November 29, 2009 Castle Rock Loop, Ross Island Trail System, Antarctica
We recently went for a hike on the longest of the trails established on Ross Island--a 9 mile loop to Castle rock, a prominent point between McMurdo Station and Mt. Erebus. The Ross Island Trail System provides the folks stationed at McMurdo with several options for out-of-town travel. However, with the dynamic Antarctic weather a constant worry, hikers have to be very well prepared and communicative with the emergency services in town in order to prevent accidents.
USAP search and rescue workers maintain the trails each summer season, marking the routes with flags and also marking off-trail hazards (crevasses!). Prior to hiking any of the trails that get more than a mile from town, every USAP participant takes a class to learn about staying safe off base. For longer trails, you are required to check out a radio from the McMurdo Firehouse, and provide the firefighters with a check-in time---the absolute latest you think you'll be back. If any party does not return by their indicated check in time, a search begins in town within seconds. 30 minutes later, and the Search and Rescue team is on their way to whichever trail you said you were hiking on. Don't check in late!
We left on our hike at noon, and planned to be back no later than 7:00pm. We each brought a backpack full of extra warm layers. A down jacket for when we stop moving or start feeling cold, extra gloves if others get wet, extra socks, and plenty of food and water. You have to fuel your body, otherwise your natural furnace will slow down and you'll cool off! These layers also are important to have if the weather changes rapidly, as it does in Antarctica. Temperatures plummet and winds pick up without notice!
Along the trail there are several emergency shelters, of a very interesting sort! They're called "tomatoes," or "apples," depending on what you think is tastier.
Every shelter is equipped with sleeping bags, emergency food, and plenty of foam mats to insulate cold hikers from the colder icy ground! One shelter along the route has a phone line to contact McMurdo Station if radios are dead and help is required. Our apple (I like apples better) even had two cute little snowmen in it to comfort weary travelers.
Here's the view from the trail: