Archive for December, 2007

Fast and Loose


Those of you who have been glued to the Polar Discovery website (bless you) already know of our Christmas-day hike to the 1911 stone igloo at Cape Crozier. It was great. We walked across the stupendous Crozier landscape, straight into a fog bank that draped us like a sheet. MacOps, the official radio folks at McMurdo, gave us the wrong gps coordinates for the igloo and led us out to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where we couldn’t see a thing. (We stopped before the crevasses started.)

We may have been lost, but we wasn’t bad lost. We knew right around where we was lost at. And we were armed to the teeth with technology. I whipped out the Iridium phone and called the paleoceanographer-staffed GPS Assistance Hotline that operates out of Santa Cruz, Calif., and we were on our way.

So, the funny part is that now we’re back in Christchurch, New Zealand. Chris picks up the weekend paper, and on the FREAKING FRONT PAGE, FOLKS, right under poor old Benazir Bhutto, is this headline:

Mind-googling rescue recalls ghosts of Antarctic heroes

No kidding. It’s totally cool to have the story picked up in The Weekend Press (“New Zealand Newspaper of the Year,” if the masthead is to be believed). On the other hand, it would have been nice if the reporter had actually talked – or even hazarded an e-mail – to anyone involved. Or perhaps just mention that the “quotes” he got from us were just text lifted from our websites.

No harm done, really, except perhaps for making us sound like a somewhat clueless “team of five modern-day penguin researchers” rather than a group of friends out for a Christmas-day ramble. And the cardinal sin: no links back to our sites. Bad reporter.

(Image: Viola)

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You asked for it, you got it: a two-day-old Adelie penguin chick. Full story here.

(Image: Chris Linder/WHOI)

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Here’s ace photographer Chris Linder at 2 a.m. waiting for some love from the Iridium satellite gods.

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Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds


First of all, thanks to all you faithful readers who have been checking out the posts at Polar Discovery and writing in with questions and encouragement. The pace has been somewhat grueling so far, with so much to learn and so much of my brain out of commission due to being shellshocked by all the scenery and penguins and so forth.

I’m not trying to gloat in this picture, but I thought since I had  managed to get the camera pointed at both me and Ernest Shackleton’s 1908 hut at the same time, it would be kind of silly not to post it.

We camped with David Ainley and Jean  Pennycook on a rise just out of sight to the upper left of this picture. Each morning we would file down past Shackleton’s hut and out to the penguin colony, which is  only about 150 meters away in the direction I’m looking.

You might notice the bright yellow wood of the front door in this picture – that’s a new door, complete with padlock, that the Kiwis put on just this year when they finished renovating the place (a bit more on that here, if you haven’t seen it already).

Even with the knowledge that the place wasn’t exactly the same as it was when the last men left it in 1914, it was still a shivery feeling walking in and seeing the cots laid out, the old, rusting tools stowed on the shelves, and the stores of candles and table salt still stacked up against the wall. Old wool socks, incredibly long, almost waist high, and patched here and there with leather and long stitches with what looked like sail thread, and left looped to dry over a clothesline made it seem much closer than a century away. And I finally saw the famous reindeer-hide sleeping bags – big square things with not a stitch of fabric on them: just leather on the outside and fur on the inside. They had the design of a fuzzy slipper, with a hole at about chest level you climb in through, and big collars to wrap over yourself.

The color of the original wood is amazing, a cold gray with the grain exposed, ridged and pitted where it’s been sandblasted by storms slinging volcanic dust. I found strips of wood that had been ripped from the siding or roof – and even cast-off food tins, corroded and deep red-brown – and blown a half mile away  or more, over three or four ridges, to settle in amongst the dirt.  My last day at Royds, I got a small sample of that wind.  It whistled out of the south and buffeted our tent. We hitched a ride back to McMurdo with some passing fish biologists (from Santa Cruz, it turned out) since the helicopters weren’t flying. The wind hit Cape Royds and funneled up the gullies, strengthening as the sides narrowed. Coming over the lip carrying a box of solar panels and headed down to the ice. I was stood straight up by the force of it, and had to lean out against the air just to get started going downhill.

Now I’m leaving for a week at Mt. Morning, sampling young (25,000 year old) lava flows with geologists. We’ll be posting to Polar Discovery by Iridium phone – follow me there…

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Funny sign alert #4


This place is full of funny signs. Wait till you see the one from the bathrooms with directions about where to upchuck.

This is in the radio issue room at McMurdo. I love it because I was in Germany earlier this year and was constantly confronted with signs that seemed like they ought to be readable but never were (not for me anyway). Also, when I was a kid my parents didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, they would speak German. They had met in Germany and both speak the language well, but when they needed a word they didn’t know they would make it up and then break out laughing.

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