Expedition News
December 2006 – Volume Thirteen, Number Twelve

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.

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The scientific staff of an expedition called EIRA 2007 will carry out oceanographic, glaciological, biological research and icebergs monitoring in the northeastern Barents Sea and the Franz Josef Land Archipelago – one of the remotest, wildest regions of the planet. Departure of the two-month expedition from St. Petersburg, Russia, is scheduled for mid-July 2007.

The EIRA 2007 expedition will also conduct an underwater search for the sunken Eira, the steam yacht of Leigh Smith’s English Polar Expedition of 1880-1882, and visit historical sites connected with the polar pioneers who crossed Franz Josef Land in their ardent attempts to reach the pole and left their winter camps and lonely graves on the islands.

An English expedition headed by Leigh Smith visited Franz Josef Land aboard the Eira in 1880 and 1881. After many unsuccessful attempts to sail through the ice fields, the steam yacht was blocked by ice at Cape Flora, Northbrook Island on Aug. 21, 1881. She sank the same day at a depth of about 17 meters. The Leigh Smith Expedition spent the winter at Cape Flora and then rowed their pulling boats to Novaya Zemlya in the summer of 1882.

The 2007 expedition is organized by ACARSA Travels and Scientific Expeditions, based in Switzerland in the town of Neuch‚tel. Milko Vuille, 46, managing director, is planning the expeditions in conjunction with the St. Petersburg Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, developed in collaboration with the Shyrshov Institute of Oceanology, the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, and other leading scientific institutions.

ACARSA specializes in organizing scientific voyages and expeditions. Its aim is to bring together experienced scientists and amateur explorers in a spirit of innovation. One of the most important tasks will be to analyze climate change, a global challenge for the decades to come. Both cash and in-kind sponsorship support is being sought. (For more information: Milko Vuille, tel. (+41) 79354-7556, www.acarsa.com, info@acarsa.com).

Polar Expedition to Siberian Lake will Yield Details of Past Climate

An international team of scientists led by Julie Brigham-Grette of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has received $3.2 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund an expedition to a polar lake in Siberia, which should yield data that will provide the most detailed record of past Arctic climate to date.

The funding is the U.S. portion of a nearly $8 million investment by the governments of Germany, Russia, and Canada, and the International Continental Drilling Program, a collaboration of more than a dozen countries that supports scientific drilling projects investigating the geological and geophysical processes of the Earth's crust.

Understanding the natural climatic variations of the Arctic - such as which aspects are cyclic and which are stable - will illuminate how the region evolved from a warm ecosystem blanketed in forest to a cold one covered in permafrost. And ultimately it could give scientists a glimpse at the Arctic of tomorrow, says Brigham-Grette.

"The bottom line is the more we can learn about how the Earth system worked in the past, the more we can be prepared for the future," she says.

The research team's destination is Lake El'gygytgyn, a lake of roughly nine miles across that was formed when a meteorite hurtled into northeastern Siberia around 3.6 million years ago. Unlike much of the Arctic, this lake was never covered by glaciers or ice sheets and thus has received a steady accumulation of sediment since the time of impact. Brigham-Grette and her team will collect deep cores of this sediment - cylindrical columns of dense muck that should provide a detailed narrative of the past climate of the Arctic.

Lake El'gygytgyn or "Lake E" lies nine time zones east of Moscow. There are no roads in to the lake. Pevek, a town on the coast of the East Siberian Sea, has the closest airport and from there the researchers will travel the final 155 miles inland to the lake via rented helicopters.

Through the winter of 2007 – winter because the permafrost will only be able to support the weight of the equipment during the frozen months – Brigham-Grette will be obtaining permits, buying materials and arranging for it all to travel to Lake E via sled convoys and cargo planes.

In January 2008, the team will pitch a small camp at the lake with roughly 35 beds that they will call home the next four months. Once the cores are extracted, the assemblage of pollen grains, algae and bacteria within the sediment will tell the scientists what was living in and around the lake throughout its history.

"Examining climate change is like reconstructing a puzzle – a 500 piece puzzle, and we have maybe 80 to 90 pieces," says Brigham-Grette. "This work will fill in a lot of gaps in reconstructing why the Arctic is the way it is today and what it may be like in the future."

Julie Brigham-Grette Home Page

EXPEDITION UPDATE Skinner Memorial Fund Established – In the wake of Todd Skinner’s fatal rappelling accident in Yosemite National Park last October, the American Alpine Club reports that many climbers have wondered about the security of the belay loops on their own harnesses. Skinner fell to his death while descending from Leaning Tower, apparently because a worn-out belay loop on his harness failed. Although Skinner's harness was made by another company, Black Diamond’s quality assurance manager, Kolin Powick, decided to conduct a series of tests on “distressed” belay loops, and the results were somewhat comforting. He found that loops that had been cut by 50 percent and even 75 percent retained much of their strength. View the report at Black Diamond -- The Scene

NPR’s interview with Paul Piana, Todd’s longtime climbing partner, can be heard on National Public Radio at NPR.org (Search: “Todd Skinner”). A memorial fund has been established to benefit his children: Skinner Memorial Fund, c/o Atlantic City Federal Credit Union, 704 West Main St., Lander, Wyoming, 82520.

Goree Challenge Tries Again
– On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2007, Victor Mooney, 42, of Queens, New York, will make a second attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Mooney will start from Senegal and finish in the Caribbean – a distance of approximately 3,000 miles over the course of 30 days.

In May 2006, Mooney’s attempted solo row from Africa to New York turned into a one-day washout when his homemade plywood boat sprung a leak just hours after he left Senegal (see EN, June 2006). Mooney had hoped to become the first African-American to row solo across the Atlantic, while raising awareness of AIDS in Africa and memorializing the route that took African slaves to the Americas.

Mooney plans to have a new boat – the Goree Challenge II – ready for training in New York harbor by April 2007. He then plans to ship it to Senegal by October 2007. Budget for the second attempt is $250,000. Goree Challenge I received the support of over 70 corporations and hundreds of supporters. Nearly ninety percent of this sponsorship was in-kind. Organizers claim some 70 percent of sponsors are returning for the second attempt.

Mooney, a public affairs officer at ASA – The College for Excellence, Brooklyn, New York, has lost one brother to the virus and has another taking anti-retroviral medicine. (For more information: www.GoreeChallenge.com)


More to Explore – At a time when people are questioning whether there’s anything left to explore comes word that a new volcanic island has risen from the South Pacific near Tonga, according to reports from two vessels that passed the area.

The crew of the Maiken, a yacht that left the northern Tongan islands group of Vava'u in August, reported on their Web log that they saw streaks of light, porous pumice stone floating in the water – then "sailed into a vast, many-miles-wide belt of densely packed pumice."

They posted photos of huge "pumice rafts" that they encountered after passing Tonga's Late island while sailing toward Fiji. "We were so fascinated and busy taking pictures that we plowed a couple of hundred meters into this surreal floating stone field before we realized that we had to turn back," wrote a crewman identified only as Haken.

The next day they spotted an active volcanic island, Haken wrote. He said they could see the volcanic island clearly. "One mile in diameter and with four peaks and a central crater smoking with steam and once in a while an outburst high in the sky with lava and ashes. I think we're the first ones out here," he reported.

At press time there was no official confirmation of a new island, either from Tonga's Ministry of Lands or the Tonga Defense Service. Separately, fishing boat captain Siaosi Fenukitau reported seeing the volcanic island, the Matangitonga News Web site reported.

Richard Wunderman, editor of the Washington-based Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, said "a large pumice raft presumably from Tonga has been sweeping across Fiji, and we are trying to learn about its origins."

A previous eruption in the area generated a small island and similar fields of floating pumice, he said. Pumice rafts drifted to Fiji in 1979 and 1984 from eruptions around Tonga, and some were reportedly 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide, the Matangitonga News reported.

Exposed Toenail Foils Seven Summiteer – Indianapolis native and mountain climber Joe Lawson departed last month for Antarctica and an attempt to summit the highest peak on the continent, Mt. Vinson Massif (16,067 feet). Antarctica was the next stop on Lawson’s quest, called “Expedition Hope,” to climb the Seven Summits – the highest peak on each continent – to raise global awareness for depression and mental health. While team members continued to climb at press time, on Dec. 1 Lawson reported that he had to turn back due to an exposed toenail bed and peeling feet that “look like hamburger.” Lawson was climbing in honor of his father, who battled with depression and committed suicide when Lawson was a teenager. (For more information: ExpeditionHope.org)


Another Mountain to Climb – American climber Ed Viesturs, 47, has reached the summit of Mount Everest six times. In the New York City marathon last month, the biggest climb is about 150 feet on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the first mile. But for Viesturs the marathon was almost another mountain to climb. In this, his first marathon, he ran 3:15:18 and was pleased. He tells the New York Times (Nov. 5), “I did pretty well, I think. A lot of climbing is multi-day events and the summit climb is 12 to 18 hours at altitude over 26,000 feet, so I guess my body was used to the endurance part of it. But in the last miles, it seemed like the mile markers got farther and farther apart.”

Like Lance Armstrong and many other marathon newcomers, Viesturs was not sure if he would do it again. “Let me think about it,” he said. “I’m going back to Everest in the spring, so the marathon will keep.”

Coming to a Theater Near You – Save your money on Borat and go see The Jane Austen Book Club next year. The Sony Pictures Classics picture is about a group of five women and one man who form a book club dedicated to Jane Austen novels, and find the complications in their lives mirror those of the characters in the novels.

“Allegra,” described as beautiful, vivacious, a “creature of extremes,” finds her thrills through skydiving and rock-climbing but can’t seem to find love. If the movie is true to the book by Karen Joy Fowler, one of the scenes involves Allegra’s injury from rock climbing. The picture, directed by Robin Swicord and scheduled for release next winter, stars Maria Bello and Jimmy Smits. We can’t wait.

Enough Already with the Penguins – What’s up with all these penguins? It seems there are penguins everywhere these days, from Frontier Airlines’ new ad campaign (penguins on the tail sing in harmony), to March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. PBS aired a documentary last month titled Penguins of the Antarctic. Then there’s Sony Pictures’ animated mockumentary Surf’s Up coming out next year, and a sequel to Madagascar, with its madcap penguin foursome, Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private.

George Miller, who directed Happy Feet, tells the New York Times (Nov. 5) the penguin vogue might owe something to a surge in documentary material from Antarctica in the last 15 years or so. Surf’s Up producer Chris Jenkins believes penguins are “the only bird that really has anthropomorphic qualities. They look like little people in big, heavy coats, and that shuffle in their walk is comedic, because we see ourselves in it.”

While studio executives watch to see whether audiences prefer dancing penguins, surfing penguins, militaristic penguins or neurotic penguins, one thing is sure: the exposure isn’t hurting the Antarctic cruise ship industry.

“Seeing penguins is the no. 1 reason that a majority of visitors want come to Antarctica," says Jeff Rubin, of Oberlin, Ohio, a frequent cruise ship lecturer and author of the best-selling Antarctica guidebook, published by Lonely Planet. "And while the populations of certain penguin species, like Adelies, continue to crash as climate change alters their ecosystem, more people are coming to Antarctica than ever, as the number of passengers landed in Antarctica surged to 25,191 in 2005-06, and an estimated 29,000 are expected this season.”

Best Reason to Climb – “People are dying from eating spinach,” said Southern California free solo climber Michael Reardon, 32, in a Nov. 18 New York Times story by Bill Becher. Free soloists go hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet above the ground equipped with only sticky shoes and a bag of chalk to dry the sweat from their hands. “One wrong move and they die,” Becher writes. Reardon maintains that climbing unroped is such an intense, pure, living-in-the-present experience that it is worth the risk.

“In rock climbing, simply reaching the top is not enough. Style is everything: the free soloing that Reardon has mastered is considered by some to be the purest and highest form of climbing,” Becher reports.

Climbers Keep Fidel Up at Night – Adventurous Cuban youths schooled by an influx of foreign rock climbers, are giving tsuris to the island Communist political system. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 28), one climber reported that police showed up at his house to warn him against climbing, especially with foreigners. “Good Cubans don’t do this,” he says they told him. “Climbers use drugs. And you shouldn’t take foreigners to militarily significant areas.” Indeed, some caves in popular climbing areas are designated as civil defense sites in the event of a U.S. invasion.

Ironically, some of the official anxiety over climbing seems to be based on Cuba’s revolutionary history. The revolution that brought Castro into power in 1959 was launched from a clandestine encampment in the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the eastern end of the island. “The revolution was the work of climbers and cavers,” Castro once said. Now the Cuban government may be worried that history will repeat itself.

The Journal quotes Wyoming lawyer Armando Menocal, 65, “Climbers are very independent people, and the Cuban government has a real hard time with anything it cannot control – even a form of recreation.” Menocal is the leading international proponent of Cuban climbing.

In Praise of the Dolomites – Delta Sky magazine carried a story in their October issue that praises the Dolomites in the northeast region of Italy. The first-person account of climbing La Civetta by John McLaughlin says of the range, “The Dolomites are not as high as the Alps, nor as majestic. But they are infinitely more dramatic, bursting out of the ground like explosions in a hundred different shapes and sizes, right down to rocks the size of mobile homes rising scrappily out of meadows, topped by trees whose roots cling hard to their little peaks.”

EXPEDITION FOCUS Sea Stories at The Explorers Club
Special Report by Sean J. Holland

On Nov. 11, the Explorers Club hosted its third annual Sea Stories, a day focused on exploration, scuba diving, and marine life at its headquarters in Manhattan. Over 100 people attended to hear and meet the presenters: Gregg Bemis of New Mexico, owner (yes, owner) of the Lusitania; Susan Casey of Manhattan, author of The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks; Michael Emmerman of Manhattan, hyperbaric and undersea investigative researcher; Dr. Stewart B. Nelson of Florida, expedition co-leader to the 1931 wreck of the world’s first Arctic submarine, the Nautilus; Dr. Richard L. Pyle, of Hawaii, expert rebreather diver and deep-water coral specialist; and Granis Jane Stewart of Rhode Island, a top North Atlantic spearfishing and freediving champion. The goal of Sea Stories is to provide a platform of connectivity for marine explorers of various disciplines with their peers and the public.

Emmerman, an independent researcher who focuses on hypobaric and hyperbaric environments, discussed the lack of scientific evidence behind some of the most common rules of scuba diving. Emmerman is the director of the New York City-based Special Operations Support Group, a research and advisory organization supporting the diving and law enforcement communities.

Nelson, an oceanographer, historian, and author, was co-leader of an expedition that successfully re-discovered and documented the world's first Arctic submarine, the Nautilus, scuttled off Bergen, Norway in November 1931. Led by the Australian explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins, the Wilkins-Ellsworth Trans Arctic Submarine Expedition to the North Pole of 1931 reached the Arctic but suspected sabotage ended the daring enterprise before the Nautilus could reach the North Pole.

Stewart talked about the joys of freediving in the North Atlantic; holding your breath and testing your own mental and physical limits while experiencing a more natural relationship with the sea. She placed second in the Women’s National Championships in 1998 and earned the title of Women’s North Atlantic Champion in 1998 and 1999. In addition, she is the current and three-time spearfishing world record holder for striped bass.

Bemis performed extensive investigative research on two of the world’s greatest maritime disasters: the Lusitania, sunk in 1915, and the Estonia, sunk in 1994. Bemis formulated possibilities for government cover-ups on the Lusitania and Estonia sinkings. He discussed how his efforts to conduct forensic analysis on these wrecks has been severely hampered by various governments.

Casey relived her experiences on a spooky cluster of jagged rocks called the Farallones, 30 miles due west of San Francisco, battered by foul weather, thronged with 200,000 seabirds, and surrounded by the largest great white sharks in the world. The book that resulted from Casey’s travels to the Farallon Islands became an acclaimed New York Times bestseller.

Pyle, of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, discussed the enormous task of documenting biodiversity on deep coral reefs while diving down to 500 feet with advanced mixed-gas scuba-diving techniques to discover an average of more than 11 new species of fishes per hour of exploration time. Among the pioneers of modern closed-circuit rebreathers, he travels the Pacific extensively in search of new species of fishes on deep coral reefs. Pyle authored over a hundred scientific, technical, and popular articles and has been featured in dozens of documentary films (including the IMAX film, Coral Reef Adventure).

Sean Holland, with over 20 years of diving experience, is an avid rebreather diver focusing on deep-sea shipwrecks in the North Atlantic off the U.S and Canada. He researched and photographed wrecks ranging from mid-19th century vessels off Connecticut to Canada’s greatest maritime tragedy, The Empress of Ireland, which sank in 1914 with the loss of 1,012 lives. He lives in Manhattan and is an investment professional. (For more information: seanjholland@aol.com, Tel. (+1) 917-447-4930)


Do Maggots Go With Scorpions? – The Explorers Club is racking up YouTube.com views this month. At last look, there were almost 280,000 visits to a recent appearance by the Club’s Gene Rurka on Late Show with David Letterman. After one bite, the gap-toothed king of comedy almost weaseled out of tasting scorpion by saying, “Actually, I’m getting kind of full.” To see this hilarious segment, search “Rurka scorpions.”

On a lesser note, stay on the site and search for “man who fell horse.” The Club’s Jack Reilly is seen falling of a horse during the infamous Centennial ECAD dinner in 2004. He was stirred that night, but not shaken and continued on with the show.

Gay Blooper – While you’re already wasting all this time on YouTube, also search “gay climber.” Tens of thousands have viewed a TV blooper by Cynthia Izaguirre of KOAT –TV7 in Albuquerque wherein she introduces famed blind climber Erik Weihenmayer’s as a “gay” climber, then immediately corrects herself. “Oh my god. Wait a second, it’s not even funny. I’ve got friends,” says Weihenmayer in another posting of his reaction to the gaff.

Going in Style – When we heard there was a Web site that rates more than 9,000 public restrooms around the world, we couldn’t resist. Sure enough, there are two listed loos on Antarctica, both at McMurdo Station. The potty in Building 155, Highway 1, is called “probably the cleanest, albeit most used bathrooms in Antarctica.” Not far away in the Movement Control Center, Building 140, is an indoor facility most noted for its use of warm water that steams in winter months. (For more information: TheBathroomDiaries.com)

Restoring Shack’s Shack – What is it like to be part of the crew restoring Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1909 hut in Cape Royds on Antarctica’s Ross Island? Antarctic Heritage Trust conservator Al Fastier writes in a blog posted Nov. 24: “Cold is a real issue, especially when you are attempting to do work that requires dexterity. We all have chemical hand warmers in our pockets (to keep camera batteries warm) and in our boots and gloves (to keep us warm). Inside the hut it is around minus 5 degrees C., and the cold just seeps under your clothes over time.

“Our working day here begins around 6:30 in the morning when we get into all our outdoor gear (4 – 5 layers on the top half), and walk down the hill to Shackleton’s historic hut with our equipment for the day. This includes crates of conservation supplies and vacuum cleaners, a generator and fuel with accompanying spill kit and protection, computers, power cords and pencils (pens freeze unless you keep them warm). Our days can be quite long – often finishing in the hut around 7 p.m. and then working on the computer in the polar haven at night.”

Since 2004, the hut has been listed on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. (Read more about the restoration effort at Antarctica Blog)


“The world is still full of challenges. The main thing is you have to look for them, things just don’t happen all by themselves. When you find them, then you get stuck in and get to work to overcome the problems. There is nothing more exciting and satisfactory than overcoming a problem that nobody has ever overcome before. So seek out adventures, as long as you can find them, as long as you can tackle them with energy and all of your effort, you’ll succeed on them.” – Sir Edmund Hillary speaking in a videotaped greeting sent to the crew of the R/V Heraclitus on the Coral Sea to Aegean Sea Expedition as it carries out coral reef studies with the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation. (For more information: rvheraclitus.org)


Once again, as we have for over a decade, the intrepid staff of Expedition News has selflessly scoured the trade shows looking for the season’s most notable holiday gifts. We trolled aisle upon aisle of booths, scarfing up freebies, product samples, and other schwag just so we can provide this impartial recommendation of what to give the explorer on your list. No Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush is complete without:

Snots Landing – Explorers face a range of woes in the wild, from malaria and jungle rot, to infestations of chandiru that like to burrow where the sun don’t shine. But what really gets our goat is a runny nose. That’s why we’ll never venture far without the Snot Spot – a soft, high-quality, moisture-resistant fleece worn directly over winter gloves or mittens. Best of all, it’s fully reversible to provide twice the snot-wiping surface area. Think this is a weird product? Go rub your nose on some Cordura parka fabric. ($9.95, SnotSpotVail.com)

Rescue Me – Forget duct tape and plastic. You’ll be ready for just about any eventuality with the 7in1 Survival Tool’s seven (count ‘em) essential tools in one pocket companion. You’ll be as prepared as a Boy Scout with this baby’s luminous compass; signal mirror; magnifier; storage chamber; thermometer; spark starter; and pealess whistle. All conveniently packed into 4.5 inches of preparedness. ($7.49, SunCompany.net)

Inka Dinka Doo – The Fisher Space Pen is soooo 60’s. Now the write stuff is the Inka – “the first pen designed and built for the adventurer.” God knows what adventurers used before, but now they have a pen that writes at any angle, temperature, altitude and even underwater. In short, anywhere an explorer might feel compelled to pen an ode to the Great Outdoors. An optional PDA StylusTip allows Crackberry addicts to respond even with their gloves on – assuming there’s a signal. ($25, InkaCorp.com)

And They Think Explorers Are Crazy? – There won’t be any doubt about it if the explorer on your list decides to muck around on the AquaSkipper. It’s better than a boat. It’s better than a Jet Ski, says the breathless text in the company brochure. With your feet on the platform and your hands on the handles, simply hop up and down to propel yourself forward. Hydrofoils lift the AquaSkipper above the water, allowing you to move faster than any other human-powered watercraft. Or so they say. See for yourself. ($495.95, Inventist.com)


Climbing Wall Industry Gathers in April – The Climbing Wall industry will gather on Apr. 12-14, 2007, in Boulder, Colo., to network, collaborate, learn and more effectively and readily tap into the immense potential of artificial wall climbing. The event, which will bring together manufacturers, equipment companies, expert faculty and practicing professionals from around the country, will offer classes, clinics, and workshops, as well as structured and unstructured professional networking. While many workshops have been scheduled to date, the CWA has issued a general call for presenters for additional topics of interest. Participation in climbing on indoor and manufactured climbing walls has far surpassed outdoor climbing in both number of participants (6.7 million vs. 5.0 million) and number of outings (34 million vs. 15 million) according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation 2005 Outdoor Recreation Participation Study. (For more information: ClimbingWallIndustry.org)

Avalanche Center Auction Begins – Bidding continues through Dec. 15 for the 9th annual on-line auction held by the CSAC Avalanche Center in Corvallis, Ore. This annual event, featuring gear from companies such as Columbia Sportswear, Prana, and Tough Traveler, helps raise funds for the public services offered on the site. (To visit the auction log onto: Avalanche-Center.org/auction)


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