Castle Rock, At Long Last!

Well, it’s been a long time coming but I finally hiked Castle Rock! I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve made plans to do this with one of my friends and then one or the other or both of us just didn’t feel like it or the weather wasn’t cooperating or…or…or…

So Thursday night – January 3rd – I had been invited to have lunch with the Midrat DAs since it was the start of my Christmas holiday (meaning I’d be off for Friday and Saturday). Remember, lunch for Midrats starts at midnight so between quitting time for me and midnight, I’d gone to Southern to play shuffleboard with Roger, Josh, and Andrew. Over drinks, Roger started promising me we’d do Castle Rock on his next day off, which would be Saturday. Well, I’d heard this story before so during “lunch” with the Midrats, I happened to mention that I wanted to do Castle Rock the next day, as it was my day off. Todd the DA (as opposed to Todd my boss) jumped at that with a resounding ME TOO. Turns out he’d been trying to do it for ages and people had kept bailing on him, too. We made plans to meet the next day at 1411, so he could nap after he got off work at 1000. We would meet at the computer kiosk, fill out our eFootplan, stroll over the Firehouse and pick up our radio, and commence the hike. I was very excited and hoped he wouldn’t flake on me like everyone else had.

Why the fuss, you ask? Well, the Castle Rock hike is one of the longer hikes. If you do the full loop, it can take up to nine hours but even just going out and back takes about four if you don’t stop to dally at any of the rest points. Then there’s the climb to the summit which is more taxing than climbing Ob Hill because it’s actually climbing; like, you need your hands and feet and also not being afraid of heights is a good thing because you’re going up to 1,360 feet. I knew that going after work would suck given the amount of time and effort it takes, so I really needed to go on my day off but it’s also one of the few hiking routes for which it is mandatory to take a buddy, a radio, and to file an eFootplan with the Firehouse, so I couldn’t just go on my own.

The eFootplan is an online system that lets you notify the Firehouse of your intended route, your intended departure time, and your estimated return time. This way if disaster strikes, they know to look for you before too long. In the Outdoor Safety Lecture, it’s emphasized to be realistic in your estimated return time because if you give yourself way more time than you need, and something does happen, Search and Rescue isn’t going to mobilize until after that time has expired. Conversely, if you return before your estimated time has elapsed, make sure to go directly to the Firehouse and check back in or else you may forget and Search and Rescue will be mobilized to find you when you’re at Southern drinking a beer – that’s just not cool. After filing the eFootplan on any computer connected to the McMurdo intranet, you then walk over the to the Firehouse to get your radio – also to be used in case of emergency or to extend your return time if your hike is taking longer than you estimated and confirm all the details on your eFootplan, specifically the number of “souls” in the party. Then off you go!

So at 14:17 on Friday – I was six minutes late, I admit – that is exactly what Todd and I did. As we set out, the wind was blowing but it was mostly sunny, which made for some amazing pictures. Be warned: this is a picture-heavy post.

The hike out to the rock really isn’t that long at only 3 miles or so, but it is tough going. First, you have to hike up one of the steepest hills in Town just to get to the trailhead.

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Then once you’re on the flag-marked trail, you’re either on deep soft snow or packed ice and it’s almost entirely uphill.

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It took us about 45 minutes to get to Apple I which is about a third of the way and I was ready for a break and some refreshments!

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The “apples” are not only rest stops but also meant to be used in case a storm blows in and hikers need to seek shelter. They’re pretty well stocked with survival gear and I was surprised to discover just how comfy Apple I was! Todd and I signed the guestbook,

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looked over the reading material,

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had some water and chocolate, and contemplated coming back just to take naps here because it was so cozy and peaceful.

Also exciting is that from Apple I, most of Town is no longer visible and you once again get that unbelievable sense of just how vast and silent this continent is. As we continued on the trail and came over the next rise, we got our first proper view of Castle Rock.

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It took another 45 minutes-ish to get to Apple II, which is larger, less comfy, but is equipped with a telephone. It seemed a bit surreal to be so completely surrounded by the wildness of Antarctica and yet be able to pick up a phone and dial anywhere in the world if we wanted.

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We didn’t stay long at Apple II as its proximity to Castle Rock made us want to hurry up so we could start our climb.

We reached the base and began looking for the start of the climb – marked by a rope attached to the rock face. To future Antarcticans: I highly recommend using the rope for certain portions, as it really is a more challenging climb than you might expect.

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We stopped for a breather and a minute to take in our surroundings, which really were breathtaking, hence necessitating the breather….

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Then we tackled the truly vertical part of the climb.

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And finally arrived at the summit! The whole climb took about 20-30 minutes and the views continued to amaze.

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It was while we were enjoying our whiskey and chocolate break at the top that we realized that we would somehow have to climb down what we had just climbed up. Unlike in top-rope rock climbing, we couldn’t just be whizzed down the rock face on a rope. The idea of this made us laugh hysterically for a good 5 minutes, particularly when looking at how the guide rope appears to drop off the edge of a cliff from where we were sitting.

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Eventually we began our descent…

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…which gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my rather unique style of climbing down. You see, most people advise maintaining three points of contact at all times. I, however, managed to utilize six points of contact as necessary – both hands, both feet, and both butt cheeks. Seriously, true grace.

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And made it safely – and a bit triumphantly – to the bottom again.

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The walk back was much quicker, being all downhill, and with the changing weather conditions casting some awesome shadows, we continued to take pictures of the landscape like mad.

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We arrived back in Town laughing, happy, and STARVING. And when I went to bed that night, I could see the mountains when I closed my eyes.

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