Only one event is worth mentioning from today: scaling Olympus Mons.
This large hill sits about a kilometer due north from the Hab, across the Theilges Flats, and sits a over one hundred meters above the plain. To the west sits Harris Hills, a low-lying set of small mounds roughly connected to the base of Olympus Mons. To the north and sit the sister hills of Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Ascraeus Mons (moving roughly north to south) and a large planitia. Olympus Mons is roughly the same height as Radio Ridge, the main north-south feature that extends from a few kilometers south of the Hab to a kilometer or so north, as noticed by our GPS tracks of EVAs 13 and 14, our trek to the mount.
Kiri, Darrel, Carla, and I suited up and were out the airlock at 1236, just six minutes behind our planned departure. Before starting to suit up, I did turn on the radio telescope to record whatever signals I may pick up during the day. So, back to the EVA. We left the airlock, and walked around the Green Hab and under the radio telescope, deciding to make a relatively straight line toward Olympus Mons, not really stopping for too many photos en route. I held the video camera for most of the EVA, so I took a video or two of us walking on our way, plus some good footage of us actually on Olympus Mons, but that will have to be linked later.
As we started up Olympus Mons, Carla decided that her knee was not up to it, so she remained at our basecamp for moral support, and to get some great shots of us trudging along the slopes. We slowly made our way up the slope, stopping every few meters to check that the others were still there. We eventually made it to the western rim of Olympus Mons, and the view was spectacular! All three of us just spent a few minutes taking pictures and looking around and otherwise being awe-struck and speechless. I couldn’t believe how far I could see, all of the different landforms stretching out before me. My EVAs haven’t been far-reaching, so most of the terrain surrounding the Hab had been otherwise hidden from me. This EVA was actually the furthest north I have traveled from the Hab, something I hope to change in my last week on Mars.
But that wasn’t good enough for us. We trekked across the top of Olympus Mons, hitting each of the southern-reaching “fingers” of the mound. Each was connected via small ridges along the northern edge with steeply sloping sides. We went single file with large space between each of us until we reached the next “finger.” The view from each seemed to get better and better than the one before. I led the way to the third finger, which was also the furthest east of Olympus Mons, and made it all the way to the edge. I looked and could see everything. The Hab barely stood out against the whitewashed hillsides behind it, and though it seemed so close I knew that it would be another hour or so before I returned there.
Once we got our fill of the views, and Kiri stopped taking pictures of the various rock forms on the summit, we started our descent. Darrel led most of the way down one of the gullies that would eventually take us back to Carla at basecamp. The path was pretty muddy, making our footing slip every few meters, but there were some stellar rock outcroppings that we used for support, whether it was our feet our hands that needed the support. At one point, we had to climb back up part of the slope, which was unfortunately one of the muddiest sections we had encountered due to the dissipating cloud cover. I went last, so most of the semi-solid footholds that Darrel and Kiri had used were either unstable by the time I was to climb, or my added weight caused them to become unstable. It took me a few minutes to finally get up, thanks to Darrel’s help.
After that point, there wasn’t much slope to head down to get back to basecamp. We walked down a semi-snow covered slope, rejoined with Carla, and returned to the Hab. There wasn’t much talking on the way back, due to three of us being relatively exhausted, so we struck a straight line back to the Hab. I was pretty sweaty and tired, especially due to never going rock climbing (Planet Rock doesn’t count) and wearing some warm clothes for the trek. We were all pretty muddy as well, so we left our EVA suits to hang dry in the EVA Prep Room to dry before breaking off the mud chunks.
This has been my favorite EVA to date, even if driving Viking I wasn’t included. Of course, I haven’t had a long-distance EVA to date, plus don’t have any reason to leave the vicinity of the Hab other than to support the other teams. Kiri has been teaching me a little about geology, plus Unix (which I really enjoy), and I can give some grunt work to Luís’ or Brian’s work, so hopefully I get to sneak into an open spot in a future EVA. Sometimes I do like hanging around the Hab, since I actually enjoy being “in sim” and try to follow it as closely as possible, but I would like to see more of this beautiful terrain, especially up close.
Once we got back at 1439 (almost right on schedule), we spent a good hour or two reviewing all of our pictures (somewhere around three- or four-hundred), plus the twenty-some videos. I also grabbed my binoculars and looked back toward Olympus Mons, noting that I could see some of our tracks in the snow-covered areas, took a few pictures of the mount, and still couldn’t believe that I had been to the top of it. I still have trouble thinking that I have, so I may have to simply look at all of the pictures a few times before it sets in. Kind of like actually getting selected for this MDRS mission.