Friday, November 06, 2009

Bonus day hike on Andrew's Ridge

Lake Frixel and the mouth of the Taylor Valley

While I was out on my hikes over our one day weekend, we lost two of our connections, Internet and phone, to the outside world. We weren't worried because we still had our radio and Iridium phone and the Comms guys could fix them on Monday. In order to use less resources, the Comms shop and my boss (Thank you, Karen and Bill!) decided they would keep me at the field camp for a few extra hours to troubleshoot the problem from Lake Hoare while the Comms guys went to Voslips, the location of the mountain top repeater, to troubleshoot the problem from there. Instead of having one of the first flights out Monday morning, I'd be waiting until late afternoon.

A ventifact.

Use your imagination and see a hand.

Another ventifact.

Only an hour or two after that decision was made, the weather deteriorated at McMurdo and all helicopter flights were canceled for the day. That left me stranded in the Dry Valleys for one more night! My two day trip, turned three day trip, had become a four day trip! Fortunately for me, it was a blue bird day on my side of McMurdo Sound at Lake Hoare. I did camp chores during the day and was set loose to hike Andrew's Ridge in the late afternoon.

Andrew's Ridge.

Glacier demolished ground?

Hiking Andrew's Ridge was amazing. After crossing Lake Hoare, I walked straight up to the ridge line. From there, I just headed west towards Lake Bonnie, the polar plateau, and the area above the defile that I had hiked to earlier. Along the way, the terrain changed drastically. Near the top of the ridge, there was almost no snow and most of the rocks look like they had been smashed to smithereens. Because the area was so flat, I assumed a glacier had ground up the large rocks and then receded. However, it might have been sand and wind erosion over thousands of years. I don't know. The few large rocks left behind were all ventifacts that had been eroded down by the sand. It was incredible to witness.

A ventifact.

More ventifact.

About halfway through my jaunt along Andrew's Ridge, I noticed myself looking for terrestrial wildlife. There was none. There isn't any terrestrial wildlife in Antarctica, only avian and aquatic wildlife. I think I almost forgot I was in Antarctica because it was so warm and I wasn't waking on any ice. It was similar scenery to a summer alpine hike in Colorado. When I finally remembered I was in Antarctica, it really struck me just how out of place the Dry Valleys are. There should be ice everywhere, but there isn't. Parts of them are almost barren of snow.

Another ventifact.

More ventifact.

Along the way, my black fleece jacket fell off my backpack. I was really worried because you aren't supposed to leave ANYTHING behind in the Dry Valleys. I was peeing in a bottle, swallowing my saliva, and even wiping my nose on my sleeve instead of using a farmer's blow or snot rocket. If I went back, I wasn't sure I'd find it because it blended into the terrain and there wasn't an exact trail to follow. I'd been trying to walk rock to rock so I wouldn't leave any footprints behind. Apparently, they can last for years. There are tire tracks from the 1960s that haven't eroded away yet in another part of the valleys. I went back about a half mile, got lucky, and spotted it. When I got back to camp, Rae told me about a shirt of hers than had been lost and recovered four years later! I don't think she is still wearing it.

Lake Bonnie and the spot where I dropped down to Mummy Lake.

Yet another ventifact.

While I was walking on this hike there wasn't even a strong breeze to generate any noise other than the swooshing of my own jacket. If I stopped, there was nothing to hear. Nothing, but silence. So much nothing, that I pulled my hood down to better hear the sound of silence.

Seuss Glacier

Not so mummified seal on the north shore of Lake Hoare (maybe Chad).

Canada Glacier at Sunset

Canada Glacier at sunset.

In photography, there is special hour called the golden hour that comes twice a day so it should really be called the golden hours, not hour. It is, loosely, the first and last hour of sunlight of each day, but could be more scientifically defined by the position of the sun on the horizon. At the equator, the golden hour is shorter than an hour because the sun spends less time near the horizon. At certain times of the year in the polar regions, the golden hour is much longer, sometimes lasting all day for the same reason.

The golden hour is important to photographers because the lighting is softer, more diffuse, and often referred to as 'warmer.' This effect is caused because the sun is near the horizon so the light has to travel though more layers of the atmosphere which reduces its intensity. Additionally, more light of certain wavelengths is scattered which changes the quality of the light reaching the photographer's subject. As a loose rule, I'd say if you could take the exact same photograph during the golden hour and another part of the day, it would be better during the golden hour.

The crack in the mountains that allows the golden hour light to pass through to Canada Glacier.

My first night at Lake Hoare, I saw the light move across Canada Glacier during the golden hour and it was one of the most breathtaking moments of my time down here. Brilliance in motion! Unfortunately, the sun comes through a crack in the mountains at the other side of the lake so it only lasted about twenty minutes. On my next night, my planned final night, I resolved to be out on the lake for a better view (click on any picture below to blow it up for your own better view).

Canada Glacier at sunset.

Canada Glacier at sunset.

Canada Glacier at sunset.

Canada Glacier at sunset.

Canada Glacier at sunset.

Canada Glacier at sunset.

Canada Glacier at sunset.

The results of Canada Glacier's calving at sunset.

Canada Glacier dwarfing the Lake Hoare field camp at sunset.

Canada Glacier dwarfing the Lake Hoare field camp at sunset.

The other amazing part about the timing of this was that as I write this the sun is up all the time, so the golden hour shouldn't happen again there until March or April. If I had come any earlier, it also would not happen because the sun wouldn't be high enough to get over the hills in the crack it shines through. I was really just so fortunate with the timing of my trip out to the Dry Valleys and the timing actually gets better . . .

Me with cold hands (don't bring your metal camera to Antarctica)!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mt. Rae

Looking down Canada Glacier towards Lake Hoare

Becky on the way up Canada Glacier

After getting back from my hike to the defile, I sat down to finish out a slow morning. I had a quite breakfast, did some camp work, and filled in a few too many crossword puzzle answers. Then, Becky and I finally got a late start towards our climb up Mt. Rae. We weren't going to summit, just head up the backside until we didn't feel like heading up anymore.

Becky walks like an Egyptian with Lake Hoare below. I'm sharing this because it makes me giggle every time I see it.

Canada Glacier 'sliding' to the right and Lake Frixel in the distance.

Me with Lake Frixel and Andrew's Ridge in the background.

We followed the Canada Glacier up to the back side of Mt. Rae until we hit a small flat stretch. We could have crossed over the glacier to Lake Frixel where there were two unmanned field camps or keep left and head up the back side of Mt. Rae. We went left and after an hour of scree and snow climbing, we finally wrapped about to some amazing views.

Lake Frixel sits near the entrance of the Taylor Valley with Mt. Erebus looming in the distance.

Becky and I didn't make it to our goal of finding a place to see up the east side of the Taylor Valley. We didn't know if there actually was such a view without going to the very top and as we kept climbing and climbing, the view wasn't changing much. We eventually just sat down, ate a great meal, basked in the sunshine, and headed back down. I had hoped to see more, but it didn't really matter. I was still swooning about spending an extra day in such a beautiful place. Nothing to prove. Just enjoy.

A ventifact.

On the way back down the way we came, I saw three great things that I have not seen anywhere else in Antarctica. The first was a ventifact, which is a sand blown, usually pitted, rock. Since the area is so dry and windy, the sand just gets moving and wears the rock down. Sometimes, eddies form based on the rock formation which just force the sand to cycle inside them causing them to erode in curious shapes.

Big rock in the side of a glacier.

Also, on the way down I saw a rock that may have been twice the size of my head lodged in the side of the glacier. It looked so out of place and precariously perched that I could have believed someone put it there if I didn't know better. The glacier had simply picked up that rock thousands or maybe even millions of years ago and has been waiting to drop it ever since.

Mummified seal.

The final amazing thing I saw on the way down was a mummified seal. Yes, the first animal I saw and photographed this time, just like last time, was dead. The ocean isn't near by so this seal has to be hundreds (or thousands?) of years old. I saw a few others while in the valley, but none that looked this complete. It is amazing what a lack of moisture can do for preservation.

Me beside Canada Glacier.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

to the Defile!

After a wonderful night of sleep, I set out for an early morning hike. The night before the camp manager and host with the most, Rae, suggested I put on STABILicers and walk down the lake's moat to the head of the Seuss Glacier and the Defile. I thought the Defile was a proper noun and had a historical reason for such a name, but it turns out that the area just meets the definition of a defile, a narrow passage or gorge.

Moat ice and the uneven center of Lake Hoare

Moat ice that has air bubbles trapped in it and snow resting on it.

I love this picture because it looks like wind blowing across water, but the wind just shapes the lake's moat ice to appear the same way over time.

The part of the lake closest to the shore is known as the moat. Each summer, it melts out forming a gap between the shore and the rest of the lake which remains semi-frozen. I haven't been there in late summer so I'm not sure how frozen the center stays. However, I do know that the ice chunks that broke free in years past protrude up, as shown a couple pictures above. The center of the lake makes for difficult walking because it is uneven and the aged ice has partly thawed and refrozen many times which makes it less stable. The moat is a flatter surface so it makes for easy walking as long as you are wearing footwear that can grip the ice.

Seuss Glacier.

Ice grass growing up from the sea floor (or lots of columns of tiny air bubbles).

The walk to the end of the lake was lovely. Great morning light. Mesmerizing ice cracks below. Large mountains above. Giant glaciers. Not a soul to be seen or noise to be heard. No smells. Just sights and tastes if I really wanted to lick up some dirt or ice.

The defile.

Seuss Glacier and Lake Hoare.

When I reached the defile, I began walking the narrow passage up and over to Mummy Lake. That was my original destination, but I had meandered a little too much getting down the lake and didn't have time to make it. That was just fine. I was taking pictures and trying to soak up as much of this magical place as possible, not see as much as possible. It is hard to describe it. It makes me think of a fall day in the woods of New England where my thoughts don't wander any farther than the next bright colored leaf drifting down from the tree tops.

The end of the Seuss Glacier.

The sandy beach in front of the Seuss Glacier just waiting for the ice to melt and small snow kids to come play.

Seuss Glacier.

I have been trying to write this blog entry for a few days and I've struggled to come up with the right words. I'm not sure any words can really describe the experience. It is like a quote that I first saw about marathoning, "For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not understand, no explanation will ever do." I'm just going to send this out the door so I can move on to the rest of my time at Lake Hoare. Enjoy!