Friday, February 27, 2009

Not Quite the Last Sled-Drag

This last time, in Alaska, I thought;

'That's it, I've done hundreds of miles on foot in the Arctic, in Winter. Time for something new. I don't want to get used to this, I don't want to get tired of it or see it as anything other than very, very the best thing to do is stop. Preserve it as a memory. Don't wear it out.'

All good logic; the same logic I applied to mountaineering, which I've completely cut out; now, it's something I did once, something very special to look back on. I loved climbing, and every wild adventure, from Alaska to the vertical acres of El Capitan in Yosemite. But in climbing I met more than a few 'burnouts', people who'd done it too long and were vaguely bored of it. They saw climbs as fun; I wanted to every ascent to be a life-or-death drama. So I quit, and I'm happy I did.

So the logic works...but there will be one more ice trek. I've found a place up in the Arctic, by google searches and tips from Inupiat folks in Barrow, that will be perfect for paraglider aviation next Winter...and I'll need to trek to it. So, one more. But then I hang up my snowshoes. I have a lot of flying to do. Did you know that if you heat sixteen cubic feet of air to abhout 100F you can lift one pound of weight? It's the principle of hot-air balloon aviation, and thrilling to consider!

Photo above of me and Chiu, back in Barrow after our little trek in December 2008.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Into the Sea

Stairs into the Pacific. Photo by Angela Perri.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Alien Colony

On a recent dive, deep, dark and cold, I swept my light beam into a sagging plywood cavern, the wreckage of a motorboat that was, month by month, sinking into the ocean-floor ooze. My light revealed a milky-blue, translucent life form--plant or animal, I couldn't tell.

Looking closer, I saw that the tubelike body was open at one end, and fixed to the plywood on the other; and that along the body was a second, smaller tube that contracted, jetting out water, if I touched it gently with the tip of a glove.

Down the center of the tube was a rod, a cylinder that appeared firmer than the gelatinous tube. The free ends of some tubes were flared out, as if the life form was grasping or sucking at the multitude of particles suspended in the water, ghosting silently by.

As I crept a little further under the plywood--trying to explore another two square yards of an immense ocean floor--suddenly my light illuminated not just another tube-form, but a garden of them. A whole colony!

Someone knows what these life forms are, but I don't, yet, and for the moment, I don't want to know. I want to think them through on my own. Are they filter-feeders? Do they change form, color, or anything else on a seasonal basis? Why do they live on the underside of the wreck, rather than atop it? What can I deduce about them, simply from their superficial form and whatever knowledge of basic biology I possess right now?

Photo of part of the colony, above, by Todd Olson.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Pieces of a fantastical puzzle are sliding into position; I can't make out the image yet, but it involves a solo trek again next winter; an Arctic winterscape; a run down a slope followed by a 10-minute flight through supercooled air to the surface of a frozen ocean; a ghost village; darkness; finding the place where natives in Barrow have told me--in the most matter-of-fact way--that the Immanyarok have gone.

All of this, however it shapes up, will be shot on video, with sounds recorded, and assembled into a video to encapsulate and convey the Winter Arctic that I've come to love so much, starting with my experiences in Iceland in 1999.

Above, an aerial photo of me pulling my sled in Iceland's Vatnajoull Ice Cap in 2004. The expedition was shot (mostly by me, which took a huge effort!) and televised as "The Dealy Glacier" on National Geographic Channel (you can see a clip of it at Andrew Miles' Explorers Film School website here. Last I heard the 22-minute film was airing in Papua New Guinea and did particularly well in Australia....Right now it's airing twice a day in Pakistan! Unfortunately, Creative Touch Films, who produced the film, have had a website "under construction" for five years now, and it's just about impossible to get a copy of the video!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without It

Jacques Cousteau used to train his divers by taking them to 100 feet and having them strip off their breathing apparatus to swim to the surface on one breath.

While I'd like to work up to doing the same, for the moment I've made a hard rule for myself: I won't dive below 100 feet without a 'pony tank', a spare breathing gas cylinder as pictured above. There is all manner of thought and speculation on carrying 'backup' items outdoors; I used to climb specifically *without* a radio so that I would be more careful and never have the expectation of rescue to lean on,a nd I still believe that made me a better, safer climber (I am still alive!)

While I would still do that today, in SCUBA, for a number of reasons, I think that carrying this spare cylinder--a little smaller than half a normal tank--makes a lot of sense. This is life insurance for diving below 100 feet; if everything goes wrong, I can make it to the surface on this tank, even if I have to abandon everything else.

In the photos the tank hasn't yet been equipped with a carrying sling or other gear. You also see my dive light and some other gear.