Observation Hill

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:

Observation (or simply "Ob") Hill at dusk, seen from Hut Point near the Discovery Hut, on a cold and calm WinFly evening. © A. Padilla
Observation (or simply “Ob”) Hill rises behind McMurdo Station at dusk (right), seen from Hut Point near the Discovery Hut, on a cold and calm WinFly evening.
© A. Padilla

And here is one taken in 1902 by members of the Discovery (British) Antarctic Expedition from almost the exact same spot:

Photograph from Capt. Scott’s “Discovery” British National Antarctic Expedition. The Discovery Hut stands on the left. Observation Hill, which rises in the background (on the right), provided a wonderful vantage point for these early explorers to view the surrounding area.
Photo credit: Members of the Discovery Expedition 1901-1904, via Dr. Donal Manahan.

Also, a different vantage point in this drawing of the Aurora Australis over Ob Hill by Edward Wilson, a member of the Discovery Expedition:


Auroral Bands above Observation Hill” – a “quick” sketch by Edward Wilson, member of the 1901-1904 Discovery Expedition, published in Wilson’s own “Diary of the ‘Discovery’ Expedition.
Image Credit via Adventures of Maritime History

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.

The morning sun shines on Ob Hill and the memorial cross of the lost Polar Party. © A. Padilla
The morning sun shines on Ob Hill and the memorial cross of the lost Polar Party.
© A. Padilla
The Memorial Cross at the summit of Ob Hill, erected in January of 1913 in memory of Capt. Scott's lost Polar Party. © A. Padilla
The Memorial Cross at the summit of Ob Hill, erected in January of 1913 in memory of Capt. Scott’s lost Polar Party.
© A. Padilla

In his book, The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard writes about the Memorial Cross:

Observation Hill was clearly the place for it, it knew them all so well.  Three of them were Discovery men 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.

The Memorial Cross on Ob Hill. The inscription reads: “In memoriam Cap. R. F. Scott, Dr. E. A. Wilson, Cap. L. E. G. Oates, Lt. H. R. Bowers, Petty Officer E. Evans R.N. Who died on the return from the South Pole March 1912. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield…” © A. Padilla
The Memorial Cross on Ob Hill. The inscription reads:
“In memoriam Cap. R. F. Scott, Dr. E. A. Wilson, Cap. L. E. G. Oates, Lt. H. R. Bowers, Petty Officer E. Evans R.N.
Who died on the return from the South Pole March 1912.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield…”
© A. Padilla

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:

Ob Hill illuminated behind the NSF Chalet on a mid-morning sunrise (at WinFly). The view from our office window. © A. Padilla
Ob Hill illuminated behind the NSF Chalet on a mid-morning sunrise (at WinFly). The view from our office window.
© A. Padilla

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:

Ob Hill rises in front of us on a calm and pleasant evening, as we get ready to climb it for the first time (at least the first time for Abe!). © A. Padilla
Ob Hill rises in front of us on a calm and pleasant evening, as we get ready to climb it for the first time (at least the first time for Abe!).
© A. Padilla
Hiking up Ob Hill. This is the view from the trail at its base. In the distance we catch a glimpse of Mt. Terror. © A. Padilla
Hiking up Ob Hill. This is the view from the trail at its base. In the distance we catch a glimpse of Mt. Terror. The ripple-like features on the ice, near the base of the hill, are the Scott Base Pressure Ridges.
© A. Padilla
At the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross. © A. Padilla
At the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross.
© A. Padilla
Bev, hanging out at the top of Ob Hill with the Memorial Cross after a wonderful evening hike to the top. © A. Padilla
Bev, hanging out at the top of Ob Hill with the Memorial Cross after a wonderful evening hike to the top.
© A. Padilla
Abe stands with the Memorial Cross at the top of Ob Hill, enjoying the calm and cool evening weather. © A. Padilla
Abe stands with the Memorial Cross at the top of Ob Hill, enjoying the calm and cool evening weather.
© A. Padilla
Although not a clear day, we got a good view of the ice runway (the temporary runway groomed on the sea ice) and the cargo planes "parked" along it. © A. Padilla
Although not a clear day, we got a good view of the ice runway (the temporary runway groomed on the sea ice) and the cargo planes “parked” along it.
© A. Padilla
The 2012 McMurdo Sea Ice Runway. The larger planes are LC-130 Hercules military cargo planes. © A. Padilla
The 2012 McMurdo Sea Ice Runway. The larger planes on the left is a LC-130 Hercules military cargo plane.
© A. Padilla
Bev and Abe hanging out at the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross to the lost Polar Party of 1912. © A. Padilla
Bev and Abe hanging out at the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross to the lost Polar Party of 1912.
© A. Padilla
A view eastward from the top of Ob Hill toward Pram Point and Scott Base (the New Zealand research station). © A. Padilla
A view eastward from the top of Ob Hill toward Pram Point and Scott Base (the New Zealand research station).
© A. Padilla
A cloudy view northward toward the rest of Ross Island. Castle Rock stands out amidst the snow and low clouds. © A. Padilla
A cloudy view northward toward the rest of Ross Island. Castle Rock stands out amidst the snow and low clouds, as Mt. Erebus hides in the distance.
© A. Padilla
Bev, the Moon, and Antarctica, after a wonderful long evening hike up Ob Hill. © A. Padilla
Bev, the Moon, and Antarctica, after a wonderful long evening hike up Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

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.

Ob Hill rises above Scott Base (at its base, in front) as the Royal Society Mountains stretch behind it in the distance. View from the Ross Ice Shelf. © A. Padilla
Ob Hill rises above Scott Base (at its base, in front) as the Royal Society Mountains stretch behind it in the distance. View from the Ross Ice Shelf.
© A. Padilla
Ob Hill stands sharply next to McMurdo Station, at the tip of Hut Point Peninsula. View from the Sea Ice in McMurdo Sound. © A. Padilla
Ob Hill stands sharply in the center, next to McMurdo Station (to the left), at the tip of Hut Point Peninsula. View from the Sea Ice in McMurdo Sound.
© A. Padilla
Ob Hill, seen from town, after a snowstorm. © A. Padilla
Ob Hill, seen from town, after a snowstorm.
© A. Padilla
Ob Hill, after a little bit of snow has melted off. © A. Padilla
Ob Hill, after a little bit of snow has melted off.
© A. Padilla
A good view of Ob Hill and McMurdo at its base, from outside the NASA ground station satellite receiver. © A. Padilla
A good view of Ob Hill and McMurdo at its base, from outside the NASA ground station satellite receiver. Note that practically all of the snow has melted off of Ob Hill, so this was one of our first views of its geology! But don’t worry, I’ll save that for another post.
© A. Padilla

And lastly, a few more views from the top. Enjoy!

McMurdo Station, from the top of Ob Hill, at WinFly. It is quite beautiful when it is covered in snow! © A. Padilla
McMurdo Station, from the top of Ob Hill, at WinFly. It is quite beautiful when it is covered in snow!
© A. Padilla
A contrasting view of McMurdo Station from the top of Ob Hill, later in the summer without the white blanket of snow. © A. Padilla
A contrasting view of McMurdo Station from the top of Ob Hill, later in the summer without the white blanket of snow.
© A. Padilla
A great view of the rest of the Ross Island on a beautiful sunny and clear day, with Mt. Erebus looming in the distance above Castle Rock. © A. Padilla
A great view of the rest of the Ross Island on a beautiful sunny and clear day, with Mt. Erebus looming in the distance above Castle Rock.
© A. Padilla
Bev and Abe, enjoying a beautiful and sunny hike to the top of Ob Hill. © A. Padilla
Bev and Abe, enjoying a beautiful and sunny hike to the top of Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

Some sources of information:

The Natural History Museum (U.K.)

The Natural History Museum (U.K.) – Hiking Observation Hill

Waymarking.com: Historical Marker #20

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)!!

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