Scott Base welcomed us with all goodies of civilization: the first shower after 3 ½ weeks, proper meals and comfortable beds. It was lovely. But then duty called. We had to clean up our equipment, dispose our waste, dry the tents and store everything in the appropriate places.
What followed were several days of relaxing before our flight back to Christchurch. Now I had some time to discover the southern tip of Ross Islands with Scott Base and McMurdo.
A must is to climb Observation Hill. The cross at its top was erected in 1913 to commemorate R. Scott and his party who lost their lives on the return journey from the South Pole in 1912. From Observation Hill we descended 3 km down to McMurdo. The station is the largest community in Antarctica, capable of supporting up to 1258 residents and serves as one of three United States Antarctic science facilities.
McMurdo with its dirty snow and ice patches is less appealing when summer approaches. But a closer look reveals that it offers everything one expects from a small town. And when coming from the loneliness of the Transantarctic Mountains it is a pleasure to dive into anonymity among about 1000 people.
You can even do historic sightseeing here. On Hut Point you find Discovery Hut, a historic monument preserved through the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. The hut was built by R. Scott in February 1902 when Hut Point served him as first expedition base in Antarctica, established for the National Antarctic Discovery Expedition 1901-1904. The expedition included a major science program and was a landmark in British Antarctic exploration, resulting in Scott’s return to Britain as a national hero. His base became an important staging post for every subsequent “heroic-era” expedition.
In comparison to McMurdo, life on Scott Base is more quiet. The native residents lounge on the ice and enjoy sunshine while humans consider “kite skiing” a popular leisure activity.
Even the biggest adventure ends sometime. For us it happened on December 4. We had to prepare for our trip back to Christchurch where my final leg, the flight back to Munich was waiting for me on Wednesday. For the last time the guidepost confirmed that I really had been very, very far away.
Our driver from McMurdo arrived with the shuttle. We loaded our luggage and off we went to Pegasus Field where we had arrived 5 weeks ago with great expectations (which were actually all fulfilled).
For the return trip we were not offered the relative comfort and speed of a C17 Globemaster. Now our transport vehicle was a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. We realized its smaller size on our 7 ½ hour flight when we sat densely packed in the cargo bay. But finally we landed well in Christchurch. There I spend another day before I really return home.