The Argonauts: An Exploration of Life

Vilmar walks up a hill and comes down a mountain

Vilmar on top of the bottom of the world

The land way way down under

Read the complete journals of Vilmar’s Antarctic adventure.

Vilmar on top

Funny how a one-day weekend makes you so much more efficient at leisure activities than a three day weekend. The desire to cram a bunch of activities into such a short period in an effort to make up for not having two days off is intense.

The best thing is to pick one or two activities and do them. The hell with the rest. For me it was to catch up on my journal, climb a hill, and maybe go to the aquarium.

First things first, I got the hell out of my room as the fuel pump went out in the boiler for the dorm and it was COLD in there. So I spent a few hours in the morning catching up on email at work. Then lunch. Then a bit of exercise. Then the room was warm again.

As I write this, having completed my exercise for the day I can go, “HMMMM…now I know why I will never climb mountains.” But I’d decided that since it was such a nice day (little wind, partly cloudy, somewhat warm) I would climb Observation Hill. Looked fairly easy. Seemed to have a path…..(key word here is “seemed”.) What the hell….why not?

Trudging through the snow and loose rock was OK until I was one half of the way up. Here I found some buildings from the nuclear plant authorized by Congress in 1960. After getting to McMurdo in December, 1961, it became operational in March 1962. It produced 1,800 kilowatts but in September 1972 shield water leakage shut it down. It was dismantled and returned to the United States in 1973- 1975. Chernobyl comes to mind.

Continuing on, it got a bit slick with few rocks for proper grip. I wondered if the soles of my shoes might get cold enough to harden and lose their ability to grip. But I continued to the 2/3 point. Then I looked back downwards into the town and the first tinges of doubt began to creep in.

There was another couple there when I arrived so I commented on how it sucked to be out of shape, proceeded to rest a bit and then headed upwards.

Every step forward increased the pitch of the alarms going off in my head about what would happen if I took a mis-step. This felt like billy goat country to me and I dared not to look back over my shoulder.

It is amazing what drives people to do things they normally are not prone to do which sometimes results in serious injury; simply because we dare not let our pride interfere with our common sense. That’s exactly what I was doing. Under normal circumstances I’d have assessed the risks in the climb up to this point and I’d have stopped, turned around and called it a day. Not because I am a chicken s* but because this was something a bit out of my league. But those other two folks were behind me. I could not be bested by them. So up I went. Then I did something else foolish. I strayed off the “path” and struck off on my own up what could not have been more than a six-inch wide track covered with snow. Sheer walls on one side, sheer drops on another. I felt my coat drag and grab on the protruding rocks. Damn, I did not like it. Then I broke free and got to an open snow covered slope and finished the climb. Heart pumping a beat to make the wildest tribes of savages proud. To say it was not worth it would be a lie.

So I learned a lesson—I can do this kind of stuff. The question now is: will I try something similar again and kill myself through a sense of false security and confidence? One way to find out.

But, OH! What a view from 750 feet up!!

Vilmar next to cross

On top of the hill there is a cross, made of Australian jarrah wood, commemorating Scott and his four companions. Erected by members of Scott’s last expedition, they took two days to carry it up to the top of the hill. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the classic, “The Worst Journey in the World”, wrote the following, “There was some discussion as to the inscription, it being urged that there should be some quotation from the Bible because ‘the women think a lot of these things.’ But I was glad to see the concluding line of Tennyson’s Ulysses’ adopted: ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’…. Tuesday, January 22. Rousing out at 6 a.m. we got the large piece of the cross up Observation Hill by 11 a.m. It was a heavy job, and the ice was looking bad all round, and I for one was glad when we had got it up by 5 o’clock or so. It is really magnificent, and will be a permanent memorial which could be seen from the ship nine miles off with a naked eye. It stands nine feet out of the rocks, and many feet into the ground, and I do not believe it will ever move. When it was up, facing out over the Barrier, we gave three cheers and one more.”

As a side note, June 1993 brought with it hurricane force winds to McMurdo which knocked down the cross. In January 1994 members of McMurdo and Scott Base worked together to carry the cross up the hill, erecting it, 81 years and one day after it was originally placed on the hill. Many joined in the task and a small service by the local clergy closed the ceremony. So having achieved the summit I looked back down and wondered how I was going to make it without killing myself. EASY! I sat down, planted one outstretched foot in front of me, tucked another underneath me and they served as my brakes. The left pounding occasionally into the slick surface to act as my brake, the one underneath did some braking and much steering. My hands grabbed at any rocks available. And this way I made my way down one quarter of the hill after which I walked/skipped/jumped the rest of the way.

Yep, me and climbing do not get along. But I will do it again.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

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