Observation Hill

Observation (Ob) Hill is a hill just outside of town, with an elevation of about 750ft. It’s readily accessible, a good workout to climb, and offers amazing views.

During the winter, you need to file a hiking plan and check out a radio to climb it. This is so that the station can ensure you make it back OK by your scheduled time.

Ob Hill Approach Beginning the ascent -- the road out of town, wind turbines, and Scott Base in the distance.

About a third of the way up, you encounter a plateau with some old warehouses. This was the site of McMurdo’s first and only Nuclear Power Plant, which was operated for 10 years from 1962 to 1972. It was closed due to construction flaws and maintenance concerns in 1972.

Nuclear Plant and Warehouses Remnants of the old nuclear plant and associated storage buildings.

At this plateau, you’ll also find the official USAP Observation Hill Webcam.

Webcam Screenshot View FROM the webcam. (Image is a screenshot from the official publicly-accessible Observation Hill webcam.)

Webcam Photo View OF the webcam.

As you get higher, you start to get amazing views out over the sea ice. Here you can see the view South, including a small dive shack out on the ice, the remains of the nuclear plant, and some town buildings at the water’s edge.

Sea Ice Looking out onto the sea ice from partway up Ob Hill.

Because it’s switchbacks carved into a mountain, you work up a sweat climbing and then rapidly chill once you reach the top. The wind is brutal up top. This was the first hike where I started sweating in my USAP-issued “Big Red” parka, even though it was -15°F out. I was super glad I had it at the top and for the descent afterwards.

But the view from the top is absolutely worth it. Here’s McMurdo station from above:

McMurdo Summit View 1 McMurdo town view from the summit.

McMurdo Summit View 2 Another McMurdo town view from the summit.

You’re also up high enough to see East toward Scott Base and some pressure ridges in the ice. Note the long shadow – the sun is fairly low in the sky.

Sea Ice Pressure Ridges Looking East toward Scott Base and some pressure ridges out on the ice.

Building 155 has a printed-out leaderboard for repeated climbs up Ob Hill. If you climb it 39 times, you’ve completed the “Everest Challenge”, i.e. the equivalent vertical ascent as climbing Mt. Everest. My score is currently… one. We’ll see how the rest of the season goes!

Until next time.