16 February 2017

Antarctica - A Typical Voyage

Half way through the season the ship must head north to re-stock, re-fuel, and replenish with new staff. This is where I got on. After the 26 hours of travel from Wellington, I made it to Punta Arenas. This is where the company is based and is a good opportunity to drink a beer with colleagues old and new, sort out work permits etc etc before getting on another plane to Puerto Williams. It was in Puerto Williams we did an excited exchange with the staff who were on their way home and got settled into the ship!

 The Ocean Nova docked at Ushuaia, AG.

Last minute arrangements and emails taken care of in the Southern-Most city in the world, it was time for another beer and then meet our new guests before setting sail down the Beagle Channel. This particular trip is an Antarctic Express. It is short, only 4 days and it picks people up in Ushuaia, we sail the Drake Passage arriving in the South Shetland Islands doing only a couple of landings before dropping the passengers at King George Island where they fly back to Punta Arenas, CL.

 The Southern-Most town in the world nestled under Dientes De Navarino (the mountain range).

Our first stop is again Puerto Williams, CL. This is where we officially get back to Chile and it's a good chance to stretch the legs and learn a little more of the history of this southern region of the world. 

 Even the wind-swept Lenga trees are dressed nice and warm.

 The museum that opens just for us at 10pm.. good sorts!

The next day we wake up and the view out of the window is never ending ocean. Once you get past Cape Horn it's all on in the Southern Ocean. Drake's Passage is the largest moving body of water on the planet fueled by prevailing westerlies. There is no land mass to stop this monster moving so even on a good crossing there are residual swells from storms that have died well before. Uncomfortable as it is for a kid that gets sea sick at anchor, it is always impressive and it is the best chance to get close and personal with some of the biggest birds on the planet.

Waves for days...

Wandering Albatross and many others in behind.

Once we get across the Drake we do our best to get a landing or two in the South Shetlands where the wildlife is quite a bit different from further down on the peninsula.

Some Southern Elephant Seals at Robert Point. These guys are only young but they will get as big as 4 tonne.

From here we head to King George Island where to meet the flight that brings us our new passengers and send the old passengers away on. The flight across the Drake takes 2 hours and they land at Frei Station which has a gravel airstrip.

 The BAe 420

Once we have our new passengers it is time to get into the bread and butter of what we do. Five-day trips that do a loop down the peninsula and back to King George Island where we meet the next flight. 
Once everyone and their luggage is on-board via zodiac, we get straight into the safety briefings and set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula.
Penguins on ice in the Bransfield Strait. 


When we wake up after crossing the Bransfield the passengers get their first real taste of Antarctica in the northern area of the Gerlache Strait. They wake up in a totally new location surrounded by ice and mountains ready to climb into zodiacs and see what we can find.

A huge iceberg blocking the way at Spert Island.

Chinstrap parents with their chick at Hydrurga Rocks

Getting a look at yet another amazingly unique iceberg.

There are many different landing sites or places of high interest in the area. Depending on weather and availability the expedition leader chooses the best location to explore or encounter wildlife.
Most of the area it is impossible to get ashore because of the amount of ice. Most of the Peninsula and surrounding islands coast is a shear wall of ice in the form of a terminal face of a glacier or it is a rock cliff.

Landing isn't the only option, there is a lot of zodiac cruising to to explore these coasts, islands, icebergs and to encounter seals, whales or penguins.

 Some very old glacial ice. This piece could be anything up to 50,000 years old.

 Pablo with a gigantic iceberg at Cierva Cove.

 A Leopard Seal resting on an Icefloe most likely digesting her penguin dinner.

The further down into the Gerlache Strait that we get the better it gets and the more options there are. 

The snow shoe team on Ronge Island while the rest of the passengers are landed on Useful Island smack bang in the middle of the Gerlache Strait. 

Out for a walk.

Another thing that the Gerlache Strait is great for is the whale watching. They can be around at any time of the day but they are pretty much guaranteed in the evenings when the Krill (a very small crustation) moves closer to the surface of the water. I like to call these the 9 o'clock whales and I think the name explains why. 

Humpback Whales lunge feeding at 9 o'clock. 

This is just one group but some evenings you will see different groups about every 100-200m in every direction as far as the eye can see.. 
It's great to see these animals making a comeback because in the early 1900's they were close to totally wiped out. Over 200,000 Humpback whales were hunted for their blubber in the Peninsula region.. disgusting!

 Southern Gerlache Strait after the whales have finished their dinner we are treated to scenes like this.

 Port Lockroy a.k.a the Penguin Post Office. An old British base from the 1940's.

Blue-eyed Shag and its massive chick. That chicks whole head was just down its parents throat..

The further south we go, the more ice we encounter. The Ocean Nova is a great little ship. It's not the most luxurious, nor is it the most stable in the open ocean, but shit she's good in the ice. Many ships this season weren't going south of the Lemaire Channel, but we would charge straight on in.

Captain Barrios at the helm in the Lemaire Channel.

Everyone all out on the observation deck watching the Captain work his magic.

Booth Island

Skull berg

Exiting the Lemaire

For a normal trip, south of the Lemaire Channel to the Penola Strait is as far as we go before turning back north. This is where we start getting some different wildlife and it is one of the most beautiful areas I have visited on the Peninsula.

An Adelie Penguin posing. 

These guys don't really breed in many places north of the Lemaire but down on Petermann Island we have Adelie and Gentoo.

A Gentoo chick clearing the nest.

If you haven't heard its extremely cold in Antarctica and this phenomenon of high powered shit is so that the parents can stay on the nest to keep the egg/chick warm and not soil the nest. This young fella is also pretty good at hitting the neighbor.

The view from the top of Winter Island looking northwards at the Lemaire Channel.

On the way back north the fun continues. Ice ice baby at Neko Harbour.

Looking through a massive arch in a massive iceberg at Portal Point.

A Humpback Whale waving its 5m long pectoral fin at us in Charlotte Bay.

Once we leave the Peninsula it's back to the South Shetlands with a guaranteed stop at Deception Island which is where we sail into an active volcanic caldera that is over due for an eruption like most other volcanoes around the world. Very bleak place that was the hub of the whaling industry from 1911 to 1931 and it is still littered with remains from those days.

The steaming beach at Port Foster.

Old buildings just waiting to get blown away. Last inhabited 1969 until the eruptions sent mudflows into the back of the building.

Old boilers that they would boil the whale blubber down in to produce the oil. 

We keep heading north to get closer and closer to the airstrip to be ready for the next flight. The cool thing about the South Shetlands is that later in the season as the snow disappears the wild life comes flooding in. 

A moulting Gentoo Penguin taking shelter under an old tourist dinghy on Halfmoon Island. 

 Keevin! The lonely Macaroni Penguin that lives with all of the Chinstraps on Halfmoon Island.

 A Southern Giant Petrel sitting on its chick at Robert Point.

An Antarctic Fur Seal acting all tough at Robert Point.

 And then it is time to head back up to King George Island and await the next flight to do it all over again!

1 August 2016

Grand Canyon - Colorado River

Hunter and I sharing a moment on one of the many side hikes after a day on the river.

How to begin and what to say? This is a super famous trip and for good reason. Over 200 miles of runnable river, countless rapids that never get too stressful, amazing camping, and escaping the reality of society for 21 days with 16 great friends.. sound good? I can now say from first hand experience that it is soo good!

I must admit, going into this trip I was a little nervous because I didn't personally know everyone on the trip and I had nothing to do with the organising because I was a bit of a last minute ring in. Being quite a long trip with the same people stuck in an amazing canyon may not be everyones idea of fun. For me, I was willing to trust Taylor, Kelly and the others who organised everything and I was pretty stoked on the outcome. They had hired a professional outfitter who gave us all of our group gear, food and the rafts. All that was left up to us was our personal gear and other fun things. My dress ups totalled half of my personal gear..

Once we had made the drive from Sacramento, CA to Flagstaff, AZ was when it really felt like things were happening. Sixteen of us staying at the same Hotel about to embark on a grand adventure together. The only thing left to finalise was the buying of the booze for 21 days of fun!

Here I have a few of the photos that I took. After having my proper camera stolen only a few weeks prior I thought it would be fun to take a different approach and get some instant gratification with a polaroid camera. It was pretty fun with over 200 photos to choose from here are a few of my favourite moments. I feel like I got better at using the thing as the trip went on.. maybe.

So fresh and so clean. About to enter the canyon and say goodbye to civilization for a few days.

The first few days were pretty much about getting used to the nice heavy rafts, learning our roles and how the kitchen/ food systems worked, and everyone relaxing and getting into the groove of the three weeks on the river.

Being such a sort after trip and so well travelled, there is a lot of information out there. Every river mile is described in a guide book camp sites and history to the grade and lines down almost all of the rapids described in detail. This was pretty handy as not one person out of our group had been down the river before.

The first famous spot that we reached was a huge cave called Red Wall. We stopped there for an extended lunch with swimming, music, and a few games of Koob.

As well as cool totally natural places like Red Wall, there were some pretty incredible remains from the Native Americans that were great to visit. Our first historical site that we arrived at was the Nankoweep (tribe) Granaries. These were high up off of the valley floor where they stored their grain that was grown down on the valley next to the river.

River life. Hide from the sun, have a beer, and enjoy the scenery and company.

Another one of the highlights was getting to the Little Colorado River (LCR). We had a relatively short day on the water so that we could go an explore up the side valley. The LCR was quite a lot warmer than the main river because it isn't coming out of a huge dam and it is also where most of the sediment comes from which changes the colour of the Colorado River.

Mary and Karen admiring old old pottery that's so old I forgot how old it is. Leftovers from the native tribe that used to live there.

Caveman found in one of the side canyons.

One of the more famous hikes down there is a full day walk that takes you up one side creek, over a ridge that is hot as fuck, to a few really cool springs that pump out of the sides of the canyon walls, then down another canyon getting back to the main river just below where we started where there was a great waterfall to rinse off in. Because we are all pretty confident outdoors we got a little led astray by the low water route and a few of us took the straight up a cliff option that seemed to work out just fine albeit just a little exposed.

Austin, Cara & Colby being all mountain goaty.

Playing the waiting game while our fearless trip leaders were making good decisions on our behalf.

After such a long walk and it being Bucky's birthday we may have used beer to rehydrate after a long day hiking in the desert heat and we may have become a little useless. We were hanging out, proceeded to hydrate some more all tied together above the longest rapid in the canyon as the responsible ones made sure it was just class II and there was good camping below.

I was lucky enough to have my 28th birthday only a few days later right in the guts of the canyon. Here we are with all five boats tied together having a grand ol' time!

I suppose if you have heard of the Grand Canyon you may have also heard of Havasu Creek or a place called Havasupi. This was another full day hike that was up a beautiful creek to an amazing waterfall. The only catch is that at the very top of the hike just before you get to the waterfall there is a ranger from the reserve. This ranger's job is to collect a fee of $45 or turn people back. We had missed that vital piece of information so no body had any cash on them. We got skunked! It was still pretty and funny.

For the trip we had been put into four groups of four and these were the different food groups. We would take turns at cooking for the group, setting up the Groover, filtering the drinking water, and having a day off. It would happen quite often that the food group would make up rules or conditions of eating if you will. One day a champ who will not be named labelled our last Monday on the river as Mandatory Monday. So at 7:30am, before breakfast was served it was mandatory to drink a beer. Needless to say this then set the scene for the rest of the day and it turned out to be quite memorable!

This is a "Groover". An ammo can that you poop in. I can tell you the first thing I missed after getting off the river was the view that you had every morning as you took care of business.

As you can see, fun is being had. Then we caught up to another group..

They liked our unicorn so from here we became friends and we ended up camping together and having a party attempting to get through our supplies days before the end of the trip.

Paying tribute to the river gods.


The last night was also a good time. We could celebrate although we hadn't quite reached the take out, we were only just upstream of it and we had made it through with no carnage and no drama. Taking three weeks out of day to day life to live simply on the river was incredible. If you ever get the chance to do a trip like it, I'd say of course do it! I'm sure I'll be back and the trip will be completely different but just as good.

A huge thanks to Kelly and Taylor for inviting me along and everyone on the trip who made it what it was.  AMAZING!!