It’s not all work, bars, and science down here – the Great Outdoors are…pretty amazingly great. Yesterday, I took advantage of having my day off coincide with that of two of my friends and hiked Observation Hill. While arguably one of the shortest hikes you can do, it’s pretty physically demanding. It’s only about a mile and a half to the top but it ascends to 754 feet very steeply. It also has a small role in both of Scott’s expeditions.
In early February of 1902, during Scott’s Discovery expedition, he and his men had identified two bays that might suit as a winter harbour. Initially, they anchored in the more northerly of the two, which Scott christened Arrival Bay, to explore the surrounding landscape. To that purpose, the geologist on board, Hartley Ferrar, “climbed a prominent conical hill beyond the second bay and was able to report that…they were clearly on a volcanic island joined to the distant mountains only by the vast expanse of the ice barrier. They named the conical feature Observation Hill.”
Today, as then, the summit of “Ob Hill” – as it’s affectionately known to locals – affords amazing views of the surrounding landscape, if you’re smart enough to go in clear weather. I, however, am not that smart, but I am that persuasive, which is how Josh and Roger found themselves traipsing up the hill with me. While I paid heed to the weather and dressed accordingly, they were so inadequately dressed, it was woeful. Fortunately, I paid attention in my Outdoor Safety Lecture and had plenty of extra gear in my little daypack which I gladly lent out as necessary. Oh, I also ended up carrying everyone’s water bottles. Le sigh. Boys are boys the world over.
So even though the weather was bad, we enjoyed our hike and took some pictures at the summit, even though there wasn’t much to see of the landscape.
The cross at the summit is where Scott’s second expedition –the Terra Nova – enters the scene. This was the expedition in which Scott reached the South Pole, but was not the first to do so, having been beaten there by Roald Amundsen by only five weeks. During the disappointed journey back from the Pole, Scott and his team of four would see their demise from a combination of injury, hunger, and exhaustion. The search party took 8 months to reach Scott’s last campsite – which was only 11 miles from the nearest supply depot – and were unable to retrieve the bodies but did rescue the photographic film and scientific specimens. Upon returning to Hut Point, the search party erected a cross at the top of Ob Hill with the names of all the party inscribed with the following quote from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Incidentally, subsequent search parties were unable to relocate the remains of Scott and his men due to snow accumulation and their bodies are now believed to be encased in the Ross Ice Shelf, which is very slowly inching its way to the Ross Sea. So some day, a very very long time from now, they may finally find their way off the continent. And on that fun fact, I sign off for now…