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Home* Triplogs with photo galleriesAntarctic blog → McMur­do Base – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

McMur­do Base – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

It is such a thing with ant­arc­tic sta­ti­ons. They are inte­res­ting, they pro­vi­de the world with signi­fi­cant know­ledge. They are poli­ti­cal, a dis­play of power wit­hin the Ant­arc­tic Trea­ty Sys­tem, always the flagg up in the wind. They are curious, from his­to­ri­cal to futu­ris­tic. If you hap­pen to visit Ant­arc­ti­ca, then it is qui­te likely you will want to see one of them.

The­se sta­ti­ons are usual­ly not pla­ces of gre­at natu­ral beau­ty and anything but pris­ti­ne. If anyo­ne has left their long-lived traces in Ant­arc­ti­ca, las­ting signs of human pre­sence and acti­vi­ty, inclu­ding signs of dest­ruc­tion, then it is the­se sta­ti­ons (and not tou­rists, by the way).

Any­way, the­se sta­ti­ons are the kind of place of which many say befo­re visi­t­ing that they want to see it and after visi­t­ing, it could have been nicer rather to go to a more natu­re kind of place.

The famous US-ame­ri­can McMur­do Base is in many ways a magni­ficent spe­ci­men, regar­ding size, visu­al impres­si­on and poli­ti­cal power. It is the hub for the Amund­sen-Scott-Base on the South Pole, for logisti­cal­ly chal­len­ging pro­jects in deep field such as ice core dril­lings in very remo­te loca­ti­ons and the more or less con­stant field acti­vi­ties in the com­pa­ra­tively near sur­roun­dings: Dry Val­leys, Ross Ice Shelf, Mount Ere­bus. The­re are about 1000 peop­le working in McMur­do during the busy sum­mer sea­son.

Call it coin­ci­dence or the urge to find a loca­ti­on as far south as pos­si­ble by ship com­mon to both expe­di­ti­ons: this was also the place whe­re Scott win­te­red during his first ant­arc­tic expe­di­ti­on, with Dis­co­very. His hut, the second-oldest one in Ant­arc­ti­ca after Borchgrevink’s Cape Ada­re buil­dings, is at Hut Point, a few minu­tes wal­king distance from Mac­Mur­do Base (click here for some 360 degree impres­si­ons of Dis­co­very hut). They actual­ly lived on their ship, the Dis­co­very, which was fro­zen in the ice next to Hut Point, so the hut is not as big and comfy as the Ter­ra Nova Hut at Cape Evans.

And that is altog­e­ther the pro­gram­me for today. The wea­ther loo­ks gre­at and it is sup­po­sed to remain sta­ble during the day, a chan­ge being pre­dic­ted for the evening only, and it is said that the Ame­ri­cans are well in con­troll of their local wea­ther. We will get back to that later. The­re was, any­way, not­hing in the way for the heli­co­p­ter flight over the fast ice to McMur­do Base. The sun was even shi­ning from the blue sky. Lovely!

During our visit four years ago, the Ame­ri­cans did live up to all cli­chés: The­re was not much more than the fre­quent­ly repeated advice that we should quick­ly move through the sta­ti­on to Hut Point, pre­fer­a­b­ly without even tou­ch­ing the road and without loo­king left or right. Ques­ti­ons for anything left or right of the road were ans­we­red very effi­ci­ent­ly: „that is not aut­ho­ri­zed, and I am not aut­ho­ri­zed to aut­ho­ri­ze this.“ Today is in a stron con­trast to this: our hosts are very friend­ly, they have actual­ly orga­ni­zed a group of gui­des to show us around. The tour takes us in small groups through some important faci­li­ties, inclu­ding the sci­ence buil­ding, the main com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons buil­ding, the cha­pel, the cof­fee house whe­re we have our lunch (which we brought with us from the ship), and the­re is, of cour­se, a sou­ve­nir shop.

Gal­le­ry – McMur­do Base – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

You can spend a lot of time at Hut Point, loo­king over the sta­ti­on, the near-by fast ice, and of cour­se visi­t­ing the hut. Ano­t­her holy grail in the histo­ry of Ant­arc­tic explo­ra­ti­on.

And then the­re is Obser­va­ti­on Hill on the other side of the sta­ti­on. A steep hill of vol­ca­nic rocks, as ever­ything here, with a path lea­ding up to the top, which is about 230 m high. It is a stun­ning view from the cross that was erec­ted the­re as a memo­ri­al to Scott and his men who died in 1912 on their return trip from the South Pole. You can almost see or at least ima­gi­ne to see the place whe­re they had their last camp out on the Ross Shelf Ice. They were never retrie­ved, they are still out the­re, deeply buried in the ice the­se days.

Our retrie­val is still to come, the heli­co­p­ters are alrea­dy fly­ing again, and then things are get­ting a bit more inte­res­ting than we want them to be. The wea­ther chan­ge pre­dic­ted for tonight has deci­ded to come a bit ear­lier than ori­gi­nal­ly pre­dic­ted, some clouds and wind are com­ing up. The lovely warm­th of the sun gives way to a bit­ing cold. We do not have to wait out­side, nobo­dy is going to free­ze or to star­ve to death here, but the visi­bi­li­ty which our pilots depend on is cer­tain­ly not impro­ving. The num­bers of tho­se wai­t­ing is redu­ced by four or five heli­co­p­ter after heli­co­p­ter, a pro­ce­du­re that takes its time. Final­ly, all pas­sen­gers are back on board, only two last heli­co­p­ters for us gui­des, but I almost doubt that we will make it … the next heli­co­p­ter lea­ves, I am stan­ding at the heli pad with two col­leagues and we are anxious to hear the sound of the engi­nes again soon. Obser­va­ti­on Hill is a mere sil­hou­et­te in the thin fog now, I won­der if that will be good enough? If not, we may well be for­ced to enjoy ame­ri­can hos­pi­ta­li­ty for some time, and I do not want to ima­gi­ne the trou­bles that would come with that. And I don’t have to, soon we here the noi­se of the heli­co­p­ter, which is on the ground moments later. Julio, the oldest of the three pilots, is keen on get­ting out, that beco­mes pret­ty clear as he takes off and pushes the thrott­le. Thank God, the fog is just han­ging around McMur­do Base and Ross Island, and it is clear again as soon as we get out over the sea ice. Soon we are all back on board. Hal­le­lu­jah!

last modification: 2017-03-30 · copyright: Rolf Stange