|The Billboard, Sarnoff Mts., Marie Byrd Land. |
Photo B. Luyendyk, © Amer. Geophys. Union.
From a distance, we saw the tall face of the buff-colored granite tower known as The Billboard illuminated by a low Antarctic sun.It cast a deep blue shadow on the ice surface behind it and stood out abruptly from the ice plain along with its brother peaks. They marked the last visual evidence of solid ground at the edge of the vast West Antarctic Ice sheet that continued to infinity beyond them to the east. Our helicopter slowly circled the plateau that marked the top of this monolith; we approached for a landing and the helo gently shuddered and sounded its loud clop-clop-clop as the pilot slowed the craft and prepared to land. The plateau was bare of snow except for a small patch he selected to rest on. We settled down with a rocking motion. The jet engine whined as it came to a stop. Suddenly it was silent, as we were. Before us lay a panorama not seen but by only a handful of humans. Certainly, no one had been to the top of this rock before.
I stepped out and my boots squeaked in the snow. There was no other sound and no wind. The air was clean and sharp in my nostrils. Above us was the sky without a cloud. I left K.L. and Colin behind and cautiously made my way to the cliff at the plateau edge 100 yards distant. Here I saw the drop was vertical and froze; my altimeter showed the plateau was 2300 feet above the ice plain directly below. I stepped back.
Behind me K.L. was setting up his camera; still, no one had spoken. I could hear my breathing as I took account of the remarkable place where I found myself. I surveyed 360 degrees of the horizon and I found my thoughts blocked and my head swelling with fullness. Nowhere else on Earth can a human experience such isolation and pure beauty. I didn't know what protocol to follow to demonstrate the effect this event was having on me. Far to the north another range appeared, jet black and confusing my eyes against the white snow and ice.
|Luyendyk on Billboard, January 8, 1993. Photo © Kuno Lecha|