Castle Rock

The day after Thanksgiving was warm and sunny, and almost everyone had the day off. Some folks spend their down time watching movies in the dorm lounges and such, but a lot of McMurdonites prefer to get out-of-doors and do something physical. Thanksgiving morning, for example, a “5K Turkey Trot” race had been planned — which was cancelled at the last minute due to “unsafe conditions” (aka: all the fresh white snow starting to melt on the loose pumice-graded roads). Most folks just ran it on their own, regardless. As we like to remind each other whenever some trivial complaint is being aired — hey, it’s a harsh continent.

I convinced my friend Bill to go out on Castle Rock with me, a trail which I’ve been looking forward to for some time. (He’s the sort of endorphin enthusiast who would be perfectly happy running the whole 9 mile loop).

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Like Armitage, Castle Rock requires a formal checkout at the Firehouse, a hiking buddy “who knows the climbing route”, a check-in plan, and a radio. So many folks had checked out to go walking/skiing/hiking that there wasn’t a radio for us, which was fine — the Castle Rock trail has three Emergency Shelters (red huts called Apples and Zucchinis), and the second shelter has a telephone. For the first hour, just as we were leaving town, the wind blew fiercely against us, and I was afraid it might be too windy. Instead of bunny boots or soft mukluks (which wouldn’t work at all for climbing Castle Rock basalt), we’d decided I should do the trail in a pair of Vasque trail shoes I’d bought at the last minute in MN, which I’ve been wearing in the office at Crary Lab, and walking around town between buildings. They had better traction, but I wasn’t sure they’d be warm enough. I brought extra socks, and changed when my feet felt damp.

It turned out my hands were the only thing I had to be vigilant about (my fingers get cold quite easily). The wind died down while we rested at the second hut, and by the time we’d climbed to the top of Castle Rock, it was a balmy 35 (!) and almost still. McMurdo is a sea-level port town, so Castle Rock (413 m) has a top-of-the-world view, by comparison. Of course pictures don’t do it justice, since the world really drops away in all directions, white and empty-of-people almost everywhere you look, with Erebus steaming about 25 miles to the north.

The landscape was serene, surreal, sublime. I think the only way it could have really been captured is if Thomas Moran and Rene Magritte were around to paint it collaboratively.

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