On my last day at New Harbor I took a hike to the Commonwealth Glacier. Laura was kind enough to be my guide, and our first stop was at a weddell seal carcass that has been there for an unknown amount of time, it could be over 100 years. Some of the seal carcass’s in the Dry Valley’s have been carbon dated and found to be that old and much older. Because of the cold dry air the seal becomes mummified, and is preserved until the wind and sand slowly erode it away. Why the seals strike out into the dry valleys and are found as far as 40 miles from the sea shore is another question. A search to establish new colonies? Confusion about direction thinking they are heading for open water?
The glacier is about 3 miles from the station, and it is a fascinating walk to reach it. Walking here is a unique experience, very few people get to come here, and the idea is to leave as little trace as possible, which is difficult, but hopping from rock to rock is possible in some places. Other places my foot sinks into the ground, as if the soil is aerated and less dense, possibly a freeze thaw cycle does this. But everywhere is the expansive landscape strewn with small and large stone that always reminds me of photographs of the Moon or Mars. Like everywhere in Antarctica, my sense of distance is thrown off by the clear air and nothing to scale things with, a hill that looks a couple hundred yards away is actually a mile away and takes over 20 minutes to reach. We climbed over several rises and descended into shallow valleys, finally reaching a hill top with a view looking west into the Taylor Valley, with Lake Fryxell and the Commonwealth Glacier dominating the view. The Commonwealth Glacier itself is massive, on a scale hard to grasp even when you are there looking at it.