Tag Archives: Ross Sea

Northbound

The end of a voyage is always bittersweet.  As I write, we are anchored off Macquarie Island and hordes of kings penguins are diving around the ship flashing their golden yellow neck feathers and bright white bellies at us in a froth of wind-whipped, clear aqua blue water.

A King Penguin sizes me up.

A King Penguin sizes me up.

While I love this moment, I struggle to stay in it as my thoughts are drawn from the three months I’ve spent in New Zealand, the Sub-Antarctic Islands, and Antarctica, to my friends and family back at home.  It’s hard not to look forward to laughter, hugs, home cooking, cuddles with my chubby new nephew and beautiful nieces, and slobbering kisses from the hound.

A snow petrel perches on the railing of the bridge one snowy morning.

A snow petrel perches on the railing of the bridge one snowy morning.

In the meantime, memories of countless days spent on remote islands in the southernmost latitudes of our planet are nestling down into the coils of my grey matter.

Cape Evans, home of Scott's hut from the early 1900s and his Antarctic Expeditions.

Cape Evans, home of Scott’s hut from the early 1900s and his Antarctic Expeditions. Mt. Erebus is in the distance.

I will always remember watching the wildlife here through the broad spectrum of moments that guarantee their survival.  And while all the scenery I have encountered throughout this southern season is stunning, it is the wildlife that animates it in a cacophony of sounds, sights, and smells.  The animals embody the spirit of the place, illustrate the grit and determination of survival, and enlighten us all in our voyage of discovery.

A New Zealand Falcon studies our group as we pass through the rata forest on Enderby Island.

A New Zealand Falcon studies our group as we pass through the rata forest on Enderby Island.

A Buller's Albatross buzzes my Zodiac at the Snares.

A Buller’s Albatross buzzes my Zodiac at the Snares.

Thinking back, I recollect scenes as varied as the tender feedings of mother penguins, cormorants and pipits – to their young beak-to-beak – and a newly born sea lion on the beach; to the violence of skuas picking apart another sea lion just meters away while it’s still breathing, or the frenzy of giant fiordland bottlenose dolphins beating a white-water track across glassy inlets to feed on a school of fish.

A young New Zealand Fur Seal checks us out.

A young New Zealand Fur Seal checks us out.

I will always recall following a huge pod of jet-black orca harboring their young between the stout bodies of the adults flying along between waves and using their centerboard-like dorsal fins for stability.

A group of Orca young and old travel with the ship.

A group of Orca young and old travel with the ship.

In the Ross Sea I watched those same slivers of dorsal fins ply the water along the ice edge searching for seals and penguins perched up on the floes, ready for the taking.

An iceberg catches the glow of one incredible midnight Ross Sea sunset.

An iceberg catches the glow of one incredible midnight Ross Sea sunset.

Friends, family, smiling baby, and smelly dog – I’ll see you very soon.  To the wild places and wild things down here, I bid you farewell and hope that I have a chance to return some day.  Until that time I will treasure these new memories and promise to serve them up again, through photos, stories, and words, at opportune moments throughout my life.

Hiking around the Enderby Island coastline.

Hiking around the Enderby Island coastline.

Ross Sea sunset.

Ross Sea sunset.

Mahalo.

A Weddell Seal enjoys the early morning quiet behind Scott's hut at Cape Evans.

A Weddell Seal enjoys the early morning quiet behind Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.

Ross Sea Reflections

 

Cape Royd's the home of Shackleton's Hut.

Cape Royd’s the home of Shackleton’s Hut.

This is a place of white upon black in an infinity of patterns – a gigantic empty and convoluted chessboard devoid of vegetation – I’ve yet to see a single lichen.  The lack of greenery, grasses or moss is startling to the eye and verges on disturbing.  I can only suppose this is what the surface of the moon would look like with snow.

Thousands of years of Antarctic snow and ice.

Thousands of years of Antarctic snow and ice.

We passed Mt Erebus on our way to McMurdo Station and the furthest south this ship has ever sailed.  The top of the colossal volcano was sheathed in clouds at first, and I underestimated its size judging purely by a few glaciers and bare black rock patches revealed through the cloud cover.  When the atmosphere finally lifted and the top of the mountain came into view it undeniably trumped the already impressive landscape around it and nestled at its foot the imposing infrastructure of McMurdo Station housing over 1000 people each year.

McMurdo Station, the US Antarctic research base with an imposing Mt. Erebus volcano in the distance.

McMurdo Station, the US Antarctic research base with an imposing Mt. Erebus volcano in the distance.

Dressing up to go ashore to visit historic huts, or out in Zodiacs to look for wildlife, is an adventure in and of itself.  I give myself about 30 minutes to get ready to go outside for a few hours at a time.

From the feet up I put on:

–         tall merino wool liner socks

–         brushed wool ski socks

–         two pairs of polypropylene long underwear bottoms

–         warm fleece pants

–         polypropylene top

–         merino wool top

–         thick pile turtleneck shirt

–         fleece vest

–         down jacket

–         foul weather bib overalls

–         foul weather jacket with an extra high fleece-lined collar

–         merino wool glove liners

–         insulated rubber waterproof outer gloves

–         balaclava

–         fleece neck warmer

–         wool and fleece-lined ski hat

–         insulated muck boots

And to top it off I use adhesive toe and hand warmers inside my boots and gloves for a little bit of externally generated warmth – insurance against my poor circulatory system.

All geared up and standing above Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

All geared up and standing above Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans.

The effort is well worth it because our excursions have been fantastic insights into the history and wildlife of this isolated land.  The huts we have visited were built roughly 100 years ago during the heroic age of exploration by characters including Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.  To stand in a small wooden building full of artifacts used by these early explorers and imagine what it must have been like to live shoulder-to-shoulder with 15 men in the heart of a brutal Antarctic winter is tremendous.

The inside of Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royd's.  The contents have been preserved and restored with great care.

The inside of Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royd’s. The contents have been preserved and restored with great care.

I paint a portrait in my mind of the ruthless and never-ending strains on human physiology, biology and mental balance.  I imagine the colors of the hut’s provisions must have been a comfort.  Blue and orange biscuit tins, green glass spice jars, a yellow Coleman’s mustard tin, mulligatawny soup in a red can – all a balm for the eye in contrast to the wicked and wild, white world outside, the rough brown woolen clothes and spare wooden floorboards and tabletops, the black cast-iron stove and opaque blubber smoke.

An assortment of provisions inside Shackleton's hut.  The shelves are made from packing crates for his 1907 expedition.

An assortment of provisions inside Shackleton’s hut. The shelves are made from packing crates for his 1907 expedition.

In terms of wildlife, we have walked amongst thousands of Adelie penguins in their raucous colonies, come across about a dozen tall Emperor penguins molting miserably on floating chunks of ice often sharing the floe with crabeater, Weddell, and elephant seals, and have crossed paths with whales including humpbacks, Minkes, fins and orca.  While the diversity of species is low – our only seabird companions for days have been Antarctic and Snow Petrels – the biomass is great, and the sheer numbers of animals are hugely impressive.

A massive colony of Adelie penguins with chicks on Franklin Island.

A massive colony of Adelie penguins with chicks on Franklin Island.

It’s been a joy to wake each day and greet the Southern Ocean in all of its different moods.  Days have been blue-gray and speckled with white foam from wind and low clouds.  Mornings have hailed us with fat snowflakes and chunks of sea ice forming in the rounded corners of porthole windows.  Evenings have inspired me with mirror-flat glassy seas, the wake of the ship cutting ribbons of shadow into the velvet waters reflecting imposing mountainous shorelines.

An Adelie penguin chick eyes me and my camera on Franklin Island.

An Adelie penguin chick eyes me and my camera on Franklin Island.

Life is simple down here.  The mantra is stay warm, eat your fill, do your job, sleep when you can – generally cat naps through the night between peaking waves – and above all stay alert and absorb like a sponge this chance of a lifetime to sail through the Ross Sea.

Albatross

Gearing Up for Antarctica

It seems crazy that several weeks have gone by since I got home from my last contract in Indo and Australia.  That whole time I’ve been packing.  And by that I mean literally packing my stuff for this next adventure, but also packing in as much time with friends, family, and favorite places as I possibly can.

Packing

Most of my gear for three months in the way, way South ready to be packed!

Spending time with my new nephew Parker and my beautiful, smart nieces has been high on my list, as well as:

– Surfing Rhode Island’s amazing waves

– Celebrating my birthday at a best friend’s wedding with great people

– Living and feasting on the beach in Newport for a few weeks, despite the cold digs

– Reading everything I could get my hands on about the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration”

– Visiting my dear friends in the Florida Keys where I was in, or on, the water every day

– Running and yoga

– Spoiling and exercising my dog

Vega_Snow

Playing with Vega in the fresh snow-filled woods of New Hampshire

And now, as 2013 comes to a close, I’m getting my fill of smart, provocative, and hopeful stories that seem to sum up a positive direction in our world.  I realize that it’s not all Yahtzee and Mai Tais out there in the sea of humanity, but I’m seeing some great and inspiring stuff happen.  If you have some time to be amazed (and who doesn’t?), then I recommend the following videos and websites and I’m sure there are many more out there:

Hugs Hammocks:  Handmade Hammocks from the, Philippines to Benefit Those Affected by Typhoon Yolanda

TED Rachel Botsman: The Currency of the New Economy is Trust

Ken ‘Skindog’ Collins Responds to Laird Hamilton  (Laird had a condescending and negative reaction to a female surfer charging the biggest waves of the year in Portugal)

One Time A Guy Gave A Homeless Man A Computer And The Recipient Did Exactly What the Giver Expected

TED Hans Rosling: The Good News of the Decade?

TED Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Aaron’s Last Wish in Newport, RI

Happy holidays everyone!

I’ll send out my next Travel Logs from New Zealand, the Sub-Antarctic Islands, and the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

Cheers.

~~ Kit

The Antarctic Summer of 2013-2014 will find me exploring the Ross Sea.

The Antarctic Summer of 2013-2014 will find me exploring the Ross Sea.