Explore UAB

UAB in Antarctica
As someone who has chronically inhabited graduate student apartments, I have never lived in a house with a backyard. To my delight, Palmer Station has a “backyard” to beat all backyards, complete with seals and skiing!

Palmer Station’s “backyard” obviously isn’t your typical manicured lawn and flower garden. Instead, it’s what the station inhabitants call the rocky area between the back steps of the station and the glacier. You can see the Station’s backyard in the aerial photograph below. A helicopter from the HMS Endurance took this photo during a 2002 visit by the British Royal Navy (Photo Credit: Jonny Mutch and Chris Yelland).

Station Aerial

Over time, as the glacier has receded, the backyard has become larger and larger. “Since the Station was built, the size of the backyard has increased by six times,” Jeff our IT “guru” informed me. At that time (50 years ago), the glacier was a short walk, about 100 m, behind station. Today, however, the edge of the glacier is a 15-minute scramble over large granite boulders.

But, it’s an enjoyable scramble. You never know when you might come across a seal, like the one pictured at the beginning of this blog post (Photo Credit: Palmer Station). Affectionately dubbed “Cesealia” by the station population, this elephant seal hung out on the back deck of the station's boathouse for days!

Penguins, especially gentoos (pictured below; see Maggie’s post “Snow White and the Lone Penguin”) are another common sight. These gentoos have obviously decided they are tired of hiking around the backyard and would prefer to swim.


In addition to hiking, the backyard is used for other recreational purposes. Ten years ago, the Station surveyors were avid disc golfers and mapped out an 18-hole course in the backyard. There are no chain baskets in this game of disc golf, but at each hole the players aim their Frisbees at large boulders or slight depressions in the ground.

In the winter, the risk of losing your Frisbee into a snowbank is too great and disc golfing is replaced with skiing. Depending on the snowfall, you can ski in the backyard or continue up onto the glacier behind station. In the photo below (from 1992), you can see Maggie (on the left) starting her ski ascent up the glacier with the backyard behind her.


The safe skiing trail up the glacier is marked by flagging, as shown in the sketch below (Photo Credit: Palmer Station). The “T-shaped” trail is approximately 2/3 of a mile in length and gains 475 ft in elevation, from bottom to top. It’s the perfect length for an “after dinner” workout!
Palmer Backyard
At the top of the trail up the glacier you have a 360° view of the mountains on the islands off the western Antarctic Peninsula. In the photo below, behind skier Chuck you can see Mt. William – our closest mountain – on the right (peak elevation 5,200 ft) and Mt. Agamemnon – in the distance – to the left (peak elevation 8,448 ft). The scenery is breathtaking. More importantly, each trip through the backyard and up the glacier is a reminder that everything we do on this Station – both our research and our recreation -- is closely tied to this unique environment.

Chuck Skiing