We’re breaking through the Ross Sea pack ice at the moment – the ice shelf was named after Captain Sir James Clark Ross who first discovered it in 1841. The Ross Ice Shelf was a popular starting point for early Antarctic explorers – both Scott and Amundsen crossed it to reach the Pole in 1911.
It presents a nearly vertical ice front to the open sea, which is between 15 and 50 metres high. Of this barrier, Amundsen wrote:
“Along its outer edge the Barrier shows an even, flat surface; but here, inside the bay, the conditions were entirely different. Even from the deck of the Fram we were able to observe great disturbances of the surface in every direction; huge ridges with hollows between them extended on all sides. The greatest elevation lay to the south in the form of a lofty, arched ridge, which we took to be about 500 feet high on the horizon. But it might be assumed that this ridge continued to rise beyond the range of vision.”
“After half an hour’s march we were already at the first important point — the connection between the sea-ice and the Barrier. This connection had always haunted our brains. What would it be like? A high, perpendicular face of ice, up which we should have to haul our things laboriously with the help of tackles? Or a great and dangerous fissure, which we should not be able to cross without going a long way round? We naturally expected something of the sort. This mighty and terrible monster would, of course, offer resistance in some form or other.”
“The mystic Barrier! All accounts without exception, from the days of Ross to the present time, had spoken of this remarkable natural formation with apprehensive awe. It was as though one could always read between the lines the same sentence: ‘Hush, be quiet! the mystic Barrier !’
“One, two, three, and a little jump, and the Barrier was surmounted!”
– Amundsen, Roald (Translated from the Norwegian by A. G. Chater). The South Pole An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram,’ 1910–1912, eBooks@Adelaide, 2006.