Observation Hill, Ross Island, Antarctica

Scott's Memorial Cross I took this picture of myself late one January night in 1977. I was visiting McMurdo Station in Antarctica for a few days of R&R before I returned to the South Pole, where I spent the winter.

Here are some scenic views and closeups from this vantage point...

The Antarctic austral summer spans September-March and there is 24-hour daylight (but no promise of sunshine for photographers...). During the winter at South Pole we had 6 months without the sun. At the exact geographic Pole there is only one sunrise and sunset per year, so after sunset and twilight we had a long period of darkness except for the moon, stars and aurora australis ("southern lights"). I was employed by Holmes and Narver, Inc. (H&N) which then was the contractor that provided operations, maintenance and construction support to the National Science Foundation (NSF). As station manager I had 30-40 contractor people working for me (and a total population of 60-100 including science researchers, military and visitors). During the winter there were 21 of us, totally isolated for 8-1/2 months because it was too cold and dark for airplanes to fly in.

My first visit to Antarctica (and my first climb of this hill) was in December, 1972 with the Navy in preparation for spending a winter there with "Operation Deep Freeze" (that assignment was cancelled as the Navy was slowly being phased out in favor of private contractors). I kept track of that, and as a result I returned to the ice as an H&N employee four years later. I came back to the South Pole a number of times during summers between 1986-90, working for a different contractor (ITT) as a project engineer. Among other projects, I designed and managed the first phase of installation of the 1990-2001 station power plant generators and associated electrical and mechanical systems. Nowadays the "new" 1975 station and its dome became obsolete...all was progressively demolished between 2005 and 2010. The arch formerly housing the old power plant is now part of the logistics facility (LO), and the power plant itself has been replaced by a completely new unit with 3 times the capacity (but still too small!). Yes, we now have a completely new elevated station, now completely occupied. As part of the current expanded science role as well as the construction effort, current populations at Pole are 260+ during the summer. The winter population peaked at 86 during the winter of 2005...when I returned for my second winter as the construction inspector. In 2008 I returned for my third winter as a project engineer for construction of the LO facility and punchlist completion.

Back to the picture. We are on the southern tip of Ross Island. The camera is pointed south looking out over the Ross Ice Shelf toward the main part of the continent. McMurdo Sound (the portion of the Ross Sea where Ross Island is) remains mostly ice-covered until late January when, with the help of an icebreaker breaking out the ice to the west (your right) supplies are landed. The weather was good this morning except for the lack of sun; calm winds and temperatures about freezing (32F/0C). Observation Hill is a steep rocky slope (750 ft/230m) which overlooks (on your right) McMurdo Station, the main US facility in Antarctica. On your left it overlooks Scott Base, the major New Zealand station. Both of these were originally established prior to the International Geophysical Year (IGY, July 1957 through December 1958) in 1956. The cross was erected in January, 1913 as a memorial, by the surviving members of Robert Scott's expedition. Scott's party had died the previous austral autumn during their return trip from the South Pole, and their bodies were found the following spring.

The cross is inscribed with the names of the party and a few lines from Tennyson: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield..." Here is Frank Debenham's 1913 photo of the cross shortly after it was erected (Antarctic Journal, November/December 1974).