Posts from Antarctica: The Ross Island Trail System

Another day, another cancelled flight – the advance team is now hoping to get out tomorrow, December 7th. Erin said she was once delayed 3.5 weeks in McMurdo due to weather; we’re crossing our fingers that our delay is much shorter than that!!

As long as we’re here, however, we’re doing our best to enjoy ourselves as well as to get some work done. One of the pleasant surprises for me when I got to McMurdo was finding out that there’s a trail system. You can find a map of the Ross Island Trail System here:

Some of the trails, like the Castle Rock and Cape Armitage Loops, are really meant for ski travel (and I believe the Cape Armitage Route is closed this year, as the sea ice has been very thin). I’ve done a little bit of cross-country skiing in the past, although not much, and have elected not to try to properly learn at the moment out of an abundance of caution, as it’s typically not a good idea to risk a major injury before heading out to the deep field. However, I have been able to enjoy several of the hiking trails, which stay mostly on bare ground and offer some pretty fantastic views of the scenery.

Ob Hill, viewed from the Hut Point Ridge Loop

One of the most popular trails is up to the top of Observation Hill, usually referred to as “Ob Hill,” which is a small volcanic dome that looms over McMurdo. It’s about 750 feet high, and a short trail leads right out of town to the summit. At the top of the hill is a cross that was set up to honor Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the other men who lost their lives returning from the South Pole in 1912 (my next post will cover some of the history around here in more detail). The views are fantastic. There’s also a loop trail that circumnavigates Ob Hill, going all the way out to the tip of Cape Armitage, which is the southernmost point on Ross Island.

Bruce and Christian on the Hut Point Ridge Loop

Another great loop is the Hut Point Ridge Loop. Hut Point is the location where Scott’s first expedition built a hut in 1902, which still stands today. Bruce, Christian and I hiked the Hut Point Ridge Loop one stunningly beautiful evening, and thoroughly enjoyed the views out across the sea ice. In the distance we could see open water; the sea ice is likely to be mostly broken up by the time we return to McMurdo in late January (that’s also when penguins tend to show up; I’m crossing my fingers that we get to see some!).

A mother and baby Weddell seal on the sea ice near Scott Base

This post is really just an excuse, however, to show you some great pictures of seals. One hike that you can only do with a guide is a mile-long path through the pressure ridges near Scott Base (the nearby New Zealand research station). Pressure ridges form where winds and/or ocean circulation push sea ice against itself or against the shoreline. The sea ice buckles under the pressure, thrusting broken fins of ice into the sky. In the process, cracks and holes in the ice form, and Weddell seals use these access points to get to the surface. Many of the nearby Weddell seals have babies, which are a bit over a month old. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

A sea-ice pressure ridge with a surface melt pond


A sleepy mother seal with a playful baby seal


An alert baby seal


A very content seal

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2 Responses to Posts from Antarctica: The Ross Island Trail System

  1. Greg Wiles says:

    Great posts Karen – hope you get out soon. Don’t drill too many holes in the shelves, I hear they are breaking up.

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