Friday, 6 December 2013
As expected, Richard Parks relaunched his bid to set a new speed record for skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole yesterday. He reports that he faced a strong headwind for most of the day, and of course he is skiing up hill at the moment. Still, Parks managed to cover 31.5 km (19 miles), which is a solid start for his speed attempt. He'll need to pick up the pace in the days ahead, but for now he seems content with his progress. Just 1118.5 km (696 miles) to go and the clock continues to tick.
Jumping over to the Beardmore Glacier, the Scott Expedition has been forced to abandon their skis for now and don crampons instead. They've hit a large expanse of blue ice, which is incredibly hard and smooth, leaving no traction for the skis. It has made pulling the sleds a lot easier, as they effortlessly glide across the ice at the moment. The team started at along the coast at 43 meters (141 ft) above sea level, but have now climbed up to 1014 meters (3326 ft) as they continue to make their way up to the Antarctic Plateau. They've now been out on the ice for 43 days and still have about 2092 km (1300 miles) to go on their round-trip journey to the South Pole and back to the coast.
Aussie Geoff Wilson was dismayed to discover the promised winds have not appeared as predicted. You may recall that he is kite skiing to the South Pole and had hoped to be making great progress on that journey, but unpredictable winds have stymied his attempts so far, leaving him no choice but to ski along like everyone else. The doldrums continued today with practically no wind to assist him, which is disheartening for Wilson, who may not reach his goal if the winds don't turn in his favor. Sadly, the forecast doesn't look great in that regard for the next few days either. Geoff also reports that he had a call on his sat phone from Faysal Hanneche, who was also attempting to kite to the Pole. It turns out Faysal has injured his knee in a fall during the high winds of a few days back and won't be able to continue his expedition. Details are scarce at the moment, but it seems he'll be evacuated from the ice as soon as possible.
The three teams racing in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge get a much needed break today. This is their first mandatory rest day in which all teams must take 24 hours off before resuming their race to the South Pole. This is day 5 of the expedition and they still have 10 or 11 days to go before they are done. They happen to be well ahead of all of the other skiers because they started their journey at the 87th degree, rather than along the coast. Still, they are making good time and progress has been steady, if exhausting, for the skiers so far.
South Pole cyclist Daniel Burton continues to struggle. Yesterday he was battered by katabatic winds that made it nearly impossible for him to make much progress. With that in mind, he set up camp early and tried to stay out of those winds as best he could. Later in the day, when they had died down, he resumed his ride, albeit at a painfully slow pace. Once he hits the plateau, things should improve somewhat, but until then it is an uphill battle.
Finally, 16-year old Lewis Clarke has been making steady progress on his attempt to become the youngest person to ever ski the full length to the Pole. He and his guide, Carl Alvey wont' be setting any speed records, but they are putting in the miles they need to complete the journey in a reasonable time. So far they've been covering 21 km (13 miles) per day as they struggle up to the plateau as well. They should pick up the pace nicely once they reach that point and again as they get closer to their destination. Good weather has been on their side so far though and we all know that won't last for long in Antarctica.
That's all from the frozen continent for today. I'll update again next week as the news merits it.
The Adventure Journal had the opportunity to sit down with Alex and ask him about this venture. He says that for the most part, he'll be completely alone on the ice, although he does plan to meet with journalists and bloggers for a time. He also says that he doesn't want to be labeled as an environmentalist, but he remains an explorer instead. Bellini hopes that this adventure will allow him to share the urgent need for us to address climate change as he documents the death of an iceberg first hand.
In the interview, Alex also talks about his inspirations for this adventure, what it was like to row across the Pacific, but run into trouble just 65 miles from the finish line and how he'll select his iceberg. In regards to that last point, he says that the iceberg is still being formed, but that it will exist northwest of Greenland "between 70°N and 74°N."
It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out. Living alone on an iceberg for a year should provide some unique challenges, particularly as the space begins to grow smaller and smaller. You can find out more in the video below and on Alex's website. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter for more updates as well.
Thursday, 5 December 2013
As I turned on the news this evening, the announcement that Nelson Mandela had passed was at the head of the newscast. It is a sad day for the entire world. What a giant he was in the history of man. As I took a moment to remember his accomplishments, fortitude, and struggles Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rendition of “No Easy Walk to Freedom” kept playing in my head. We have all lost a most inspirational icon.
Back on the home front, the big news is the incoming cold front. It’s sweeping across the country, and the gulf coast will not be immune to it. While the cold temperatures here can’t compare to the ice and snow and blizzards of those further north, my main worry is my extend-a-stay propane tank. It’s registering at 1/4 of a tank right now, and I have to work tomorrow. The refuge pays for propane refills, and I checked to see if the propane place is open on Saturday, but no staff is around on weekends to approve the purchase. It’s a minor trouble really, as I can switch to the on board tank or pay for the refill myself.
On my way back to the rig yesterday after work, I came upon a huge gathering of Northern Pintails in a flooded rice field. These ducks mainly feed on seeds.
Dabbling ducks like Northern Pintails can erupt straight up from the water without having to run along the water first to gain speed. The coming cold front is really driving lots of waterfowl down here.
I finally ran out of my favorite sponge candy that I got in Fargo, ND, in September. I decided to Google sponge candy. Several readers have provided me with recipes, but I’m not sure I want to try that in the rig. It turned out the Vermont Country Store has sponge candy that isn’t coated in chocolate. While I like dark chocolate, I really prefer my sponge candy without it. I’ve ordered a couple of bags, so I hope it’s as good as I remember from when I was young. I’ll be stalking my mailbox until it gets here next week.
Two of my bird feeders have been set up outside for the last week. Today I finally had some action. A small flock of chipping sparrows stopped by. I hope they tell their friends. I think I also saw a cardinal skulking around outside the fence. This compound isn’t the best habitat for birds because of all the cement, but I’m trying to be optimistic about it. That’s about it for tonight. I’m battening down the hatches tonight as the temps have dropped well over 20* in very short order.
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy
Richard Parks restarting his attempt at the speed record for skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. You may recall that parks set out on that quest last week only to find that the high winds and copious amounts of soft powder were making it impossible for him to make good time. In just a few days he was already falling off the pace, so he elected to return to Hercules and wait for a better weather window to relaunch. That window is now open apparently, as he'll start his second attempt today. Parks arrived back at his starting point on Tuesday, then took a rest day yesterday, ahead of his restart this morning. He now has 23 days to try to reach the South Pole and the clock is ticking.
The other story that came out yesterday was the evacuation of Eric Phillips, who was a the polar guide for one of the teams taking part in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge. Phillips was apparently suffering from altitude sickness after the teams were flown to the 87th degree prior to the start of their race to the Pole. Apparently he had fluid in his lungs, so they made the wise choice to fly him back to camp for an assessment. If he responds well to treatment and shows signs of improvement, he may rejoin the team in a day or two.
Elsewhere, Daniel Burton celebrated his 50th birthday out on the ice yesterday. He is attempting to ride his bike to the South Pole and so far things aren't going particularly well. He spent 10.5 hours on the move but covered just 6.5 miles (10.4 km), well below what he had hoped for. He does say that the slope he has been climbing since leaving Hercules Inlet is starting to get less severe and the snow is getting harder, both of which bode well for his plans. Hopefully he'll be able to pick up speed soon, because at his current pace he's traveling about half the speed of the skiers. That means he'll have a very long trip to the Pole, if he can reach it at all. I give him high marks for determination however, as he has refused to put his bike on his sled and ski any distance, which is in contrast to another explorer who is attempting to bike to the South Pole as well.
Australian kite skier Geoff Wilson managed to catch the wind today and made good progress in the process. He says that by late afternoon he had knocked of about 40 km (24 miles) before the breezes dissipated once again. The forecasts call for better winds in the next few days, so he hopes to capitalize on them and cover more ground.
Chris and Marty Fagan seem to have developed a good rhythm and are already making great progress on their attempt to ski to the South Pole. The husband and wife team are already just 540 miles (870 km) from the Pole, which sounds like a lot but is actually a good number considering the number of days they've been skiing. They're knocking off a steady 11-12 miles (17-19 km) per day as they make solid progress toward their goal.
Finally, the Willis Resilience team has actually reached the South Pole, although not on foot. This expedition started with a driving tour of the Antarctic that allows them to conduct scientific research of the impact of climate change on the continent. They're also collecting ice core samples as they go, so that they can be examined by researchers back home after the expedition wraps up. After being out on the ice for about a week, the team has already driven 1790 km (1112 miles) as they cross Antarctica. In a few weeks however, Parker Liautaud and Doug Stoup will return to the Pole on skis as well.
That's all for today. More to come soon I'm sure.
Apparently, the idea for this competition first came up prior to Armstrong being banned from competition for life last year. When the USADA stripped the former pro cyclist of his seven Tour de France wins, negotiations came to an abrupt halt. But McCormack says that he recently read an interview in which Lance said he believed that he could win the Ironman World Championship. That prompted the Aussie to reach out to Armstrong to see if they could put something together.
According to this article, Lance is interested in the idea and would be down for an opportunity to compete, even though the event would be completely unsanctioned. Due to his ban, he can't officially enter any races, but that wouldn't prevent these two world-class athletes from challenging one another. It seems there is a chance that that could happen.
Despite the fact that he has been stripped of his Tour wins, Armstrong is undeniably an amazing athlete. This would be the chance for him to go head-to-head with someone who has plenty of experience in Ironman events and see just where he stacks up. I believe that interest for this event would be enormous. People would want to see just how good Lance still is and pitting him against one of the best triathletes in the world would be a great measuring stick.
It's hard to say if we'll ever see this race become a reality, but I'd certainly love to see it happen. I also happen to believe that it would be a fairly close race, provided Lance has some time to train and get back into competitive form. I guess we'll just have to wait to see if these two men get the chance to square off.
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere, the two members of the Scott Expedition, reached a major milestone on their round trip journey from the Scott Hut to the South Pole and back. Now 40 days into their adventure, the two men have reached the Beardmore Glacier and are continuing to work their way up to the Antarctic Plateau. Weather conditions have been mostly acceptable over the past few days but surface conditions continue to be a challenge. The ice where they are currently traveling is more uneven than in other areas, which has presented some challenges to their progress. Still, they're clocking in at about 20 miles (32 km) per day, which is a solid pace. The finish line is still a long ways off however, with more than 1345 miles (2164 km) to go before they are done.
Australian kite skier Geoff Wilson is hoping the wind will return soon to actually assist him in his quest to reach the South Pole. He has had a few frustrating days going from too much wind to too little. A couple of days back conditions were so bad that Wilson nearly lost control of his kite. He had limited time to train with it before leaving his home country for the Antarctic, and as a result he is learning on the job. When high winds struck on Monday, he was violently tossed about and sent sprawling on the ice on more than one occasion. Fortunately, the kite, nor the man, was damaged badly and the expedition can continue. The problem now is that there has been very little wind and Geoff has been forced to move forward under his own power, dragging his sled behind him as he goes. This has greatly slowed his progress of course, but puts him on par with the other skiers heading to the South Pole.
The three teams competing in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge are now off and running. Team UK, Team USA and Team Commonwealth are all racing across the last three degrees to the South Pole after launching the friendly competition over the weekend. The teams consist of experienced polar guides to help lead the way, and some support vehicles to help lend a hand as needed. But the bulk of the explorers skiing to the Pole are servicemen who were wounded in the line of duty. The high profile event, which happens to include Prince Harry skiing for the UK team, is being conducted by the Walking with the Wounded program, an organization that helps those injured in the line of duty get back on the road to recovery. So far, the teams have faced strong winds and lots of sastrugi, which are hard ridges on the ice that make it difficult to ski. They'll be covering a total of about 335 km (208 miles) with an expected arrival at 90ºS around December 17 or 18.
Finally, there is no word yet on when Richard Parks will relaunch his attempt at the speed record for skiing to the South Pole via the Hercules Inlet route. As of yesterday, he was still en route back to his starting point, where he'll wait for more favorable weather conditions. Once he gets back underway, he hopes to go solo and unsupported to the South Pole in just 23 days. That will be a remarkable achievement if he can pull it off.
More news to come soon. Now that there are so many teams on the ice, I expect there will be something to report nearly everyday. The Antarctic season is in full swing now and the Vinson climbing season will soon follow. Good luck to everyone.
After five days of racing, the race was won by the team of Richard Ussher and Braden Currie. They completed the entire course in 18 hours, 54 minutes, which was more than two hours faster than the second place team that consisted of Alex Hunt and Mark Hinder. Third place went to Jarad Kohler and James Pretto, who finished in 26 hours, 52 minutes and 2 seconds.
This was the 10th annual Tasmania Challenge and over the year the race has become a staple on the adventure racing calendar each season. With another strong turnout this year, it appears that the race is poised to continue well into the future.
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
When I’m at one of my volunteer assignments, I leave the gray tank valve open and the black tank valve closed since I have full hook ups. Every ten days or so, I close the gray tank before dumping the black tank. After dumping, I close the black tank valve and open the gray tank valve. This has worked well for me for well over seven years.
Great Blue Heron
As usual I dumped last week when I knew that black tank was filling up. Fast forward to last night. As I get ready for bed, I gather my dirty clothes from the day and put them in a cloth laundry bag I keep in the shower stall. As I stood there naked and opening the door to the shower, I found the bag soaking wet and standing water in the shower. Oops! It seems I forgot to reopen the gray tank valve. I’m sure glad it didn’t overflow onto the floor.
So, I tossed on my PJ’s, grabbed a flashlight, and ran outside at 11:00 at night to dump the tank. First time I’ve made that mistake. I came back in, rang out the bag and the clothes and started the washer so all that stuff wouldn’t get musty and moldy. It wasn’t so bad as I often start the Splendide washer at night. When it gets to the spin cycle, it shakes the whole rig and rocks me right to sleep.
We had a staff safety meeting and then a volunteer meeting this morning. I am once again not on the VIS or VC schedule for the month. Instead, Stephanie had some other assignments in mind for me. I think by next week the bird surveys will begin, I’ll be working the hunter check station on weekends, and will also be doing some propagating of seeds in addition to writing the section for the 50th anniversary book. Along with those chores there are a couple of other one day things to do. Guess December is going to be pretty busy for me.
Juvenile Common Moorhen
After the meetings, I managed to get all my hairs cut and an oil change for the car. It was a nice warm day with temps nearing 80, but there was a very stiff wind out of the south. Apparently I had parked my bike too close to the DISH satellite, and the gusting winds crashed it into the dish. Second oops. When I came in after sunset, there was no signal. So out I went again in the dark to find a signal. Things like this seem to come in threes, so now I’m wondering what’s next?
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy
Perhaps the biggest news from this past weekend was the start of Richard Parks' attempt to set a new speed record for skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Richard hopes to complete that distance in just 23 days, which would be an impressive feat indeed. But bad weather and poor surface conditions caused Parks to get off to a slower start than he intended and it soon became clear that he was already losing ground, even in the early stages of the expedition. Yesterday, Richard made the decision to return to Hercules and wait out the weather for a bit longer. He hopes to get a better window for his attempt soon so that he can make a serious run at the record. In the meantime, the folks at ALE will provide him with plenty of food and water while he waits so that he'll have his full supply for when he sets out for the South Pole once again.
16-year old Lewis Clarke has begun his South Pole attempt as well. He and his guide Carl Alvey were delivered to Hercules over the weekend and officially got underway yesterday. Lewis is attempting to become the youngest person to ever ski the full distance along the traditional route. He hopes to spend this first week on the ice finding his rhythm and getting into a groove. The early days of any Antarctic expedition are always tough and much of the time is spent skiing up hill, but once those early hurdles ae crossed, teams usually settle into a routine and hit their stride. Hopefully that will hold true for Lewis as well.
Daniel Burton, who is attempting to ride his bike to the South Pole, officially began his journey yesterday although he only covered a minimal distance. He'll have his first full day on the bike today as he begins the long, slow, painful slog up to the Antarctic Plateau as well. Pulling a heavy sled up hill can be challenging enough, but doing so on a bike is even more difficult. Throw in the fact that the storms have been dropping plenty of fresh powder on the starting point, and Dan has some real challenges ahead. If he is successful, he could become the first person to ride the full distance to the South Pole. I say "could" because there are a couple of other riders making that attempt as well. We'll just have to sit and wait to see who will be the first to complete the journey.
Chris and Marty Fagan have launched their South Pole expedition as well. The husband and wife team are also skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, although they aren't attempting any kind of "first" nor are they seeking records. Instead these two endurance athletes are simply on the continent to add to their resumes and enjoy the adventure. They officially got underway today and seem to be in great spirits now that their journey has begun. Tomorrow will mark their first full day out on the ice.
Parker Liautaud's Willis Resilience Expedition gets underway today from Hercules Inlet as well. A veteran polar explorer at the age of just 19, Parker and his guide Doug Stoup will be skiing to the South Pole while also collecting samples of ice that can be used to explore the impact of climate change on the Antarctic. They have a support vehicle riding along with them that will also help take a series of scientific readings about the weather and climate on the continent as well.
Finally, Antony Jinman has launched his South Pole expedition as well after arriving at Hercules yesterday. He will now make a solo and unsupported journey by skis to 90ºS while also interacting with students from around the globe while he's traveling. Antony's goal is to teach young people about climate change and the impact it is having on the Poles, which will eventually have an effect on other parts of the world as well.
That's all for today. There are plenty of other things to report now that so many expeditions have started, but I'll save some for the next few days. It looks like it is going to be an exciting season in the Antarctic with lots of activity to cover.
A number of the films on the list were ones that I've written about here on the Adventure Blog while others are completely new to me. For instance, I covered The Sufferfest, a film about Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright's "worst trip ever" few weeks back, and I've covered The Last Great Climb as it happened and when the trailer hit back in the summer. Most have us have probably at least seen the trailer for Blackfish as well. It was the film that was released this past summer that take a hard look at how captivity impacts the lives of killer whales.
A few of the films are ones that I haven't seen yet. Those include The Crash Reel, which follows snowboarders Shaun White and Kevin Pearce as they prepare for the 2010 Olympics. Just days before the games Pearce suffered an accident in the half pipe, suffering brain damage in the process. I'm also excited to see Maidentrip, which follows Laura Dekker on her attempt to sail solo around the globe a few years back. But perhaps the most intriguing film to me is Keeper of the Mountains, which is a movie about Miss Elizabeth Hawley, the Grand Dame of the Himalaya, and the keeper of all the records pertaining to climbs that take place in the big mountains. Catch the trailer for that film below.
If you're looking for some great adventure films to watch in the days ahead, Outside's list is a perfect place to get some ideas on where to start.
Monday, 2 December 2013
The new phone will retail for €230 (roughly $310) and comes equipped with Android 4.1 (Jellybean). It is powered by a Qualcomm 1.2 GHz, quad-core processor, has 1GB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage, which can be expanded through the use of SD cards. It also has a large 5" display and 3500 mAh battery that is said to be capable of 22 hours of talk time between charges.
But what sets the phone apart from most others is that it meets IP 54 certification. That means it has been built to survive the demands of the outdoors, including submersion in water, being used in sandy or dusty environments and withstanding the shock from being dropped. It is also resistant to both hot and cold temperatures, which could make it a great travel phone for those who visit extreme environments.
The phone does have a few knocks against it before it ever hits the streets. For starters, it doesn't have 4G data capabilities. The built-in 4GB of storage is a bit anemic as well, even though you do have the ability to add to that with memory cards. Android 4.1 is no longer the latest version of that operating system either, although it is a solid, modern OS in terms of features and stability. Still, for the price, I would expect a bit more out of the phone. You might be better served with buying a more capable device at a lower price and investing in a good cast to protect it. Just my two cents.
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Sunday, 1 December 2013
After taking care of my weekly laundry this morning, I decided to get out of the rig and take another drive on the refuge roads. There were no brilliant blue skies like there were on Friday, but I’ve found that after countless drives down these roads over the years I always see something different each time.
With the big cold fronts that have moved through from the north in the last couple of weeks, the snow geese numbers are rapidly increasing. This is only a portion of the flock that was in one of the moist soil units. Mixed in with the geese are ibis and black-necked stints.
There are also plenty of sparrows on the refuge, but they seldom sit still to have their picture taken. This Savannah sparrow was an exception to the rule today.
Along with Black and Turkey vultures, the Crested Caracara helps keep our wild places cleaned up. They are generally carrion eaters.
As I made my way around the auto tour route of Shoveler Pond, I encountered the usual cast of characters including hundreds of American coots. But all was not tranquil on the pond this morning. When a vehicle approaches, the coots usually run along the top of the water to get to the safety of the marsh grasses. Today however, one small group was too preoccupied to be concerned with my approach.
They were grappling for some kind of dominance. You seldom get to see the long green toes of these birds, but they were using them to gain advantage over their foe.
The third bird just casually floated around observing the melee. Makes you wonder if the two in front were male combatants vying for the wing of the fair maiden.
As I was snapping away, it seemed like the bird on the right was gaining an advantage.
I didn’t know if its intention was to drown its opponent or what.
The winner finally climbed on top of its opponent and shoved it completely under the water. Eventually the defeated bird came back up and the other two chased it away. Tranquility once again reined. I found it exciting to witness this little drama play out right before my eyes. Like I said earlier, I always see something different no matter how many times I make this drive.
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy