Along with the Discovery Hut and Castle Rock, Observation Hill (or simply “Ob Hill“) is one of the iconic features of Hut Point Peninsula and the McMurdo Station surroundings. Standing at 230 m high, Ob Hill offers an excellent view of McMurdo station and the Winter Quarter’s Bay as well as Scott Base and Pram Point, and on a clear day you can see straight across the bay to Mt. Discovery, the Pegasus ice runway, the sea ice runway (when it is there), the Dry Valleys, White & Black Islands, and up the peninsula to Castle Rock, the numerous Erebus Ice falls, and the ever-present smoking summit of Mt. Erebus. It also holds an important place in Antarctic history as it was named for being the place where members of Capt. Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition went to “observe” the horizon in search of the polar parties returning from the Polar Plateau and, more importantly, from the South Pole.
Here is one of the first pictures I took of Ob Hill:
And here is one taken in 1902 by members of the Discovery (British) Antarctic Expedition from almost the exact same spot:
Also, a different vantage point in this drawing of the Aurora Australis over Ob Hill by Edward Wilson, a member of the Discovery Expedition:
Perhaps the most notable feature of Ob Hill is a cross that was erected at the summit in January of 1913 in memory of Capt. Scott’s lost Polar Party of 1912. The cross itself is made of jarrah wood, and it was built by a carpenter aboard the Terra Nova upon his return to pick up the remaining members of the Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), who had spent the winter awaiting to discover the ill fate of the Polar Party that should have been returning from the South Pole.
Observation Hill was clearly the place for it, it knew them all so well. Three of them wereDiscoverymen who lived three years under its shadow … It commanded McMurdo Sound on one side, where they had lived, and the Barrier on the other, where they had died. I was glad to see the concluding line of Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ adopted:
‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.‘
As Apsley Cherry-Garrard put it, Ob Hill commands McMurdo on one side, so we got to work and live under its shadow. It was quite a sight to behold every day, and a gentle daily reminder of the kind of place where we were living: the very same place that exactly 100 years ago claimed the lives of those brave Antarctic explorers.
We were quite lucky to work in an office with this view:
Of course, living so close to this historical feature, we took the time, many times, to climb to its summit, pay our respects to the memory of the Polar Party, and to stand in awe at the expanse of the frozen world that surrounded us. Here are some pictures from our very first climb of Ob Hill:
As I mentioned earlier, Ob Hill is quite the iconic and prominent feature on the Hut Point Peninsula, so it should come as no surprise that it is one of the features we use to know that we’re getting close to “home” when we’ve been out and about the area. Below are a few other views of Ob Hill from different spots in and around the McMurdo Sound.
“The Worst Journey in the World” – by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (Publisher: Basic Books), 1922 ← A great read, perhaps the best account of the race to the South Pole (told by a member of the expedition himself)!!