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  Mt Erebus erupting  
Mt. Erebus erupting. Click to enlarge.

Mt. Erebus

Volcano on Ice
Part 1: Getting There
by Paul Doherty

December 19, 2001

At Snow School, we learned how to camp in a tent in Antarctica. When I awoke and looked out the tent door in the morning, there was Mount Erebus. A huge white plume rose out of its summit crater 12,500 feet above me. The plume reminded me that Erebus is an active volcano. What a strange image, an active volcano rising above the ice of Antarctica. I remembered that when Erebus was first spotted by James Ross in 1841, it was erupting, and has been erupting ever since.

Noel and I were scheduled to visit Professor Phil Kyle and his team of geologists who live near the summit of Erebus and to join them on a data collecting expedition to the rim of the active crater. What I didn't know was how important our Snow School training would be to help us survive the storms that we would encounter on the mountain.

It took the men of Shackleton's Expedition five days in 1908 to hike from their camp, near what is now McMurdo Station, to the summit of Mt. Erebus. They complained about the cold winds on the mountain. As a mountain climber, I would love to have repeated their route. However this time I would be given a lift via helicopter to the science camp known as Lower Erebus Hut (LEH) sitting on a flat plateau 11,500 feet up the mountain.

Rapid ascent to the Lower Erebus Hut is dangerous to human bodies. In the past 20 years over a dozen people have had to be evacuated from the science camp because they suffered from altitude sickness. So now, anyone going to the Lower Erebus Hut for more than eight hours is required to stop part way up the mountain at Fang Camp for 48 hours to allow their bodies to adapt to altitude. As a result, we would spend a total of five days on the mountain.

The reason its called Lower Erebus Hut is that there used to be an upper hut, but in 1984, the mountain spit out volcanic bombs the size of Volkswagens that threatened to crush the upper hut so it was abandoned for the safer and more distant lower hut.

  Fang Camp at Sunset  
Fang camp at "sunset." The sun sets behind the cone of Erebus. Click to enlarge.

Local mountain expert Matt Irinaga from the Berg Field Center accompanied us to the mountain. Our helicopter pilot, Barry, whisked us up to a flat campsite behind a black cliff known as Fang Ridge. Fang Ridge is the rim of the old caldera (a volcanic crater) of Erebus, the new cone rises far above the old caldera. Two Scott tents were set up waiting for us. Thank goodness for that. No sooner had we arrived, when a strong wind sprang up. Noel reported that his bare hand on the video camera controls lost feeling in about ten seconds, so we dove for the shelter of the Scott tents.

We rode out the storm in the tents for two days. This is a tough place to do science. Then the storm cleared, and a helicopter gave us a lift to Lower Erebus Hut to meet the geologists who live on this volcano for eight weeks at a time.

When the helicopter landed, we got to meet the team of geologists.

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