“Adventure is just bad planning.”
So said Roald Amundsen, who ended up being the first to the South Pole but, quite frankly, hasn’t engendered the kind of cult hero status of Shackleton or Scott, both of whom failed in their objectives (rather spectacularly, one might add). It’s quotes like the above that make me envision Amundsen, despite all his accomplishments, as a boring killjoy and not the guy you want to go drinking with.
That quote has been on my mind for another reason, though… because there’s plenty of adventure, both Amundsen’s kind and that of the more reckless variety, to be had in and around base. There are hikes were you can die (sure, you have to take an Outdoor Safety Lecture to be allowed on the trails, but no lecture is going to save you if a blow comes in and pushes you off the side of a cliff). There is the observation tube, suspended in the sea ice which is cracking and shifting all the time (a fact I did not appreciate when I was in the tube… I thought the banging sounds were the current or the wind…).
And there are the pressure ridges.
Scott Base, the New Zealand base about a mile and a half from McMurdo, sits right on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. In front of the base, thinner and less permanent (and much weaker) sea ice slams up against the thick and not-goin’-nowhere ice shelf. The sea ice bends and buckles and cracks, creating a long line of incredible ice sculptures and fissures and cracks that are constantly changing.
And you can walk on this highly unstable slice of ice plate tectonics.
There are some caveats, though. The Kiwis walk the flagged route every two days and adjust it as needed to avoid the bigger cracks and holes. And you can’t just gallivant out there on your own. You have to have a guide, and the guide has to have an ice axe (to probe holes and cracks) and a throw bag (emergency rope coiled in an easy-carry tote attached to their wrist, which they throw to you if you fall in an aforementioned crack or hole).
And, much like the observation tube, the pressure ridge tour’s season is short, just about a month, as they close it down once it gets too dangerous.
So it’s all very well planned. But it still feels adventurous. So there, Amundsen.
Ten of us from my department went yesterday on a windy but clear day. It was achingly beautiful and surreal, one of those experiences where you truly feel like you’re on a different planet. But enough yammering from me. Check out the photos: