Tag Archives: expedition

100 kilometers around Tian Shan – yes you can (just). 

Hi folks!

August – always quiet. And that includes here on my blog, as you’ll have noticed. So here’s for a bit of catch-up: it’s time to report back from my recent walking trip around the Tian Shan mountains. Coming up: peaks, glaciers, mysterious natural phenomena, daily trekking-tourist notes, occasional rock-climber notes, descriptions of light-headedness brought on by low oxygen levels, and thoroughly non-office-like physical exertions. Also coming up: why we chose this particular particularly remote spot for this year’s spot of extreme tourism…

First off: how did we get there? Here’s a brief pictorial review:

Read on: simple logistics…

The Tian Shan Express.

Walking on ice for days is… unusual, but thoroughly awesome at the same time.

You might think that since there are no winding paths you could walk ‘as the crow flies’ across a glacier, but you’d be wrong. Much zigzagging is needed in-between and around mounds of rubbly rocks and glacial ‘icebergs’. Walking over smaller rubbly rock is tricky too. And walking on the ice is hardly a walk in an ice-free park either – especially when you can’t see the ice under a thin film of small rocks. But these inconveniences pale into insignificance when you have a look around at the oh-my glaciation landscapes all around!

Under those there rocks – ice. The ice around here inflicts serious damage to the surface of the mountains: as it expands (from water) in cracks it breaks up the rock, and over time grinds up the ever smaller rocks finer and finer and pulls it all downwards down the slopes. The ice melts, there’s less and less ice further down the slopes and more and more rocks – from pebbles to boulders.

Read on: Oh my goodness gracious…

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

Ice, Ice Walkie.

I’m a big fan of glaciers, and been lucky enough to have seen plenty – all over the world: in Patagonia, the Alps, the Caucasus, Altai (where I briefly walked on one), and New Zealand. It goes without saying also in Antarctica and Greenland; and I’ve seen plenty more from a plane while flying over them – but I guess those don’t really count. However, I’d never fully immersed myself in the unique experience of trekking across glacial ice and moraines for days on end. And I’d never met anyone who had. Or heard of anyone ever doing so. Until this summer when I finally had a go after dreaming about doing so for decades…

How was it?

Clue: Oh my glacier!

Detail: this post will be light on detail in words, but big on photo-visual detail. An intro, if you like. Plenty of words will come later on, I promise! But so far I haven’t had chance to put fingers to keyboard. Too busy enjoying all the glacial grandiosity. Plus the local internet coverage is… sporadic, to say the least. But for now here you go:

But where am I? Here’s a clue:

Polite request: Don’t pick the flowers! Fine – 1000 som

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A Floating Hotel – Almost.

I can’t tell you all about my Antarctic adventure without telling you all about the ship we sailed across the Drake Passage on. So here we go folks, a post on the one and only Akademik Sergey Vavilov. Here she is, in all her glory:

First up, the engine room. Here’s it’s all about electronic automation, but more of an analogue kind (see the analogue dials) than the full-on digitization of today – a sign that this ship was born in 1988. Yep, that’s when the ship first hit the water – in Rauma in Finland (be ready for quite a bit of Finnish language coming up…). Back then this was state of the art; still today it does a grand job…

Read on: Big thanks to all the crew!…

The Passage of Drake – Sure Makes Ships Shake.

[Titles ON]

On the recent Antarctic adventure I was accompanied by:

  • Our green bear (in Japanese – Midori Kuma, or 緑熊);
  • My travel companions A.S. and D.Z.;
  • A large troop of modern artists taking part in the Antarctic Biennale;
  • Journalists, photographers, bloggers (inc. moi!), etc.;
  • The crew of the Akademik Sergey Vavilov;
  • The OneOcean team (who were absolutely great, btw) (// I’ll be doing a special advert for them later on; for now – modest props:);
  • If there’s anyone I haven’t mentioned – apologies; will make up for any oversight.

[Titles OFF]

So, how does one get to the Antarctic Peninsula?

Well, you could go on a special plane (yep, they have aerodromes there), or, like most polar adventurers – by ship. By ship you’re likely to set sail from the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage to the northernmost tip of Antarctica (yes, that does sound an odd combination:).

You thought it was a mere ‘English Channel’ between the civilization (bed, shower, toilet, Internet) of southern Argentina or Chile to the wilderness (not much besides ice, whales, penguins, icebergs) of the northernmost Antarctic islands? No, it’s a lot further than that – a whole 1000km (600 nautical miles) – and all of them in the Drake Passage, meaning the icy winds of the 60th parallel south, which are fiercer than the Roaring Forties.

Read on: But we were lucky…

The Intriguingly Unique World of (Antarctic) Polar Stations.

After artists, penguins and whales, the time has come to talk about… Antarctic polar stations!

This may at first seem rather a dull topic, but I can assure you it isn’t. I mean, just how do folks live their daily lives so far from civilization? Remember – civilization here = ~0! No roads, no comms, no utilities, no shops, no schools, no… people – hardly ).

Just how folks live here depends on the location of a particular polar station.

Both the American Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station (right next to the South Pole) and the Russian Vostok Station at the southern Pole of Cold have a winter running ~ from May to September, when it never gets light – non-stop blackness for nearly six months! – plus temperatures among the coldest on earth. Both stations run completely autonomously every winter – meaning no one comes or goes for six months, and it’s hardly worth even stepping outside it’s that cold and windy. Lovely. Even the International Space Station is more hospitable for Homo Sapiens – at least they can hop down to earth when they need to. Here – the residents have to wait until summer for the privilege.

And talking of privilege, I was privileged enough to have been inside the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station – the new, roomy, two-story one that’s still there today. Have a look at my pics – here. It even has its own hothouse.

The polar stations on the Antarctic shore have it easier – and the further north from the polar circle, the better (warmer). The inhabitants we met say that living conditions at the Belllingshausen Station are more comfortable than in the Russian Far North. And the pay’s better!

Here’s Bellingshausen, from both the inside and out:

So, fancy a stint of ultra-isolation for half a year? Thought not! Actually, even if you did – you’ve hardly a camel’s chance in Antarctica: the competition to be among the chosen few is really tough, we were told. Who’d have thought it?

Read on: Oh my gorilka!…

Humpback Whales Having a Whale of a Time.

Hi folks! Herewith, more tales from the Antarctic side…

In this installment I’ll be telling you about the third most-important inhabitant of Antarctica – whales.

Whales are third-in-line in the Antarctic pecking order after penguins (second-in-line) and Antarctic Krill (top dogs crustaceans). What the Krill? King Krill? Never heard of them, right? Well this lesser known species is Antarctic city hall since it’s first in line in the food chain down here. It’s because of the abundance of this crustacean (I’m talking probably megatons thereof in polar seas) that both whales and penguins are able to get more than their fill of animal fat. However, Krill live underwater all the time so you never get to see any – and that went for us too, so I’ll not be telling you about them. I’ve already told you about penguins here. So next up – whales; specifically – humpback whales, which were the ones we saw…

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The #Antarctica whale story. We had LOTS of whales around (mostly humpback whales). The captain who sailed this seas for a dozen years can't remember so much whales around. It was really oveWHALing! Whales logging, feeding, breeding, any sort of whales. But I never complaned :) | А теперь о китах в #Антарктида. Это был прямо какой-то китовый суп! Там и здесь, спят и кормятся, прыгают и шлёпают хвостами, вдалеке и в метре от лодки. Наш капитан признался, что за свою долгую полярную карьеру такого не видал. Было круто! #ekinantarctica

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Read on: a veritable

A Day in the Life of an Antarctic Artist.

Modern art. It’s a tricky one. It’s divisive. It’s polarizing. It can be ‘just too much’ for many – too avant garde, too unsettling; while for others it’s a natural, permanently fluctuating expression of the creative human spirit – in all its wildest, freshest imaginings. Nikita Khrushchev was firmly in the former ‘eh?’ camp, famously ranting, swearing like a trooper, pointing, shaking fists and assuring that his ‘grandchild could do better than this’ his when he visited a modern art exhibition in Moscow in 1962. But that was Khrushchev.

What I think the USSR General Secretary didn’t quite get was that modern art shouldn’t be taken at face value. Ok, let me try explain what I mean using a technique I’m very familiar and at-home with – mathematical induction. It shows me how many long-dead artists who are today renowned as geniuses often died poor or in disgrace. Only later – after prejudices of the day fade and the true merit of a daring modern artist becomes more and more widely recognized – only then does the man-in-the-street ‘get’ him. Only then does that same man-in-the-street realize his kind were responsible not only of tormenting an individual, but also a genius author who had contributed greatly to redirecting entrenched ways of seeing the world – aka, ‘world culture’ – toward new horizons.

Creativity is something eternal; it’s always been with us, and always will be. Just look at the walls of Neolithic caves covered with etchings. [Lengthy story that should/could be here – omitted for brevity’s sake.] Well that eternal flame of creativity is still going strong today – particularly here, on this here ship I’m writing this from. For here we have a group of contemporary artists of various genres and styles – and cultures – doing the modern kunst thing as they see fit – be it with installations or performances or whatever. I have to admit that I – like the above-mentioned man-in-the-street – don’t ‘get’ it all. But that doesn’t matter! Much like wise advice has always said that reading a book you don’t fully understand can never be a bad thing – not fully understanding modern art but still engaging with it is also no bad thing. For I really do respect modern art, in all its progressively perplexing ways. But you will have guessed that by now – what with us not only sponsoring the Antarctic Biennale, but with me personally taking part in it too…

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I write this from somewhere in Drake Passage, heading down to Antarctica with brave artists, installationists and performers, who over the next several days will be fully submerged in an Antarctic all-inclusive experience that’s never been done before.

All righty. I write this now after a few days of the expedition, and already a pattern has formed of what we do of a day here:

Every morning – and if possible, also every evening – the whole creative collective disembarks from the Vavilov onto an Antarctic island or mainland bit of Antarctica. They take with them earlier prepared installations, put on performances, arrange photo-exhibitions, and in plenty of other ways complicate their lives right there on the ice and snow.

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Read on: A Day in the Life of an Antarctic Artist…

From Southernmost City to Southernmost Continent.

Hi folks!

It’s been a while, I know. However, I’ve a fairly good excuse: Antarctic comms leave a lot to be desired, and it’s there where I’ve been the last ~two weeks!…

Quick rewind…: If you can remember that far back, my latest spot of continent-hopping had gone like this so far: JerseySaint-Michel – Paris. Well, next up wasn’t in Europe, but in South America: the city of Ushuaia in southern Argentina.

This city fascinated us. Actually, not the city itself – though it is perfectly ok; it was the skies there that blew us away. Some kinda crazy hurricanic-typhonic steel-colored uniqueness. Seriously southern, seriously stunning. Perfectly fitting for the world’s most southern city…


Read on: to the south, to the ice!…