamboo poles. This is a crevassed area…so it’s good not to stray from the route. Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano, loomed in the distance for this portion of the hike:
By the time we made it up to Castle Rock, the evening light was looking really beautiful, and even though I was super cold by this time, the scientists insisted on stopping to take more photos. I guess I don’t regret now that I stopped with them to take some, too.
We hiked all the way up to the ridge and were able to look out over McMurdo Sound (too cold for me to take photos) before descending down the loop and leaving Castle Rock (below) behind us, silhouetted against some of the most amazing pastel light I’ve ever seen.
Our group of seven splintered after we stopped at Castle Rock. Three of us, led by a really hungry Québécois, picked up the pace in hopes of making it back to McMurdo for the midnight meal, food always being a good motivator. The others stopped to rest in a warming hut.
By the time we were descending back into McMurdo, my goggles were frosted on the inside, and my neck gaiter was all iced up. I only got a few moments to revel in this view of the sun hiding out behind Mount Discovery before I put my hood back up and scurried home to bed.