Filed under: travel | Tags: El Chalten, Argentina, Climbing
Alex & I headed directly to El Chaltén where we planned to spend the majority of our time in South America. El Chaltén is a small town, pop. 600 in the winter, in the middle of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The town was born out of a territory dispute with Chile, when in 1985 the Argentinian government decided they needed a presence in El Chaltén to keep the Chileans out, so they built 12 homes for government workers. El Chaltén has always been a hot spot for climbers and the town has been slowly growing over the years into a well established tourist destination. It now attracts thousands of visitors in the summer season, although fortunate for us the place empties out in the winter and goes back to being a sleepy Patagonia town.
El Chaltén is a town in the heart of Patagonia, a climbers paradise, with relatively easy access to some of the most beautiful mountains. From Antarctica, we had arranged a guide in order to climb one of the big mountains in the area, A. Guillamet. There are also excellent trails that start straight from town for trail running and wonderful day hikes. Our first few days there were stunning weather and we took advantage of the blue skies to do some of the local hikes and snap off some beautiful photos. Turns out the Fall colors were near peak when we first arrived so the hills were covered in oranges and reds of all shades.
For some of you who have been to this area of Patagonia before, you know that these mountains are often completely obscured from view by the clouds. Some people never get to see Fitz Roy, the tallest mountain in the range. We were fortunate enough to see the mountains over half of the days we were there, it also helped that we stayed for just over 2 weeks.
El Chaltén was everything we hoped it to be. Stunning scenery, trails every which way, and plenty of rock climbing to keep Alex happy. Plus, we found a wonderful, inexpensive hostel run by a man named Marcelo and his son William. We felt like we were couchsurfing with them as they welcomed us into their home (Marcelo lives there year round) shared meals and answered all our numerous questions. One night the guys had a small dinner party at the house and made a traditional stew called locro. Most of you will be shocked to hear that Alex & I both ate the stew which was filled with numerous kinds of meat. We both picked around the meat opting for the corn and pumpkin that was also in the stew, but there was no way around the small little pieces and the base of the stew had a thick animal fat consistency. I am happy to report neither of us had any ill consequences from our meat adventure.
There are sport routes covering the walls around town. You don’t have to walk far to find something that suites your ability. Our favorite wall turned out to be the closest to our hostel only minutes away with plenty of easy 5.5-5.8 routes for us to practice our sport climbing. Plus there were plenty of bouldering spots all around town. They even have a local climbing guide that can be found at most of the outdoors shops in town. Our climbing guide Manuel helped bolt most of the routes that have been put up recently.
We were also fortunate to receive a visit from one of our friends. Kevin, the waste technician from Palmer Station, is making his way through South and Central America in hopes of eventually making it back to his hometown of Stromsburg, Nebraska. Kevin spent a few days in El Chaltén before continuing his trip north. It was great seeing someone from Palmer outside our familiar surrounding of Antarctica.
Filed under: travel | Tags: Chile, Punta Areans, running
Back to Punta Arenas, Chile where our adventure began back in October. Alex & I were anxious to take care of business and head to Patagonia. We happen to arrive on Easter weekend which conflicted somewhat with our schedule to get out of PA asap. However, it also provided Alex an opportunity to run a quick 12K race. The day we were to leave we happened across a large group of people all wearing running attire. Now this is a strange sight, as when we normally run in Punta Arenas, we see only a few Navy guys running, if that. Turns out there is a race going on starting in the main plaza for all ages and distances.
Of course, Alex couldn’t resist and he ran back to the hotel to change into running gear. We said some quick goodbyes to our friends from Palmer that were leaving that morning and Alex headed to the start line. As our Spanish is pretty poor we weren’t sure where the race goes but there was one guy looking out for Alex to make sure he at least started at the right time. As you can see in the photos, Alex stood out somewhat with his big beard, Antarctic pale skin, and towering height above everyone else. We are not sure what place he came in, as there were runners doing a 6K and a 12K, so we weren’t able to distinguish. Alex got a bit lost along the way as well, however I believe he came in around 5th place. Not too sure out of how many, but I was proud of him.
Once the race was over, a quick shower and then off to the bus stop to begin our journey north to the Argentine side of Patagonia.El Calafate was a stop along the way but the ultimate destination was to be El Chalten.
Filed under: Antarctica | Tags: Antarctica, Deception Island, Palmer Station, penguins
There were scientists aboard studying local fungi at Deception Island and in the Palmer Station vicinity. We ended up leaving a day early so these scientists from University of Minnesota could stop at Deception Island again on the way back. Deception Island is a submerged volcano, where the caldera is the actual bay that you enter, and it was originally used as a whaling station. There are now remains of an old British station which was abandoned after an eruption in the 1960’s. It is now a popular destination for cruise ships to stop and further into the bay lies a seasonal Argentinian base.
We were all thrilled to have an opportunity to get off the ship and walk around Deception Island for the afternoon. There is the abandoned buildings of the old base, plenty of seals and penguins, plus hotsprings that can be made by digging into the sand on the beach to reach the scolding hot water. The penguins were our big obstacle in making our pools. They were swimming around at a feverish pace, coming very close to us and creating a small wake in the water that was breaking down our walls. One of them even made an appearance in one of our photos.
The rest of our journey took another 3 days before we reached Punta Arenas, Chile. Although not excited to be back on the ship, 4 days versus 30 days during the cruise in January, was a significant improvement. It appears Alex & I have acquired sea legs at some points during our Antarctic stay. My favorite part of the journey were the Commerson’s Dolphins that we encountered in the Straits of Maggellan. They are beautiful dolphins and for about 30 minutes could be seen swimming all around the ship.
Filed under: Antarctica
Alex & I have safely crossed the Drake Passage for the second time. We arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile (where the ship typically docks) on Friday. We quickly packed science samples and then took off the following day for the beginning of our Patagonia journey. First stop Puerto Natales, Chile for a quick overnight and then on to Argentina. The photo above is a view of Torres Del Paine (the famous park in Patagonia) on our way from Chile to El Calafate, Argentina. We are headed to the lesser known and traveled Parque De Los Glaciares for some climbing and mountaineering. That is if the weather allows. So far we have had beautiful weather while traveling north.
We were pleased to find Argentina quite to our liking thus far. El Calafate is a beautiful little mountain town with excellent infrastructure that far surpasses anything we have found in any other South American country. Our decision to spend out time in Argentina seems like a good choice.
As time and internet access permits, we will post more from the end of our Antarctic voyage. Including some photos of Deception Island where we stopped on our way back from Palmer Station.
Filed under: Antarctica | Tags: Antarctica, photography, Scott Sternbach
Our good friend Scott Sternbach will be showing his amazing photographs from his time in Antarctica at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY. The opening reception will be April 16th 6-9 pm but the exhibit will be on display from April 3rd through May 31st. Alex & I are dissapointed that we won’t be able to attend, but for all you New Yorkers out there please stop by if you have the opportunity. You are guarnteed to see at least a few photos of Alex & I on display. For those of you who don’t make it or live too far, here are a few of the portraits that Scott took of us with his 8×10 inch view camera.
photo: Scott Sternbach
photo: Scott Sternbach
Please try to make it if you can! I promise you won’t be dissapointed. Here is a photo that I took of Scott in the backyard with his 8×10 view camera. Say hello to him for us if you see him at the opening.
Filed under: Antarctica | Tags: Antarctica, penguins, leopard seal, humpback whale, Palmer Station
Mrs. Brown’s 3rd grade class in Santa Rosa, California are currently reading, “Trapped by the Ice,” a story about Ernest Shakleton’s legendary voyage to Antarctica. Here are some of the questions they had for us.
1. What kinds of penguins are there? Are they nice?
2. How many layers of clothing do you wear?
3.What do you do all day (I told them there were no stores, or parks, or movie theaters, or restaurants)
4. Have you seen a leopard seal? A whale?
5. Are there whales there?
6. Is it cold in the station (I told them you lived in a scientific station - maybe you could describe the housing situation a little bit for them and me)
7. What do you eat, and how do you get your food?
8. Have you seen big waves? Have you been in any storms?
9. Do you have a fireplace? How do you get heat where you live?
10. Has anyone got hurt there?
11. How do you feel living there?
The penguins that are commonly found on the Western Antarctic Peninsula are known as brush tailed penguins. There are 3 types of penguins in this category, Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie Penguins. The penguins are usually scared of us and we make sure to keep our distance so we don’t frighten them. But they usually cooperate for the scientists studying the penguins in the Palmer area, so yes they are nice most of the time.
The area in Antarctica where we are living doesn’t get as cold as other areas of the continent. Therefore, we don’t need to wear too many layers of clothing. On a typical day the air temperature is around freezing or 32ºF (0ºC). If I am going to spend time outside I usually have on long underwear, pants, warm socks, a long sleeve shirt and a jacket. Usually a hat as well.
Most days are work days down here. However, work in Antarctica is much more exciting than in most places. We often get to take a zodiac (big rubber boat) out on the water, taking different measurements and collecting seawater. We also spend time in the lab processing all of the data we collect. In our free time, we go explore nearby islands, visit the penguins, hike the glacier in our backyard, play board games or cards, watch movies, read books, and write to our friends and family back home. Some people here even set up an 18 hole disc golf course in the backyard. We are very rarely bored.
While out in the ocean we often run into curious leopard seals, penguins, and sometimes even whales. Frequently, we will see leopard seals napping on big pieces of ice that are floating around our station. These piece of ice break off the glacier in our backyard. Whale season is coming to an end here, but just yesterday we saw 2 Humpback whales swimming near our boat. There are also Minke whales in our area, but the most commonly spotted are the Humpbacks.
Palmer station is made up of 2 main buildings aboud 200 feet apart, that are connected by a wooden walkway. One building has all the labs, offices, the kitchen/eating area, and some bedrooms. The other building has a lounge (with thousands of DVDs and books), a bar, gym, warehouse for storage, the clinic, the power plant, and more bedrooms. There are other smaller buildings as well but most of us spend the majority of our time in one of the two main buildings. We keep the station very warm and comfortable all the time, just like your houses. The power plant is run on diesel fuel which is brought in by ship. Yes, we do have a fireplace in the galley (kitchen area) but that is only there to make us feel extra cozy and is not needed to keep us warm. The heat is always on!
There are 2 people here whos job it is to cook all of our meals. They make excellent food and we are very spoiled. All our food comes to us by ship. The only thing we sometimes lack is fresh fruit and vegetables. They only last for so long and in between ships (usually about 1 month between ships) we often run out. The Laurence M. Gould is the ship that comes to Palmer and is how we get back and forth to station. The food I miss the most is fresh tomatoes. However, the ship is arriving in one week so I’ll have fresh tomoatoes very soon!
Luckily, I haven’t been in any big storms while on the ship. When we crossed the Drake Passage, it was very calm weather and there were very small waves. The biggest waves I’ve experienced were about 15-20 feet and that wasn’t too scary. Every so often we get storms that pass over station and bring very strong winds. The wind can get up to 60 mph!
Since I arrived in October, no one has been injured. We did have one person get sick and need to go to the hospital. It normally takes 5 days by ship to get here but they were able to arrange for a Chilean military plane to pick this person up on top of our glacier. It was very exciting to have a plane land here and luckily our friend is feeling better and resting at home with their family. You can read this earlier post that I wrote for more details about the medevac.
Antarctica is a very special place and I have enjoyed living here for the past 5 months. I feel very fortunate to have been given this amazing opportunity. I am happy that I had the chance to share my experiences with all of you. Antarctica is a magical place.
Filed under: Antarctica | Tags: Antarctica, Gentoo penguin, Palmer Station
Around station, penguins are few and far between these days. However, there are still random Gentoos and Adelies in the area sticking around to molt. Every year following the breeding season, penguins must replace all their feather by molting. During this process they are no longer water proof, therefore they must stay out of the water and cannot eat during this time. It can take up to 30 days for some birds to replace all their feathers. There was one Gentoo Penguin (named Jeremy by Alex & I) who decided to molt at Palmer Station. It was fun to watch his progress over the weeks, although he did look pretty miserable most of the time. In the top photo you can see white feather sticking up on Jeremy’s back. The photo below is Jeremy after his new coat of feathers have come in, minus the little tuft still on his head. He looked a bit like the penguin fledglings with their goofy hairdos right before they leave the nest. The head appears to be the last place penguins get their new feathers for both adults and chicks. We were sad to see Jeremy leave, but happy for him that he was finally going to get some food in his shiny new coat of feathers.
Filed under: Antarctica, running | Tags: Antarctica, Palmer Station, ultramarathon
Elizabeth has been doing most of the posting to SoCivilized for the past few months, but I figured I should give a first hand account for this one. In short, the monkey is finally off of my back. The weather and our schedule coincided to allow me to run an ultramarathon in Antarctica. In November, Elizabeth and I used a GPS to map out a 1 mile course from the station up to the top of the glacier. On top of the glacier, we also mapped out a quarter mile loop on relatively flat ground. The idea was that I could get 2 miles out and back from station while also having the option of running “easy” miles on top of the glacier.
The Palmer Station 50K was supposed to happen on the morning of the Winter Solstice - our longest day of the year. Unfortunately, it was canceled because we woke up to about a foot snow. Ever since then, I have been waiting for a decent weather window to coincide with a lull in our work schedule.
With a bunch of samples being processed by HPLC, we had Saturday off from any significant work. Friday’s weather was decent with a ridge of high pressure forecast to remain in the area for the next day. At 6:45 on Saturday I opened my eyes to a bright blue sky. I gathered extra clothing and went to the galley for some breakfast. Alden, our carpenter, was awake. He and I exchanged a few words as we ate breakfast. At 7:30 I was starting my run from the pier under blue skies and zero wind with air temps at about 28 F.
With bagpipes playing on my iPod, I started jogging up the hill from the pier. After about 30 seconds, I had passed through the station and entered the backyard. In general my favorite trails are rough and rocky. Indeed the backyard at Palmer does not disappoint. The gravel road ends about 100 feet past the last significant structure at station. Beyond there, my path was a scramble over boulders to the ridgeline. My path stayed just below the ridgeline on a runable stretch of bedrock before hitting the last 100 yards of scree (glacial moraine) to the foot of the glacier. From the scree laden moraine, I ran to the VLF antenna cable and followed it to the top of the glacier and the antenna itself. The view from the top of the glacier is spectacular, so it is pretty easy to run quarter mile loops on a clear and sunny day. The only downside to the quarter mile loop was that we had several inches of snow a days earlier. That plus the previous day’s sunshine resulted in a very soft upper layer of snow. It took about six miles on the quarter mile loop to pat down the trail into something that was flat and firm.
Elizabeth came out and joined my for miles 8 to 12. Then one of our IT guys, Paul Queior came out at about mile 17 and ran with until the end. Paul was great to have along and will be a perfect pacer in a future 100 mile run. He told an excellent story about the Palmer Station winter solstice and then fell into a wonderful history of cryptography.
Running the 50K at Palmer wasn’t too different from other ultras. I kept a pile of food and drinks in the lab which is next to the turn around point on the pier. Otherwise, my goal was maintain 5 miles per hour including the walk up the glacier - which was necessary because it would have been a waste of energy to try to run up the steep ice slope. Aside from hiking from the moraine to the crest of the glacier, I ran the rest of the race. Of course, “running” is relative. Large boulders, scree, and snow/ice make a 12 minute per mile pace seem fast. Overall, this was something I needed to do and am glad to have finished. Now I can go back to focusing on science.
Filed under: Antarctica | Tags: Antarctica, Palmer Station, Sunset
The days are getting shorter as the summer comes to an end in Antarctica. Fortunate for us, these shorter days bring a greater likelihood of sunsets, which have been hard to come by the past few months. These photos were taken of the glacier and surrounding scenery at Palmer Station on February 10th.
The temperatures continue to hover around freezing. Most days we get up to around 2ºC (35ºF) and the nights are starting to dip below freezing. The dark is coming back in full force. The sun will be setting tonight around 8pm and rising at 7am. We turn our clocks back this coming weekend so things will really start feeling like winter soon.
Yesterday the ship left to head north after taking another group of scientists on a month long cruise. The tradition is to give people a proper send off by jumping in the ocean as the boat pulls away from the pier. Being as this was our last opportunity to jump (next time the ship leaves we will be on it) and our friends Maggie and Andrew were leaving, Alex & I took the plunge. You can check out an early post with photos from our first jump. There is nothing like jumping into freezing cold water at 6am in your bikini. I’m glad I won’t be doing that again. Happy that I had the experience though.
Filed under: Antarctica | Tags: Antarctica, Chilean Air Force, medevac, Palmer Station, twin otter
Life at Palmer Station got even more exciting last week, when a member of the science support staff (also our friend) got sick. The call was made rather quickly by the physician to try and get the person out as soon as possible, taking advantage of the clear weather window we were experiencing at the time. My nursing skills were called upon, and together with other members of the trauma team, we helped the physician with a full workup of IVs, blood draws and medication administration. It felt natural to be a nurse again, I miss it.
Within 24 hours, a plan was set and in motion to have our friend flown out of Palmer Station and back to Chile. All involved did an incredible job, and to have someone out of here within 24 hours is pretty remarkable. We are in Antarctica after all.
Luckily for all, the Chilean Air Force was able and willing to fly down in one of their twin otters, land on our glacier and fly back to Frei Base (the Chilean Base) on King George Island where another plane would take our friend back to Chile. In the past planes have landed on the glacier, but it is by no means a common occurence, especially since we don’t have any kind of aviation program here at Palmer. Alex joined a few others in the early morning hours to head up the glacier and set up a runway. Meanwhile, back at station we got the patient ready for a short zodiac ride to the foot of the glacier and then a trip up the glacier in the snowbulance (a snowmobile with an enclosed trailer on the back to haul people across the snow or up a glacier in this case)
The story ends well with our friend safely making it to a Chilean Hospital, a mere 28 hours after reporting to the doctor. Pretty remarkable. By now, they should be at home resting comfortably with their family. I just want to acknowledge what an amazing job everyone did in coordinating this exciting evacuation of one of our own. As for our amazing physician here on station, we all should feel safe knowing we have her here. She was wonderful!
Check out the video that Alex made of the big event.