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9 December, 2003

Walk Up Ob Hill And Emperor Sighting

After a full day of working indoors, Scott, Barb, and I decided that a walk might do us a little good. I’ve wanted to hike up Observation Hill and today’s clear skies and low wind made tonight the perfect night. Located just east of McMurdo and West of Scott base, Observation Hill is a 230m volcanic cone towering above Cape Armitage. On a clear day the thirty-minute climb yields THE best birds eye view from Hut Point Peninsula.

On top lies a 3.5 m cross erected on January 20, 1913 in honor of the five men of Scott’s Party who perished on their return from the South Pole. Inscribed on the cross is the fading line from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses- “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!” As I made the steep climb, the cross and summit became my south pole. Just a little farther, I’m almost there! Like Scott, we were not the first to reach this amazing destination. Thousands have made this journey before me, and several other McMurdo residents had also decided that tonight was a perfect evening for the climb. Thankfully, unlike Scott, my expedition had a much happier ending.

The view from the top was breathtaking. To the right: a bird’s eye view of the place I’ve called home for the last three weeks. To the left: Scott Base and the Cape Armitage loop that we had just recently skied. Behind Me: Mt Erebus and Castle Rock. Straight ahead: White and Black Island, Mt. Discovery, the Royal Society Range, and a view of the ocean (never mind that it’s frozen). If you looked carefully enough a dark blue line can be seen boarding the west side of the sea ice, marking the boundary between the ice edge and open water.

After descending Ob Hill we decided to go out and see the emperor penguin that has been hanging around McMurdo. About a week ago the penguin was found in the middle of the ice runway. The emperor has now waddled down the sea ice and is hanging out half way between the ice runway and town. At over a meter tall and weighing nearly 40kg, emperor s are the world’s largest penguin and are the only Antarctic bird that actually breeds during the winter. For 66 days male emperors huddle together incubating their eggs on their feet.

As we walked along the roadway cut in to the sea ice, I gasped as I first caught sight of the black and white mass towering above us. We crawled up out of the roadway to get a better view and to snap some pictures. The penguin was absolutely beautiful and even bigger than I’d imagined. According to the Antarctic Treaty we are not able to interact with the wildlife. This includes touching or making noises/calls to get their attention. We sat there in silence from a distance of about 20 feet away, just watching it preen and listening to the wind. The blue sky, clear view of Mt. Erebus and pastel clouds made for a magical evening.

1. A view of Observation Hill as seen from McMurdo.

2. Me at the top of Ob Hill

3. The view of McMurdo from Ob Hill.

4. A view of Mt. Erebus and Castle Rock from Ob Hill

5. The Ob Hill Cross honoring Scott’s Party: Robert Scott, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans, Laurence Oates, and Edward Wilson.

6. An emperor penguin hanging out between town and the sea ice runway.

7. Me trying to get a picture of the penguin. Unfortunately, my “model” was not very cooperative. Occasionally it would turn or waddle, but for the most part he stood there head tucked in as if it were dozing. The majority of my photographs are of a “headless” penguin. While I will forever cherish my evening with an emperor, the whimsical adelie penguins at Cape Royds were much more fun to watch.

8. Penguin tracks

9. If you’ve been following the news you may have heard about the Australian gentleman who tried to fly a private plane over Antarctica and ended up having to land here at McMurdo. After seeing the penguin, we walked over to the runway to see his plane.

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