20 October, 1997

20 October 97

What a beautiful day! The sun is very bright and few clouds are in the sky. The wind is almost nonexistent. All these factors combined to make for a very special day. Everyone has spring fever and has been using the time to be outside as much as possible. A storm is forecast for tomorrow making it even more imperative to take advantage of this opportunity.

After dinner I had a chance to climb Observation Hill with Dr. Maxson. I took my cameras and journeyed up the steep snow covered slope. I was treated to the most beautiful view one can imagine. Everywhere I turned was another breathtaking sight. To the north I had a view of McMurdo Station unlike any other I've seen. Not only could I see the entire town but I was able to place it within its local geographic context.

McMurdo is located in a very special place. It is nestled into the surrounding hills near the edge of the permanently frozen ocean called the Ross Ice Shelf . The ice in front of McMurdo, where the runway is, usually breaks up in the summer months. This makes McMurdo the furthest navigable southern point on earth.

As one looks northward from atop Observation Hill McMurdo Station can be seen against the background of Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror. Although they are located about 20 miles away these twin mountains dominate the topography of Ross Island. From my vantage point they appeared to be less than a mile from McMurdo, but one quickly learns that distance is very deceptive here. Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, could be observed with a plume of steam drifting lazily from its crater. I had seen Mt. Erebus while on our excursions to Little Razorback Island and Cape Evans. These trips required a travel time over the sea ice of an hour or more. My impression, therefore, was that Mt. Erebus was quite far away. It cannot be seen from ground level in McMurdo because the view is obstructed by the surrounding hills.

Looking eastward I was treated to another spectacular view. Scott Base, located at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf is operated by New Zealand and is just the other side of Observation Hill. The Ross Ice Shelf, referred to historically as The Great Barrier, stretched as far as the eye could see. At the summit of Observation Hill is a cross erected by members of Scott's South Pole expedition as a memorial to those who died on the return journey. They would climb Observation Hill everyday in hopes of spotting the returning party on the Barrier.

I am reading a book about this expedition written by one of its survivors, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, called "The Worst Journey In The World." With respect to this cross, which took them two days to carry to the top, he wrote:

"Tuesday, January 22. Rousing out at 6 a.m. we got the large piece of the cross up Observation Hill by 11 a.m. It was a heavy job, and the ice was looking very bad all round, and I for one was glad when we had got it up by 5 o'clock, or so. It is really magnificent, and will be a permanent memorial which could be seen from the ship nine miles off with a naked eye. It stands nine feet out of the rocks, and many feet into the ground, and I do not believe it will ever move. When it was up, facing out over the Barrier, we gave three cheers and one more."

Things to ponder:

Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror were both named after ships. From November 1840 to April 1841 Captain James Clark Ross explored the Antarctic seas with his two ships, "Erebus" and "Terror" in hopes of finding the magnetic pole. Instead he discovered the permanently frozen ocean barrier which now bears his name. He also discovered the island where McMurdo Station is located and which also bears his name. Ross Island is dominated by two mountains. He named the active volcano, belching flame and smoke, "Erebus" and its twin, a smaller extinct volcano, "Terror," after his expedition ships.

1. Use the internet or the library to learn more about Mt. Erebus. Here are some websites to get you started:


(Good view of Mt. Erebus from above the crater)

http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/img_erebus.html (Good reference concerning Mt. Erebus, the volcano)

2. Do a little research concerning the name, Erebus, and see if you can find why it might be considered an appropriate name for a volcano.

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