King penguins

Farthest south!


Day 9 - The Dry Valleys of Antarctica


     This journal is constructed as one web page for each day of my journey, including the arrival day in Auckland, and the final two days, which I spent in Hobart.  I have tried to keep the picture images of a reasonable size for easy web page loading.  To see a much larger view of (practically) any image, just left-click on the photo.

     I was up at 4:30 am, anxious to check on our progress.  We had been traveling down the flank of B-15 all "night" long and were nearing Beaufort Island.  Soon we would make the turn around B-15 and head into McMurdo Sound.

     We got fantastic views of Mt. Terror and Mt. Erebus, the latter with a small plume of steam trailing south from its summit.  We saw Cape Bird covered in ice, bright and glossy in the sunshine.  Now that we are behind B-15, we are crunching through the ice .  I noticed that these ice-sheets were criss-crossed with penguin tracks (and, the occasional seal "track").  It was quite a sight.  We have passed small groups of penguins, and a few seals.  The penguins scurry away from the ship, either by running or by plopping down on their bellies and propelling themselves along with their flippers and feet.  It is all quite funny - at least to us!

     We are trying to follow a channel in the ice, cut by Krasin and Polar Star.  But, often the ice has closed up and we must re-break, or pick a new spot.  Quite impressive – this is what icebreaking is all about!  Of course, our progress is slower, but we are all excited by our new environment.

     Weather to the south took a turn for the worse - cloudy and gray.  We can’t visit McMurdo for a couple of days (this part of our schedule is highly regimented), so we will be seeing other sites for a while.  We followed the track left by the Khlebnikov on its last trip, west across McMurdo Sound.  Then, we spent some time turning around, creating a mess of the ice.  But, the Orcas liked it, as we saw many of them popping in and out of the ice in what is called "spyholing."

Beaufort Island.  Penguin tracks across the ice. Mount Erebus . . . steaming!

Penguins traveling on the ice. Our path through the ice. The view from the stern.
     In the afternoon we were off for the Dry Valleys.  These valleys get virtually no precipitation and receding glaciers, over many thousands of years, have left behind a very strange environment.  The helicopter trip took about 20 minutes.  The ice covered the sound was fascinating – small white amoeba-shaped pieces with a greenish ice outline.  We flew up into Taylor Valley, which empties into McMurdo.  Captain Scott, in 1901, discovered these Dry Valleys.  There are two glaciers here – Commonwealth and Canada.  We landed near the end of the Canada Glacier and walked a defined route, with expedition folks at various spots discussing some point of interest.  We passed a mummified seal, estimated to be a few hundred years old, some scraggy moss, glacier melt ponds and had a brief rock talk from Art.  We were back at the ship at 5:30 pm.

     Unlike the zodiac landings, the helicopter trips require quite a bit of planning and effort by the staff and crew.  Getting the better part of 100 passengers to the Dry Valleys, in our two eight-passenger helicopters, and allowing us some time to enjoy the area, takes between 8 and 10 hours.  By the time my group returned to the ship, there were still people waiting to fly over.  It is quite an undertaking.

Helicopter shuttle. Bigger than a phone booth. Taylor Dry Valley from the air.

Strolling about.  Mummified seal. Canada glacier and melt pond.

Art Ford talks about rocks. Dry Valley mountains. Dennis in Taylor Dry Valley.
     Once back on board the ship, Mike and I had a couple of beers in the bar.  With another passenger, Ian Craig, we tried to work out how many scotches could be served with the ice from B-15.  Our conclusion – 6 billion people could have one drink per day for the next 9,000 years before we’d run out of ice.  I don't think we made any allowance for wasted ice, nor for transport, but, then, we were in a bar!

     Today's activities really made me feel like I was getting the trip I wanted.  There were three places I wanted to visit in Antarctica, and the Dry Valleys were one of them.  You can't tell what will happen on a trip like this - the weather could be bad and our progress could be slowed, so that we end up with a shortened itinerary.  I was keeping my fingers crossed over these last nine days - now I could let out a small sigh of relief that we got to see this place.

     Follow the "Next" and "Back" links to go from page to page.  Or, return to the "Antarctica Home Page" and link to any day from the "Daily Logs" shown there.  If you have any comments, e-mail me to me at:  dfoster<at>kaibabjournal<dot>com.  Please put “Antarctica” in the subject category.

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