Catch-up (1): pre-Erebus

Catch-up (1): pre-Erebus

Apologies for the lack of recent updates! This post will cover what we got up to during our last week at McMurdo.

Hut Point and Discovery Hut

Although Erebus is the only active volcano on Ross Island, three other volcanic centres are also located here, including Hut Point peninsula. For now, here‘s a map of Ross Island that you can zoom into to find the peninsula, McMurdo Station, and a few other key locations. One of the walks near McMurdo is along the Hut Point Ridge. I chose the clockwise direction, which passes the historic hut built at the start of Scott’s 1901-04 Discovery expedition:

Discovery Hut, Hut Point

Discovery Hut, Hut Point

There were a few seals sunning themselves on the sea ice near Vince’s Cross, which was originally erected in 1902 as a memorial to a drowned crew member on the Discovery.

Weddell seals at Hut Point

Weddell seals at Hut Point


Vince's Cross, Hut Point

Vince's Cross, Hut Point

The walk follows the ridge of the peninsula for a short way, with views of McMurdo and beyond, including Observation Hill:

Observation Hill and McMurdo viewed from Hut Point ridge

Observation Hill and McMurdo viewed from Hut Point ridge

The walk goes as far as a place called Arrival Heights, where I could finally get a good view of Erebus – although the summit was still obscured – before following the road back to McMurdo.

Erebus viewed from Arrival Heights

 

Barne Glacier/Cape Royds trip (aka penguins and historic huts)

The highlight of the weekend was a sampling trip on Sunday 28 November. One of the G-081 team members planned to sample some volcanic ash from the Barne Glacier, which would mean a trip by snowmobile across the sea ice.

It was a nice morning, which meant plenty of chances to enjoy the views:

Weddell seal in front of Mt Erebus

while we stopped to check that any cracks in the sea ice would be safe to cross:

Drilling through a crack in the sea ice

Drilling through a crack in the sea ice

Sea ice is an upper layer of frozen seawater that still undergoes tidal changes. Some cracks represent weak areas, so we needed to drill through them to make sure that the ice was thick enough, and remained thick enough, over a distance that was safe for snowmobiles.

Snowmobile train

We found a safe route and made it out to the Barne Glacier, which comes off the western side of Mt Erebus.

Barne Glacier

Barne Glacier

We continued on to Cape Royds, where there is a colony of Adelie penguins. These are the most common type of penguin in this part of the world.

Penguin footprints, Cape Royds

We can observe the penguins from a distance – the scientists studying them get a bit closer.

Adelie penguin rookery, Cape Royds

Although we saw some Emperor penguins in the distance, they stayed near the open sea.

Open sea to the west of Cape Royds

The next stop was Shackleton’s Hut, a short walk away. This hut was erected in 1908 during Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, and was the base for the first ascent of Erebus just a few weeks later. We also stopped at Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans on the way back to McMurdo. This hut was built in 1911, and it was from here that Scott’s Polar party set out – just over 100 years ago.

Sleeping arrangements at Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

We looked around the hut for a while.

Kitchen at Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

Kitchen at Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

It was an opportunity to reflect on the history of Antarctic exploration and science – to appreciate both the privilege of being here and the comparative luxury in which we work.

Then it was time to head home – the wind had picked up and visibility had dropped, so we were grateful to return to the warmth and comfort of the station!

Leaving Cape Evans

More catch-up and an update schedule will follow. We’ve had a busy few days, with acclimatisation to altitude at Fang camp; moving up to the hut where we’ll be based for the next month; setting up tents and snow walls; testing equipment; and, for a few intrepid team members, trips to the caves and crater rim despite the bad weather.

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