Monday, October 29, 2007

The Mighty Sled-Hut

A little thing about the sled-hut; I'll be following this up, later this week, with an article on self-contained Arctic exploration sleds. For the moment, there's a video clip of the sledhut in use on my YouTube page.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Below is an excerpt from my recent expedition narrative, "Escape from Darien", in "They Lived to Tell the Tale: True Stories of Modern Adventure from the Legendary Explorers Club". I'll be in New York City on the 8th of November for the book launch, and to discuss my Iceland book with a publisher.

Escape from Darien

copyright 2007 by Cameron McPherson Smith

Another big Pacific swell came up fast and silent, moonlight flashing on its face. Hurrying east, it lifted and then dropped our sixty-foot raft with the smooth motions of an elevator. I caught my stomach and adjusted a steering plank. The glowing compass revolved slowly as the raft pointed back on course. I marveled at how quickly it responded, and in perfect measure.

But I didn't marvel for long. My mind was following the Eastward-driving swell, thinking on where it would end up. I knew exactly where it would end up, but I didn’t want to believe it. I knew that eight miles East the swell would rise and then curl and crash as luminescent foam on a dark, stony beach that cowered beneath thick jungle vegetation. I sensed the Darien out there, to my right, like the open jaws of a medieval Hell-Mouth.

Darien. I said it softly aloud. How many conquistadores’ tales ended there? How many human disasters had that monstrous jungle hosted, like a grinning spectre? How many old explorers’ tales of the Darien had I read throughout my life, and had the jungle – like an enormous net – finally drawn me in?

I took a breath and told myself that none of that mattered. All that mattered now was the wind. If it gave up completely our raft would follow that swell and run aground on that beach. There would be nobody to help us. Our sailing raft, a replica of a native vessel encountered by Spaniards in 1526, was built of logs, rope, and canvas. We had no engine. Our radio took an hour to set up, and contact was intermittent. We were half-way up a 200-mile stretch of primordial jungle that for five centuries had shrugged off every bloody club and every subtle wedge of civilization.

Manila rope creaked and clicked as the raft wallowed ahead. I looked up at the mainsail, a three-story high triangle of dirty canvas glowing yellow from a kerosene lamp. The sail fluttered, barely tugging us along. If the wind died we’d have just a few hours before the swells drove us aground. I imagined six men scrambling in the dark to get clear of a heaving raft that weighed almost as much as a Sherman tank. The breakers would destroy the little bamboo deck-house, containing our supplies and the radio. And then what?

As another swell swiftly elevated the raft I turned and looked back at the deck-house. There was no light and I turned back to stare at the compass.

For the full story, have a look at the book :) Or, if you're patient, I'll eventually post it here, in its entirety.

Life Raft=Bad

Four Things You Must Know if You Find Yourself in a Life Raft, by my buddy John F. Haslett. He's been there and he knows.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fish People

Holy Smoke! Israeli inventor and diver Alon Bodner has devised a SCUBA system that, rather than supplying the diver with a container of compressed breathing gas (air, or a mixture of gasses), separates air from water with a centrifuge! The upshot: divers' under-water time won't be limited by the amount of gas in thier breathing tanks. Revolutionary!


The 'watertight' casing on my digital wrist-top camera is, so far, watertight, but the buttons used to shoot and control modes are made of a very soft plastic that continually 'grabs' whatever you might bump into. One such bump ripped a small hole in the button seal, allowing in a few drops of water. The camera still works, but the LCD display now displays gibberish. I'm trying to repair the breach with silicone sealer (white button covered with clear goop, upper right on the pic above). Not sure if it'll work. I hope it lasts long enough to get some photos of my monofin. What's a monofin? Think of swimming like a dolphin...or that old TV show, 'The Man From Atlantis'. Photos soon! In the mean time, a forward inflation at Sauvies Island the other day. Video by Mo Morales (handheld) and my 'belly cam'. So very close to flight here...just a few knots of wind coming up the beach would allow some levitation...still, it's good practice.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


For me, scuba diving is about descent, darkness, cold...immersion in an environment completely alien to a terrestrial primate. You breathe air from a canister. On descent, you purge air from your vest to drop to the sea floor, thirty, fifty, seventy, ninety, a hundred feet down. You land with a gentle bump and the muffled crunch of sand under your neoprene boots. Check your guages: all's well. Explore. Finally you ascend, eyes on your guages again as you come back to the light, rising slowly and carefully as your body adjusts to the decreased pressure. Surfacing, cold water pours off your hood, disturbing the stars reflected in the black water. You are speechless. Above, a drawing of a recent night dive in Puget Sound, Washington.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ego Check

Am I really going to bite off another slab--another website, another activity? Yes. I fly now -- a paraglider. I swim now -- with SCUBA gear. I climb mountains, ski on the frozen Arctic Ocean, squirm through caves. Only in the last few generations have these experiences been available for the common person. A generation ago an Arctic expedition was something like a space shot, requiring a massive inter-agency effort and national support. Today I can fly to the frozen ocean for $1,000 and drag my sled loaded with a month of lightweight supplies. What does all this get us? It gets us closer to the natural worrld we feel so disconnected from-- and not in some virtual reconstruction, but right down on your knees in the snow, examining individual crystals. It strips away our defenses, forcing us to look within. It converts the priceless worlds of the Arctic in Winter -- or the sea floor, or the clouds, or a hundred other places -- from being the exclusive province of a few to places we can all understand and appreciate. Like a plant needs light, I need regular, real-world exposure to environments that check the human ego. Between those exposures, this blog will be my outlet, a place to post ideas, images, writings, and links in a free format. No editors, just one man's mind pouring out ideas generated by fresh air, cold water, stinging snow or springy moss. Is this exploration? I don't know, but I mean to find out.