It’s summer! And that means longer summer hikes, now that it’s not -20°F outside anymore.
One of the longer individual hikes you can take is to a spot called Castle Rock. At around 9 miles roundtrip (if you take the scenic route starting at Hut Point), it’s a solid afternoon adventure, and well worth the trip.
McMurdo is on the southern tip of Ross Island. You can hike inland (North), toward Mt. Erebus, and you’ll eventually come to Castle Rock. You can climb the rock if you’re so inclined, and the views from the top are remarkable.
We set out on a beautiful, albeit overcast Sunday morning. A large fraction of the McMurdo population works “town hours”, which are 7:30am - 5:30pm Monday through Saturday. This means Sunday has more people recreating and enjoying their precious day off. It’s always a treat when the weather cooperates. It was +5°F for this!
As we left Hut Point and climbed up the ridge, we passed through Arrival Heights. We passed some of the larger radio and scientific projects, which are set up away from downtown McMurdo.
Much of this area is reserved for scientific projects and environmental protection, and it’s off-limits for recreation. We had to steer clear of the reserved area as we passed through.
Off in the distance, you can even see Observation Hill. It looks tiny already, and we’ve only just gotten started here:
As we left Arrival Heights, we headed out onto a barren snow field, which stretched far out ahead of us.
We could see our destination, Castle Rock, far out ahead across the snow:
The road is flagged, compacted snow. It’s used by a couple science and operations groups that have infrastructure out along the trail.
Shortly after we got out onto the snow, we passed our first Apple.
“Apples” are red shacks strategically placed along routes that are far from town.
They are stocked with emergency blankets, clothes, cots, food, first aid, and other supplies you may need if you’re caught out in a storm or experience an injury. Most importantly, they’re a windbreak. Cold is fine, wind hurts.
Moving on, we continued along the snow road, slowly making our way toward Castle Rock, which grew larger as we approached.
The scenery is remarkable – stark snow and ice, for miles and miles:
We passed our second Apple:
And turned around for a look at the path we had just walked:
Finally, we made it to Castle Rock! We got lucky – right around this time, the clouds started to thin.
The climb up was more technical than I’ve ever done before. I’m not a frequent hiker back home, and this was right at the edge of my comfort zone. No place like Antarctica to try something new! I was with a friend who had done the hike before, which was reassuring.
There are sections where you’re climbing over steep rocks and snow, and there are ropes to guide you. I relied on these ropes heavily during the climb up, and especially during the climb down.
The climb was absolutely worth it! The clouds had lifted, and we were greeted with a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape.
Including postcard-perfect views of Mt. Erebus:
We lingered at the top for close to half an hour, soaking up the sun and the gorgeous views.
After a harrowing climb back down, we bid farewell to Castle Rock and began our trip home. Glancing back, the clear blue sky made the rock even more scenic in the distance:
From here on back, we just retraced our steps. It was a long way home. You can see Observation Hill way off in the distance – that’s where we’re going!
We ended up back in town about 5.5 hours after we left, hungry but grateful for beautiful scenery and beautiful weather.
Castle Rock Climb is definitely a time commitment, and it’s a more technical climb at the end than I’m used to doing. But the views are unbeatable, and it’s a good, healthy dose of Antarctica that helps remind me why I came here.
Until next time!