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First Day off: Castle Rock!

The anticipation of the day off made us all very happy and more inclined to have a late night.

After being all cozy in bed reading my book ready to sleep, I ended up joining the others at Southern Exposure for a glass of wine and what ended up being a hilarious game of foosball - mostly because I am not good at it. But I got extremely excited about playing anyway. Joe and Kate were great at it, but we all had fun for sure!

Today was an incredible day! It was our only day off so far and with the projects going well we all were very excited about going out on a hike to Castle Rock. We were a little disappointed with the fact that there was not a brunch today because the container ship is in town and with its crew around it requires three meals a day. Many of us went for a late breakfast anyway, because we knew that at least the waffle machine would be there, and we could have our own version of brunch even though the breakfast was closed for a few hours by then.

At breakfast, we talked a little more about going on the hike, and given that about 10 or 11 of us wanted to go, we made decisions based on what which one of us wanted to do: hike to castle rock and back only; hike to castle rock and climb it and then back the same way; or hike the whole loop (going past castle rock and coming back past the Kiwi base). After changing in to appropriate clothing for hiking in the cold weather we met back in the Galley and impressively enough, we divided ourselves in 3 groups and out we went. Before going on this hike, we have to log our footplan and check out with the fire house, so they know who is going where, when we plan to be back and collect appropriate number of radios for communication if anything happens, hence our need to have different groups.

It was great to be out as a big group and it made the whole experience even better! The way up there was windy and cold, and Helen did a group job of checking on everyone and making sure we were doing well. The hard part of going on a hike like this is that you have to dress enough to not feel cold, but not too much so you don't get hot, sweating can make you feel really cold once you stop. We also bring extra layers with us, in case we plan to stop for a long period of time and it starts getting cold.

The views were stunning all the way through the hike. My water bottle froze on the way there because of two silly details I was not aware of before coming to Antarctica, the water bottle should have large opening, so it’s less likely to freeze, and it should fit inside the jacket that was provided to keep the water warm and prevent it from freezing. Although my jacket is large enough to put extra hats and gloves in the pockets, I cannot fit my water bottle in the inside pocket, only in the outside one. This was not a major deal because I realized it was freezing I could put the bottle inside my backpack and it was enough to solve my problem.

We had a little stop for some food in one of the apples. Apples are mobile refuges that are placed in some of the remote areas here where we can get inside and be protected from the wind, and they also have survival kits in case there is a storm and we have to stay over.

I planned on not climbing the Castle Rock, because I never done much climbing and since I have been here it has been hard to exercise much and I didn’t want to put myself at risk. Many of the people in our groups were unsure about climbing up, while others really wanted to climb it (more of a scramble up, rather than real climbing), but we all wanted to go to the base of it. Tess and Kirstin wanted to do the whole loop so they took off and kept on the trail while we went to investigate the way up the rock. At the base of the climb we could see Mount Erebus and the open ocean in the distance, it was an amazing view.

I ended up investigating the path up to the summit, and it looked very doable, and there is a rope to help on the path. [My husband will more likely try to kill me as he reads this.] [Hardly! I'd fully encourage climbing all sorts of things; but then I've broken enough bones that people shouldn't always listen to me. Pat.] Bit by bit I ended up going up to the summit and I am very glad I went. Our group was a very supportive crowd and we were checking on each other all the way there, which wasn’t too much. The view from the top of Castle Rock was incredible and I don’t think photos will do it justice. The way back down was a little trickier, but very manageable. The walk back to McMurdo felt like a walk in the park, with most of the path going down and the wind blowing on our backs. The hike was definitely an experience of a lifetime and I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity.

The day off was very worth it and good chance to recharge a little before our last week here!

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