The best advice…

…ever given me was from a colleague, about 20 years older than me, with whom I consulted when trying to decide about taking a new job in another state. Knowing it was an excellent opportunity and probably the decision I should make I was still hesitant about the move away from my family, the uncertainty of everything, and the sadness of moving away from my friends. Anne attempted to give me this quote but didn’t know it exactly and didn’t know who said it but she told me enough to make me start thinking – – and take the job in Connecticut where I stayed for 3+ years and made lifelong friends! I came across the actual quote today and believe it to my core. It reminds me of my desire to travel, specifically about my newfound love (no, passion!) for Antarctica.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain.

Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm  Comments (1)  

“Antarctica left a restless longing in my heart”

Antarctica left a restless longing in my heart
beckoning towards an incomprehensible perfection
forever beyond the reach of mortal man.
Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply
that it is like a wound.
– Edwin Mickleburgh

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 10:27 am  Leave a Comment  

“I am going outside and may be some time.”

It’s painful to read about Robert Scott’s last days, as written in his diary. But there’s something moving about it. To read a man’s final words when he knows he’s dying is powerful. He knows his men are dying and he knows he did not succeed at this expedition in the manner he had hoped. (Scott hoped to be the first to the South Pole only to find that Amundsen from Norway reached it first, on December 16, 1911 – – a devastating emotional blow, as depicted in his diaries).

Tuesday, January 16, 1912 (a full month since Amundsen’s team reached the Pole): The worst has happened, or nearly the worst. We…covered 7.5 miles. …Bowers’ sharp eyes detected what he thought was a cairn (a mound of stones as a memorial or marker); he was uneasy about it, but argued that it must be a sastrugus (snow ridges caused by wind). Half an hour later he detected a black speck ahead. Soon we knew that this could not be a natural snow feature. We marched on, found that it was a black flag tied to a sledge bearer; near by the remains of a camp; sledge tracks an ski tracks going and coming and the clear trace of dogs’ paws – – many dogs. This told us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment and I am very sorry for my loyal companions. All the daydreams must [stop]; it will be a wearisome return. Certainly we are descending in altitude – – and certainly also the Norwegians found an easy way up.

After reading the accounts of Scotts diaries, this clearly is the beginning of the end for the expedition both in attitude and in physical strength and ability. It also seemed the weather continued to take a turn for the worse from here on out – – or perhaps the fortitude of the men had diminished so much that they were unable to weather it in the same manner they had when they had hope. Still, a couple of the men especially remained in “good cheer” as Scott continually states. Good Cheer. I like those two words together and in fact, have contemplated it as the name of my cabin over the past many years whilst thinking of a name for this little paradise cottage. I think, after reading it so many times in Scott’s diary, that I will in fact name my tiny cabin that gives me so much joy, Good Cheer.

Wednesday, January 17: The Pole. yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected. We have had a horrible day… Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend tomorrow…Well, we have turned our back now on the goal of our ambition and must face our 800 miles of solid dragging – – and good-bye to most of the daydreams!

Sunday, January 21: Awoke to a stiff blizzard; air very thick with snow and sun very dim…We are going to have a pretty hard time this next 100 miles, I expect…

Monday, January 22: I think about the most tiring march we have had; solid pulling the whole way…Ski boots beginning to show signs of wear…

Tuesday, January 23: …There is no doubt Evans is a good deal run down – – his fingers are badly blistered and his nose is rather seriously congested with frequent frostbites [it was white and hard, as described in another entry!]. He is very much annoyed with himself, which is not a good sign. Wilson, Bowers and I are as fit as possible under the circumstances. Oates gets cold feet…

Thursday, January 25: …We are not without ailments: Oates suffers from a very cold foot; Evans’ fingers and nose are in a bad state, and tonight Wilson is suffering tortures from his eyes…

Saturday, January 27: Our sleeping bags are slowly but surely getting wetter and I’m afraid it will take a lot of this weather [bright, warm sunshine] to put them right. However we all sleep well enough in them…We are slowly getting more hungry and it would be an advantage to have a little more food… A long way to go, and, by Jove, this is tremendous labour.

Tuesday, January 30: Wilson has strained a tendon in his leg; it has given pain all day and is swollen tonight. Of course, he is full of pluck over it, but I don’t like the idea of such an accident here. To add to the trouble Evans has dislodged two fingernails tonight; his hands are really bad, and to my surprise he shows signs of losing heart over it. He hasn’t been cheerful since the accident [Evans injured his hand in an accident a month or so back]…We can get along with bad fingers but it will be a mighty serious thing if Wilson’s leg doesn’t improve.

Tuesday, February 6: We’ve had a horrid day and not covered good mileage. Evans’ nose suffered, Wilson very cold, everything horrid. Food is low and weather uncertain, so that many hours of the day were anxious… Evans is the chief anxiety now; his cuts and wounds suppurate, his nose looks very bad, and altogether he shows considerable signs of being played out.

Wednesday, February 7: A wretched day…The biscuit box is short; the shortage is a full day’s allowance. Bowers is dreadfully disturbed about it.

Thursday, February 8: Had a beastly morning. Wind very strong and cold…everybody very cold and cheerless.

Sunday, February 11: The worst day we have had during the trip and greatly owing to our own fault. We started on a wretched surface with light wind but in a horrible light, which made everything look fantastic. As we went on the light got worse and suddenly we found ourselves in pressure. Then came the fatal decision to steer east.

Friday, February 16: A rather trying position. Evans has nearly broken down in brain, we think. He is absolutely changed from his normal self-reliant self. We are on short rations…the weather is all against us…

Saturday, February 17: A very terrible day. Evans looked a little better after a good sleep and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well. [It is now known that Evans knew he wasn’t strong enough to make this journey yet wanted to prove to Scott that he could so he hid many of his ailments, physical and mental]. He started in his place but half an hour later worked his ski shoes adrift and had to leave the sledge. The surface was awful, the soft recently fallen snow clogging the ski and runners at every step. We stopped after about one hour, and Evans came up again, but very slowly. Have an hour later he dropped out again on the same plea. He asked Bowers to lend him a piece of string. [Through other accounts I think this string was actually to hold the sole of his foot to his foot! It had come detached due to a vitamin D deficiency. Can you imagine!?] I cautioned him to come on as quickly as he could and he answered cheerfully as I thought. We had to push on…After lunch, and Evans still not appearing, we looked out, to see him still afar off. By this time we were alarmed, and all four started back on ski. I was first to reach the poor man and shocked at his appearance; he was on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes. Asked what was the matter, he replied with a slow speech that he didn’t know, but thought he must have fainted. We got him on his feet, but after tow or three steps he sank down again. He showed every sign of complete collapse Wilson, Bowers, and I went back for the sledge, whilst Oates remained with him. When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. he died quietly at 12:30 a.m. Wilson thinks it certain he must have injured his brain by a fall [Evans and Scott fell into a crevasse at one point, about a 50′ fall].

Monday, February 19: We have struggled over a really terrible surface…

As is written in the book, [Here follows a depressing record of a monotonous fortnight’s progress]:

Friday, March 2: Misfortunes rarely come singly. We have suffered three distinct blows which have placed us in a bad position. First, we found a shortage of oil. Second, Titus Oates disclosed his feet, the toes showing very bad indeed, evidently bitten by the late temperatures [the coldest temperatures]. The third blow came in the night when the wind brought dark overcast weather and the temperature dropped to -40 in the night.

Sunday, March 4: Things looking very black indeed. We are in a very tight place indeed but none of us despondent yet, or at least we preserve every semblance of good cheer. Providence to our aid! We can expect little from man now except the possibility of extra food at our next depot [camps where food is left in advance for the return journey].

Monday, March 5: Regret to say going from bad to worse. Oates, whose feet are in a wretched condition, is doing poorly. One swelled up tremendously last night and he is very lame this morning. Sledge capsized twice; we pulled on foot for 5.5 miles [actually these are geographic miles which equal 1.15 actual miles]. Our fuel is dreadfully low and the poor Soldier nearly done [referring here to Oates]. It is pathetic enough because we can do nothing for him; more hot food might do a little, but only a little, I fear. We none of us expected these terribly low temperatures, and of the rest of us Wilson is feeling them most. We can only say, “God help us! and plod on our weary way, cold and very miserable, though outwardly cheerful.

Wednesday, March 7: A little worse, I fear. One of Oates’ feet very bad this morning; he is wonderfully brave. We still talk of what we will do together at home.

Thursday, March 8: Worse and worse in the morning; poor Oates’ left foot can never last out…Wilson’s feet giving trouble now. God help us indeed. We are in a very bad way, I fear, in any case.

Saturday, March 10: Things steadily downhill. Oates’ foot worse. he has rare pluck an must know that he can never get through it. He asked Wilson if he had a chance this morning, and of course Bill had to say he didn’t know. In point of fact, he has none. The weather conditions are awful, and our gear gets steadily more icy and difficult to manage. Titus [Oates] keeps us waiting in the morning until we have partly lost the warming effect of our good breakfast, when the only wise policy is to be up and away at once. Poor chap! it is too pathetic to watch him.

Sunday, March 11: Titus Oates is very near the end, one feels. What we or he will do, God only knows. We discussed the matter after breakfast he is a brave fine fellow and understands the situation, but he practically asked for advice. Nothing could be said but to urge him to march as long as he could. One satisfactory result to the discussion: I practically ordered Wilson to hand over the means of ending our troubles to us, so that any one of us may know how to do so. Wilson had no choice between doing so and our ransacking the medicine case. We have 30 opium tabloids apiece and he is left with a tube of morphine. So far the tragical side of our story.

Wednesday, March 14: …Everything going wrong for us. We must go on but now the making of every camp is more difficult and dangerous. It must be near the end, but a pretty merciful end. Poor Oates got it again in the foot. [I’m assuming another bout of frostbite].

Friday, March 16 or Saturday, March 17: Lost track of dates…tragedy all along the line. Titus Oates said he couldn’t go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping bag. That we could not do, and we induced him to come on. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come. Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates’ last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before [dying] he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death… He slept through the night hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning. It was blowing a blizzard. he said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since…We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death…We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far… I can only write at lunch and then only occasionally. The cold is intense, -40 degrees at midday. My companions are unendingly cheerful, but we are all on the verge of serious frostbites, and though we constantly talk of fetching through, I don’t think any one of us believes it in his heart.

Sunday, March 18: Ill fortune presses, but better may come. We have had more wind and drift from ahead; no human begin could face it and we are worn out nearly. My right foot has gone, nearly all the toes. Two days ago I was proud possessor of best feet. These are the steps of my downfall. Like an ass I mixed a small spoonful of curry powder with my melted pemmican – – it gave me violent indigestion. I lay awake and in pain all night; woke and felt done. Foot went and I didn’t know it. A very small measure of neglect and I have a foot which is not pleasant to contemplate…

Monday, March 19: We camped with difficulty last night and were dreadfully cold. There is no chance to nurse one’s feet till we can get hot food into us. Amputation is the least I can hope for now, but will the trouble spread?

Wednesday, March 21: Today forlorn hope.

22 and 23: Blizzard bad as ever. No fuel and only one or two [rations] of food left – – must be near the end. Have decided it shall be natural. We shall march on with or without or effects and die in our tracks.

March 29: since the 21st we have had a continuous gale. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, and of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.

Inside the tent were found letters Scott had written to his own wife and the widows of the other men. Argh, it’s a gruesome and moving story…

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Quotes from Scott and Wilson

Expeditioners to the South Pole, Robert Falcon Scott and his doctor companion, Edward Adrian Wilson, are quoted in the book, ‘Scott’s Last Expedition’, 1964 as follows (some of the information is from Scott’s diary, Wilson’s diary, or from their letters). These quotes struck a chord with me as they are some of the same sentiments I felt during my visit to Antarctica and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 4th, 1911: This work is full of surprises. After many frowns fortune has treated us to the kindest smile – – for twenty-four hours we have had a calm with brilliant sunshine. Such weather in such a place comes nearer to satisfying my ideal of perfection than any condition that I have ever experienced. The warm glow of the sun with the keen invigorating cold of the air forms a combination which is inexpressibly health-giving and satisfying to me, whilst the golden light on this wonderful scene of mountain and ice satisfies every claim of scenic magnificence. No words of mine can convey the impressiveness of the wonderful panorama displayed to our eyes.

Thursday, February 2, 1911: Scott writes of his impressions of the place, using just phrases (this is something I will try in another post):
The seductive folds of the sleeping bag. The whine of a dog and the neigh of our steeds. The driving cloud of powdered snow. The crunch of footsteps which break the surface crust. The wind-blown furrows. The blue arch beneath the smoky cloud. The crisp ring of the ponies’ hoofs and the swish of the following sledge. The droning conversation of the march as driver encourages or chides his horse. The patter of dog pads. The gentle flutter of our canvas shelter. its deep booming sound under the full force of a blizzard. The drift snow like finest flour penetrating every hole and corner – – flickering up beneath one’s head covering pricking sharply as a sand blast. The sun with blurred image peeping shyly through the wreathing drift giving pale shadowless light. The eternal silence of the great white desert. Cloudy columns of snow drive advancing from the south pole…

On the Vavilov we welcomed our nightly bar talks, as they were called. We also welcomed the lectures from various crew members onboard. This is clearly something of a tradition at sea, on famous expeditions of old.

Monday, May 29, 1911: Lecture: Japan. Tonight Ponting gave us a charming lecture on Japan with wonderful illustrations of his own. He is happiest in his descriptions of the artistic side of the people with which he is in fullest sympathy. So he took us to see the flower pageants: the joyful festivals of the cherry blossom, the wisteria, the iris and chrysanthemum, the sombre colours of the beech blossom and the paths about the lotus gardens…
Wednesday, May 31, 1911: Tonight Wilson has given us a very interesting lecture on sketching. He started by explaining his methods of rough sketch and written colour record, and explained its suitability to this climate as opposed to coloured chalks, etc. – – a very practical method for cold fingers and one that becomes more accurate with practice in observation…

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

They came closer when I sang

The King Penguins were curious enough on their own. But whenever I sang to them – – any words put to a sing-song voice – – they came closer! Tim, from the ship, sent these photos to me that he captured during one of these singing sessions. Interestingly enough, I was just reading about the Scott expedition (his diaries as well as the diaries of his ship’s doctor, Dr. E. A. Wilson) and this is what Scott wrote in his diary: Wednesday, December 21: Wilson went over the floe to capture some penguins and lay flat on the surface. We saw the birds run up to him, then turn within a few feet and rush away again. He says that they came towards him when he was singing, and ran away again when he stopped.”

Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Elephant seals fight

A guy called Matt took this video on one of our excursions in South Georgia. These two were loud! When we came to shore in the Zodiacs we were met by one of these huge guys. He was “greeting” us with loud belches and grunts and had steam coming from his mouth. Quite a sight. (This clip merges with some others that Matt took…)

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Ship shots

The ship was always so beautiful in whatever setting it was situated. And always a welcome sight.

Snow on deck

Zodiac trickery

Waiting for the right moment

It's all about timing

Our beautiful Vavilov

On the bridge

From the tip top

Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Getting some sun

Flying the Union Jack in Stanley

Inside the life raft

The bridge

Sunset from the Vav

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Random shots of people

Will Street, one of my favorites

The Russian crew member who looks like a pirate!

Justin (and me behind him) at the home on West Point in the Falklands

John Suta and Scott MacPhail

David Wood, our leader

Peter and Alan

The Zodiac I am in. Port side, red hat.

Again, my Zodiac

Someone falls in and gets help. It happened to a lot of us!

Zodiac ride in the snow storm

Brett paints

Persevering the katabatic winds

An excursion in the snow

It's cold out there

Wind and snow

Zodiac landing

Scott MacPhail at BBQ

Andy Wolff at the BBQ


Zodiac drivers

Zodiac landing. I'm in the blue/black on the right.

The crew at King Haakon Bay

Peter, me and Alan

Walking back to the beach on Bleaker Island

Crammed into the bar

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 11:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

We ate ice

Although the glacial ice floats in the ocean’s salt water, it tastes fresh and delicious. I’m sure Richard and I weren’t the only ones who tried it but these are the only ice-eating photos I can find. (These photos were taken at different times, different Zodiacs, different pieces of ice).

Richard takes a taste

I take a taste

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 10:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seals, whales and whatnot!

So many photos of seals and whales! Some I’ve taken, some others have taken.

Elephant seal


Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal swims

Orca by David McGonigal

Orca by David McGonigal

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment