Archive for Icebergs

To fly or not to fly

Posted in alaska, antarctica, bears, guiding, icebergs, photography, Uncategorized, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , on November 1, 2013 by polarguide

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I could be on a plane right now.   I could be on a plane flying south.  South to South America, to Uruguay and Argentina and then further south to Antarctica.  But I chose to stay in Alaska for the winter.

Alaska for the winter or Antarctica for the summer.  Or both, simultaneously. I feel indecisive about my decision. I feel like a paradox.

Work is slow, money is tickling in and flowing steadily out.  Heavy grey clouds,  good food and the company of friends make me feel at the same time comforted and discontent.  I have too much time.  My mind is too idle. The days are growing shorter. Lying on the couch, lying in bed, from the tin roof  the slow rain applauds my apathy.

Its the money.  And the work.  The work and the money, That’s what I fret about most.  Work keeps my mind busy, I would work for free if I had money.   I don’t give two shits about money, never have.  I just need to pay the rent and for food, and my teeth.  I broke two last week!

Winter is coming.

Summer is sweet in Alaska, with all its sun and whales and endless work.

Winter is slow and dark, its a vacation from summer.

I like fall best.

The fall wind and rain justify laziness.  Hunting and fishing and friends  I haven’t seen since spring because we were working all summer. Then a blanket of quiet dark lays across the top of the world as winter snuggles in for the season.

Still, It would have been nice to hop on that plane heading south to south america. By now, I would be in Montevideo eating octopus in the mercado del puerto.  A few days more I would be in Ushuaia stuffing my face with asado.

By this time next week I would be a sailor again, rolling over waves and fighting through storms on the drake passage heading to the  worlds most remote continent. I spent a few hours today mulling over my photographs of Alaska and Antarctica, trying to find a common feeling. Trying to somehow make sense of these two polar opposite portions of my life. Trying to find an emotional bridge or a rational connection.  It sounds strange but I couldn’t.  It’s as if I am two different people living one life or vice versa.

I Put together a few of the photographs I took this summer at home in Alaska, and a few from last season in Antarctica.  I chose pictures that were characteristic of each place, from my perspective.

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Antarctic Ice

Posted in antarctica, icebergs, photography, tourism, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2013 by polarguide

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The ice in Antarctica can reflect some of the most intense shades of blue I have ever seen.  Its a color seen almost nowhere else in nature.  High over cast days are the best to try and capture the deepest blues.  The blue coupled with the textures created by erosion of the ice from water and wind make icebergs limitless subject for photographic exploration. These are two of my favorite iceberg photos from my last Antarctic voyage.

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Antarctica, early season

Posted in antarctica, penguins, photography, sea kayaking, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2012 by polarguide

I Just flew in from Argentina.  I made it home to Juneau, Alaska around 10 pm November 22nd, thanksgiving evening, after completing the first voyage of the season to Antarctica.  The voyage ended on the 20th of November but Argentina was in the midst of a national strike and all the airports were shut down.  I finally made it to the airport on the afternoon of the 21st. After twenty five hours of flying and over thirty five hours of travel (including layovers) I was blown into Juneau by the seasonal Taku winds at 10 pm, late for thanks giving dinner.

Our Voyage began on November 8th with a two day crossing of the Drake passage. The Drake passage is a five hundred mile wide body of ocean that separates Antarctica from south america, it is famous for foul weather.  The Drake lived up to her name on our two day sail south.  We encounted winds in access of thirty five knots and seas over five meters high. Not the most comfortable of crossings but it does make for some great birding and bird photography as the petrels and albatross love to surf the wind over the swells. Capturing birds in flight over a stormy Drake passage has become one of my photographic obsessions.

Pintado Petrel over the Drake passage

It is early spring in Antarctica and the weather was a dominating factor in deciding our itinerary.  Temperatures remained well below freezing for the entire journey and we had to dig our Zodiacs out from beneath several inches of snow each morning.

Regardless of the weather we were able to complete all but one of our excursions off the ship. In fact it was the perfect weather for skiing and snow shoeing given the amount of fresh snow that fell each day, although it did make kayaking a-lot more challenging. Fortunately we had a hearty group of adventures on board who were ready and willing to face the elements.  They didn’t travel to Antarctica expecting sun and palm trees, after all.

The ocean temperature was so cold that the falling snow failed to melt and accumulated on the surface of the water.  The kayakers were paddling through two inches of slush while snow piled up on the decks of their kayaks.

The continent of antarctica is beutifull this time of year.  The penguins are just retuning and havn’t had time to foul the pure white snow to a muddy shade of guano red.  They are coming home after a long winter at sea and its facinating to watch them exit the ocean and climb the steep snow banks of the beach to return to their nesting sites. Once there mates greet each other with ritual dancing and braying, they squabble over nesting sites and then mating begins.

Copulating Gentoo penguins

The weather conditions didn’t allow much opportunity for photography.  I shot less than five hundred photos on the entire trip, most are not worthy of sharing.

I will be home in Juneau until December 2oth, I will return to Argentina on December 28th to board the ship again for more Antarctic adventure. I will remain on-board the ship until March 27th.

Antarctica and then some

Posted in antarctica, Elephant seals, Falkland Islands, Fur seals, guiding, Leopard seal, penguins, photography, South Georgia Island, tourism, travel, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2012 by polarguide

Our ship, Russian owned and operated Ice class research vessel the Akademik Ioffee

For History buffs, photographers, adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts Antarctica is the ultimate vacation destination. This will be my third season working in Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions. One Ocean offers several Antarctic voyages ranging in length from ten to eighteen days.  The crown jewel of wildlife viewing polar expeditions is the eighteen day Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica adventure.

The Falklands float 250 nautical miles west of Argentina, it takes two full days at sea  to reach the Islands.  The archipelago is a self-governing off shore territory of the United Kingdom.  There are more than 200 Islands  with a population of  3,100 people, the vast majority being of British decent.  Argentina has always claimed the Falklands to be an Argentinian territory and in 1982 the Argentinian military invaded the islands and a two month-long war ensued resulting in the defeat and surrender of all Argentinian troops.  To this day Barbed wire fences barricade beaches and pastures laden with land mines.

The Islands are a windswept landscape of stony hills and sea cliffs  punctuated  with  emerald pompoms of  tussock grass. For three days we make landings at significant wildlife viewing areas. We visit nesting sites of the Black browed albatross, Rockhopper, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins.  Fur seals, Sea lions  and elephant seals rest and raise their young on wavy beaches.  We complete our time in the Falklands with a visit to the city of Stanley, the capital of the islands, Population 1,500.  From there we begin our two-day journey to South Georgia Island.

Windy hillside of Carcass Island, Falkland Islands.

Nesting colony of Black browed albatross

Nesting pair of Black browed albatross

Magellanic Penguin

Rockhopper penguin

Captain james cook was the first person to step ashore on South Georgia Island in 1775.  The first Sealing campaign began in 1788 and by 1828 1.2 million Fur seals were slaughtered for their pelts, driving the species to the edge of extinction.  Whalers arrived in the late 1890’s and by 1930 40,000 whales had been killed. By 1965 the whale populations had declined so severely the industry was no longer economical and the whaling stations were abandoned.   During our three days on South Georgia Island we visit the remains of these whaling stations.  The bones of long abandoned building and the rusty corpses of ships that once participated in the slaughter  now serve as shelter for the Fur seals and penguins they once exploited.

Abandoned ship near whaling station

Fur seal pups take shelter under propellers from abandoned whaling ships

South Georgia Island  is one of the most intense wildlife experience on the planet.  Its stormy shores teem with life and the  number of animals on one beach can be overwhelming.  We visit King penguin colonies where the penguins number in the hundreds of thousands.  They waddle down beaches along side fur seals.  The Elephant seals stack themselves side by side so numerous you could walk their backs for the entire length of the beach, although I wouldn’t recommend it, these behemoths weigh in at eight tons.

Typical South Georgia beach

250,000 king penguins

Don’t get too close to these guys

Before landing at south Georgia we issue bright red rain-gear and green rubber boots to every passenger. This wardrobe serves two functions: It keeps the penguin poo off the passengers clothes and  helps the staff differentiate people from penguins. We lecture every passenger about how to safely conduct themselves around so much wildlife.  We remind people that Elephant seals are wild animals,and although they have a placid demeanor they can be accidentally dangerous.  “You can avoid being crushed to death” I tell people, “by not napping on the beach.”  I also advise that if while photographing a fur seal it rises up on its flippers and runs at you open-mouthed as if it might bite you, it might.  And last but not least, please don’t stand on the penguins.

Pushing the limits

Passengers give their full attention to this lecture.  They nod in agreement as if it were all common sense, but when the first zodiac surfs to a landing grown men and women revert to children. I call it the “Willy Wonka effect”. Remember that scene in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory when Willy swings open the doors to his world of candy ?  All the children run wild stuffing their faces with exotic sweets and wreak havoc on willy’s wonderland of confection. Then the fat kid falls into the chocolate river.  landing on South Georgia Island  is a-lot like that.

A zodiac slides up the beach, red pants swing over pontoons, green boots trudge up the gravel slope and penguins scatter.  They knock into each other like concerned and confused umpa-lumpas. I stand back and watch the comedy unfold: People can’t control themselves, I watch them chase penguins with their point and shoots cameras. To my left I see someone topple over a penguin while walking backwards trying to take a photograph. A little old lady runs past me with an angry fur seal hot on her heels while to my right a man inches too close to a mountain of Elephant seals, daring one to crush him. And then the fat kid falls into the chocolate river, except the river isn’t chocolate its a hot puddle of penguin shit mixed with Elephant seal dung.

After snapping several thousand photographs everyone relaxes. The penguins catch their breath and with the guidance of experienced staff people learn that if they just stand still the wildlife becomes curious.  Slowly, animals assemble to gawk at the strange creatures with red legs and awkward green feet.  Penguins side up to inspect the new comers in a highbrow manner, as if comparing wardrobes. At the end of every excursion passengers return to the ship in a state of joy. cocktail hour and dinner are all a buzz with tales of the day.  Everyone has an exciting story to share of their intimate wildlife experience.

Close encounters with Fur seal pups

Communing with king penguins

Our last stop at south Georgia is at Grytviken whaling station to visit the grave of Antarctica’s most famous explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.  We make a procession to his grave and toast the boss with a slug of whiskey then spend the afternoon walking among the relics of the whaling station.

Grytviken whaling station

Shackleton’s Grave

As we sail south I watch from  the aft deck as the island fades into the northern horizon.  Here I become washed by a wave of nostalgia.  Our ship surfs the wake of  histories great heroes. We are following a course set by men such as: Vasco DA Gamma, Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Drake, James cook and Thaddeus Von Bellinghausen. Our destination, a continent so secluded its existence remained a myth until it was first sighted in 1820. Antarctica.

The ice in Antarctica is immense and looms above everything like a great glinting mountain.   Black cliffs reach to the sun as if trying to escape the sinking weight of the blue blanket if ice .  The entire continent is entombed in a world of winter.

Enormous iceberg dwarfs a zodiac

The continent is frozen under seven thousand feet of glacial ice, the downward force drives its plastic mass seaward until its precipice shatters into the ocean creating icebergs the size of small countries.  The bergs glow a surprising shade of blue that seems to radiate from deep inside, as if an icy neon light burned at its core. The temperature of the thick ocean drifts around 32 degrees. There are no trees, the vegetation is limited to lichen and moss.  It is a stark world of contrast that shines like a jewel.

Breaking through sea ice below the Antarctic circle

Regardless of the harsh, barren environment Antarctica flourishes with life.  The extended summer sunlight and constant upwelling current create a marine soup that supports a complex and bountiful ecosystem.  Thousands of Penguins nest on rocky snow-covered hill sides.  Leopard seals, crab eater seals and Wedell seals nap on ice floes while orca whales hunt through a maze of icebergs.  humpback whales graze on krill in the frigid inky water.  Being there  feels like  you have traveled through time to a place before people.  A place where the earths forces conduct a symphony life.

Lonely penguin returning to the nest

Close encounter with a Humpback whale

Orca whales dwarfed by Antarctic landscape

My first voyage departs November 8th.