January 2006 – Volume Thirteen, Number One
EXPEDITION NEWS, now in its 12th year, is the monthly review of significant expeditions, research projects and newsworthy adventures. It is distributed online to media representatives, corporate sponsors, educators, research librarians, explorers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This forum on exploration covers projects that stimulate, motivate and educate.
The following are highlights of our January issue, but this is only part of the story. Click here to subscribe to the full edition. or e-mail us for a free sample copy at editor@ExpeditionNews.com
FOLLOWING IN SCOTT'S FOOTSTEPS
Four British adventurers set out in late December to recreate Robert F. Scott's expedition to the South Pole – using the same equipment as the ill-fated explorer. Following an identical route to the 1912 expedition, the men are pulling a heavy wooden sledge, sleeping in reindeer skin sleeping bags and eating biscuits made to the original recipe used by Scott.
They will also avoid modern thermal clothing and weatherproof tents, and will only use materials and techniques available at the start of the 20th century. The same animal skins and stitching will all be part of the equipment. The heavy sledge was created along the same lines as Scott’s sledges. The techniques in manhauling the sledge are exactly the same. Everything even up to the navigation used by Scott will be used by the team, which pledges to make the trip, "as authentic as is humanly possible – hopefully avoiding the same final outcome."
GO NORTH! ANWR 2006 EXPEDITION
A collaboration between the University of Minnesota, Arctic research scientists, explorers, students and teachers across the nation will be involved in a two-month, 700-mile journey in February 2006 to explore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The dog sled expedition’s goal is to bring into focus the prospects of oil exploration, while studying the realities of global environmental change in the region. Go North! will gather scientific data from the field in collaboration with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and the Office of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Condiments to the Rescue – Ever wonder how International Space Station astronauts avoid going stark raving mad? It takes a busy schedule and lots of movie DVD’s for sure, plus travel size condiments. The astronauts will now be able to liven up some of their space meals with small packets of Kraft Horseradish Sauce, Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard, Heinz Barbeque Sauce and Seafood Cocktail Sauce, Smucker’s Seedless Orange Marmalade, Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce, and Sue Bee Clover Honey, according to an announcement from Minimus.biz, a Web site that offers hundreds of travel size products.
Discussions are underway for additional products carried by Minimus.biz to be sent into space, but all of them must go through a special testing process at NASA before they are approved for use. Or at least we hope so. We hate to think of one of those little McDonald’s ketchup packets gumming up the works. (A special feature on food in space is available on NASA’s Web site.
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"See how peaceful it is here. The sea is everything. An immense reservoir of nature where I roam at will. Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight, tear one another to pieces. A mere few feet beneath the waves their reign ceases, their evil drowns. Here on the ocean floor is the only independence. Here I am free. – Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Trip Report: Checking in with Iceland’s Hardy Westman Islanders
The newest chapter of The Explorers Club was established last summer in Iceland. And for good reason. Iceland is right up there as one of the most adventurous destinations in the world. The home of geysers, active volcanoes, and bubbling hot pots, its otherworldliness attracted NASA astronauts in the 1960’s for moonwalk training. In fact, NASA is still sending researchers to study the dynamics of water and rock formations to better interpret whether water might still exist in ice form on Mars.
During the darkest days of December, when the sun rises in the south at around 11:20 a.m. and sets by 3:39 p.m., EN made one of our periodic trips to this Ohio-sized island nation in the North Atlantic. We traveled there to check the status of various projects in the Westman’s, a group of volcanically-active islands off the country’s southern coast.
Rescuing "Parrots of the Sea"
In the summer, there are approximately four to six million Atlantic puffins breeding in the hills of the Westman’s largest island, Heimaey (pop. 4,300). In the winter, when we visited, that number drops to two – one named Tritli, the other Skrauta. Both were being nursed back to health by Georgs Suringsson, a brick mason, taxi driver, firefighter, and the island’s sole mortician who transports the dead in a gold and red Windstar minivan parked outside his modest home. Suringsson and his family found their feathered friends during a celebrated puffin rescue last August. In fact, every summer for as long as anyone can remember, young puffin chicks – called pufflings – are confused by the lights of downtown Heimaey and land in the dark of night in local backyards, gardens, and neighborhood streets in search of open water.
Rather than allow pufflings to fall prey to pet cats, the children of Iceland gather them up wearing ski gloves to protect their hands from sharp triangular-shaped beaks and claws, then take them to the island’s Aquarium and Museum of Natural History for weighing before releasing them the next day into the relative safety of the sea. Some are first carried in cardboard boxes to Heimaey’s lighthouse for tagging by Oskar Sigurdsson, 68. A third generation lighthouse keeper, Sigurdsson was honored by the Guinness Book of Records in 1997 for holding the record for the most birds ever banded. In 53 years of dedicated banding, he’s tagged 85,000 birds in all, of which over 54,000 were puffins. And he’s still at it, clamping small metal rings with a return address written in microtype.
According to stacks of thick loose-leaf binders in Sigurdsson’s cluttered office with the million kroner view of Heimaey, one puffin was found 36 years later, another was found still inhabiting the same burrow six years after it was first tagged there. Sigurdsson is proudest of tagging a puffin that was later found 2,124 miles away in Portugal. "It’s fun to do this and learn how far they can go and how old they live. I’m thrilled when one turns up so far away," he tells EN through an interpreter.
Baby fulmars, a gull-like relative of the albatross, also land in town, but don’t have the same appeal as cute clown-nosed puffins. Fulmars, it seems, have a nasty habit of spitting foul-smelling fish oil from their stomachs as a defensive mechanism. As you can imagine, this tends to dampen the enthusiasm of pint-sized rescuers.
Puffins and the Westman Islands go back a long way. Until the late 1800’s, hardy settlers depended upon these "parrots of the sea" for survival. They were eaten and their feathers were used for bedding. Once dried, their bodies were burned as kindling, a welcome luxury in an island with no trees. Even today, while hundreds of children scurry about the town saving baby pufflings, young juveniles are hunted – up to 1,000 per day – and caught in long handled nets for dining room tables throughout the country. It’s another quirky Icelandic contradiction that makes the island fascinating to so many explorers and adventure travelers.
Pompeii of the North
Within sight of the sheer, towering walls that millions of puffins call home, volunteers and researchers are beginning to uncover the remains of some of the 417 properties destroyed when Heimaey experienced a volcanic eruption in 1973 that covered one-third of the town in up to 20 meters of lava and ash. Today, Kristin Johannsdottir is leading a modern-day archaeological effort to uncover a section of town where the homes were merely boiled in the steam from hot ash; other homes, totally engulfed in molten lava, are beyond rescue. Most feared were the lava bombs – globules of molten rock that rained down, igniting commercial and residential buildings.
Homeowners were reimbursed for their property 30 years ago, but Johannsdottir says that they will return photos and heirlooms found in some of the lightly damaged structures. "The people of Heimaey are pretty excited about the entire project," she says.
Over the course of several years they hope to create a historical exhibit – a reconstructed town under a large roof – to show how people lived in 1973. The project is expected to cost about $2.3 million. (For more information: www.pompeinordursins.is).
ON THE HORIZON
Books on Ice – The Grolier Club in New York has opened a public exhibition, "Books on Ice: British and American Literature of Polar Exploration," running now through Feb. 4. The exhibit will include many of the classics of expedition literature as well as more unusual materials through 1950 related to the Western perception of the Arctic and Antarctica, ranging from historical materials to the printed ephemera of polar expeditions.
Highlights will include books which have survived time in the polar regions, including a prayer book from the ill-fated Sir John Franklin expedition of 1845-48; a copy of Tennyson's poems carried to the South Pole by the Scott party; the first book printed in Antarctica; shipboard printing of HMS Plover; and the portable "Seaman's Library" of Robert Peary's SS Roosevelt. In many cases the battered condition of the works speak volumes about the rigors of exploration and their effects on printed materials. The club is located at 47 East 60th Street. (For more information: www.GrolierClub.org).
Flicks and Picks – The best documentary films in the areas of Scientific Exploration, Field Research, and Wildlife and Conservation will be presented on Jan. 21 at the fourth annual Explorers Club Documentary Film Festival – a daylong celebration of our world and those who explore it. The event will be held from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. at Club headquarters, 46 East 70th Street, New York. Cost is $60 for an all-day pass. (For more information: Stephanie Chambers, 212 628 8383 x 18, www.Explorers.org).
Norman D. Vaughan (1905-2005)
He Dreamed the Impossible Dream
As you go through life, besides loved ones, there are usually just a handful of people you meet that you’ll never forget. Perhaps it was a high school principal who believed in your capabilities; a favorite teacher or clergy member. For those of us at Expedition News, Colonel Norman D. Vaughan was just such a person – the exploration field’s Energizer bunny. The last surviving member of Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s original 1928 expedition to Antarctica, Vaughan was a living link to the early 20th century’s rich history of discovery. Sadly, Col. Vaughan passed away on Dec. 23 of congestive heart failure, just four days after his 100th birthday.
Vaughan was originally set to fly to The Hotel Telluride for birthday celebrations there, but ill health kept him grounded in his hometown of Anchorage.
"He died so peacefully," said Susan Ruddy, a family friend and an administrator at the hospital. "The big party was a great send off." Vaughan was also honored by that famed arbiter of centennials – NBC Today Show weatherman Willard Scott.
Vaughan's life as a sportsman, soldier and entrepreneur spanned the 20th century, but it was his buoyant example of how an active outdoor life doesn't have to end at age 70, or 80, or even 90 that inspired legions of admirers.
At 84, Vaughan was still entering and completing the grueling 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome as the self-proclaimed "oldest and slowest" musher in the world. At 89, he climbed a 10,320-foot Antarctic peak that Admiral Richard Byrd named in his honor 65 years earlier during their historic 1928-1930 South Pole expedition.
Vaughan was assisted on his 1994 Antarctica expedition by his wife, Carolyn Vaughan, and Alaska mountain guide Vern Tejas. "I know how to dream big dreams," Tejas said later, "but Norman dreams impossible dreams. That's what I want to learn from him."
Col. Vaughan’s body was cremated with the ashes to eventually be spread over at least nine different locations he held dear, including the North and South Poles. A special fund in his name will be established at The Explorers Club. Donations can also be sent in his name to a fund set up to provide health education to congestive heart patients at Providence Alaska Medical Center. The address is: 3200 Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508.
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