There are half a dozen or so hiking trails around McMurdo Station. Some are short, like the hike up Observation (Ob) Hill and down to Robert Scott’s hut near the ice edge. Some are long, like the 12-mile Castle Rock Trail, which requires a radio check-out with the firehouse and at least on companion with you on the trail. I have not yet hiked Castle Rock, but it’s on my short list of remaining first season Antarctica bucket list items.
The first trail I hiked, maybe a week after I arrived, was the two-mile Hut Point Ridge Trail. It was late October, temperatures rarely got above 10 degrees, and the wind chill was well below zero. And Antartica wind is STRONG. It IS the windiest continent on earth.
I thought I was going to be blown off the ridge, the wind was so strong.
Now that it’s the height of summer, with more sunny days and temps regularly reaching the low to mid 30s, hiking around the station feels like a pleasant form of exercise and solitude, and not an epic battle for survival. There is far less ice and snow on the trails now, and when you are out of the wind and walking in the sun, it can be quite comfortable.
When the wind picks up though, man is it still unpleasant.
My favorite hike is the two-mile-or-so Ob Hill Loop, which, as the name suggests, winds around Observation Hill. It can be completed in an hour and a half if you walk fast like I do, and it gets me far enough away from the station that I can enjoy some Antarctic nature and solitude, without being dangerously far away from the station if I start to get cold. And I can go from hot to cold and back again in the blink of an eye depending on what side of Ob Hill I’m walking on, and what kind of weather is swooping in across the ice shelf.
The land is quite beautiful. With all the snow melt, I can see the volcanic rock in more detail, and the different shades are lovely. There are some really incredible rocks here. Seeing thick walls of fog, clouds, and the occasional rainbow move across the ice and over the Transantarctic Mountains in the distance is also a treat.
It’s times like these that I feel like I am living on another world.