Today, after an eclectic breakfast in McMurdo’s bustling expansive galley (dining room), we meet at our research vessel, the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, for a brief orientation tour of the labs and the facilities that will make life comfortable such as the galley, gym, TV lounge, and conference room. The ship is a twisting 3D maze of rooms and corridors and stairs, but I’m sure it will seem like home soon enough. I know we’re all looking forward to moving in tomorrow and starting our work.
But, since the team from the previous cruise is still unloading, we have the rest of the day off, which we spend sightseeing around McMurdo. First, we talk to the Fire Station crew, who oversee the mandatory checking in and out of hikers, but they point out nearby trails we’re allowed to hike without informing them. Pat, Colin, Jessica, and I decide to tackle Observation Hill, a very steep trail up sharp volcanic scree. It’s a tough, slippery climb, but at the summit, the 360 degree views across the frozen Ross Sea to the magnificent mountains to our west, to the foothills of soaring, steaming volcano, Mt. Erebus, which built this island, and down upon McMurdo itself are nothing short of mind-boggling.
Then, we travel the trail around the side of Observation Hill. We see huge Weddell seals basking, stretching, and scratching in the sunshine from a distance that is unthreatening to these creatures. It is against the law to get close enough to any to disturb them or any other wildlife. This is their home, and we are merely visitors.
At night the girls and I discover an unexpected kind of wildlife: up on the hill inside a huge hangar, a band is playing, and soon we are dancing along with the joyful crowd. McMurdo is a thriving social community with activities to suit everyone: belly dancing, yoga, crafts, pickle ball, cross-country skiing, and so much more. I wish I could stay for a month to soak it all in!
It’s a late night for me, as I want to see the midnight sun. At 1 AM, I am still standing by the ice, sunglasses on, the sun high in the sky. It’s been a day I will never forget.