Monday, April 09, 2007

Ob Hill

The peak in the back is Observation Hill. The buildings about a third of the way up are a disused nuclear power plant called ... well, read on below.

On Antarctica’s edge, ice-locked into the France-sized Ross Ice Shelf, lies Ross Island, the primary base for the British expeditions of a century ago. Many reminders of their efforts remain, including a stirring monument at the crown of the 750ft Observation Hill (or “Ob Hill,” as it’s known at McMurdo Station, America’s chief Antarctic research facility, which lies in its shadow). Ob Hill was so named because it was used as a lookout for ships returning to the Ice; today it is climbed by station residents to get a view of their utterly alien, white environs.

The first third up the extinct volcano consists of loose volcanic scree, which must be scrambled up until one reaches a road that winds partially around the hill to “Nukey Poo,” a decommissioned nuclear power plant. Here, most climbers turn to look for the first time—much like a new Manhattanite walks to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge before turning to look at his city’s towers—at their temporary home. McMurdo looks like a small mining town from this vantage point, with homey curls of steam topping each parti-colored yet faded building.

Ob Hill’s next two thirds must be bounded up, billy goat-style, over large, haphazardly strewn rocks. About 250ft from the top a small, boulder-topped peninsula flattens out in front of the climber, offering another opportunity to take a breather and look out. Now the frozen McMurdo Sound and, further off to the left, the imposing Royal Society mountain range can be seen. To the right looms the smoking cone of Mt Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano.

Climbers corkscrew up the hill’s left side, which obscures the top so that one is nearly at the summit by the time one sees the solid wooden cross which stands as a memorial to Captain Scott and his men, who perished on their return from the South Pole. The cross is inscribed with a line from Tennyson’s Ulysses which—as the town, sound, mountains and volcano spread out in front, with the seemingly interminable expanse of the ice shelf behind—serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made so that the climber can stand here today and survey: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

1 comment:

Thoughtlaced said...

Nice piece (and perhaps the first time McMurdo Station has been likened to Manhattan...)