Luffy Thursday, December 21, 2006 Amazing-InterestingIt's windy in Antarctica, like nowhere else on earth, so the clouds go scurrying by most days giving ample opportunity for photography. If the lighting isn't quite right at the moment, then just wait a little while and it soon will be - but not for long.
The cold winter temperatures usually mean crystal clear days as there is no water vapour in the air. The scale of Antarctica in these conditions becomes quite overpowering, almost frightening. You can be standing on a cliff edge and be able to see a clear 100 miles in all directions knowing that the only other human beings in that 100 mile radius circle are your fellow winterers in the collection of huts just below you.
If the air is still then the silence too is equally huge, with nothing moving or making a sound in the whole of that vast wilderness.
I used to think that a new word was required to describe the scenery in Antarctica, around the coast it was frequently difficult to tell where the land ended and the sea began, and sometimes what was land, glacier, sea-ice or ice berg all blended into a single continuous flow of features. "Whitescape" sums it up for me although that belies the subtlety of the details of the vistas. Everywhere consists of white and shades of blue, as made by an artist with a limited palette, and with so much reflection around, there are no real dark shadows.
I've never been anywhere in the world where it is so possible to get as good an impression of the geography of a place as Antarctica. With the land stripped bare of vegetation and virtually nothing in the way of human influences to get in the way, you can just simply see the landscape so much more clearly. From this particular vantage point it is possible to see about 80 miles in all directions to the two peaks 40 miles away and to the ice covered sea an equal distance behind that.
Clear skies mean clear sunsets, but because of the high latitudes, they develop and fade quickly. Snow and ice are a great bonus in sunsets as they colour up beautifully in reflection, in these conditions, beautiful sunsets don't even need to contain the sun in the picture.
Traveling by skidoo and sledge is one of the quickest and most versatile ways of getting around. These skidoos are the heavy duty version with twin tracks for power and a single ski in front, as opposed to the more commonly seen single track - twin ski arrangement.
Heavy duty they are too, we had one that at some point in its life had been dropped through a hole in the sea ice, had ropes tied onto it by divers and then hauled up again to be dried, cleaned and put back into service.
Skidoos usually pull sledges in Antarctica for extra cargo and people. The man at the back is the "jockey" there to lean into the turn and so steer the sledge to avoid it tipping up. At very cold temperatures it was the most awful place to be. No windshield to hide behind, just stand straight upright and face the gale caused as the skidoo towed you forwards at great speed. I have memories of standing there being aware of little other than cold as my goggles steamed up and froze with me not being able to do anything about it. The world just passed by in an icy blur.
Heading back at the end of a day out on the ice, just a quick stop to take a few photographs of the sun as it went down.
I recall a similar day when I was jockeying a sledge (see previous slide) and we were heading over sea-ice that was apparently firm in front of the skidoo, but was breaking up behind it - unknown to the driver who was pressing on blissful ignorance. I was on the sledge at the end of a 20 foot rope bouncing around on broken sea-ice thankful that we were travelling so fast and hoping beyond hope that the driver didn't want to stop for a chat. Luckily for us, he didn't get the urge until we were safely onto some much firmer ice.
This picture captures a very rare calm moment where there was no breeze at all to cause ripples on the sea and so disrupt the reflection. There was just enough time for me to get into position, grab a few shots and then sure enough, back came the wind and away went the reflection
Despite most of the photographs that you see of the place, much of Antarctica is actually very flat and boring. It's just that flat boring places don't photograph very well and once you've seen a couple of shots, that's about as much as you need to see. Most of continental Antarctica is taken up with a vast high ice plateau that part from undulations due to crevassing and ridges of blown snow, is largely featureless. Most of the photographs therefore are of coastal regions that present much more interesting landscapes.
Mountains in the Antarctic interior are few and far between. Many are a special kind of mountain called a "nunatak". The Trans Antarctic Mountains that stretch from one side of the continent to the other break through the ice cap in places to form such nunataks - they are mountains that are surrounded completely by an ice field. A sort of cold version of the ocean and islands except that these are on land and raised high above sea level.
Due to their isolation and sterile surroundings, many nunataks are little or never visited, though there are records of some Antarctic birds such as snow petrels nesting on nunataks over a hundred kilometres from the coast where they feed. Why they do so is unknown, maybe they just like the scenery.
Mountain weather is always dramatic. Pushing clouds and air up or down to different altitudes with the effects that this has on winds and precipitation. Shafts of sun often break through at unexpected angles dramatizing the whole scene.
The shaft of light in the lower part of this picture highlights the aptly named "Sunshine Glacier". The arrangement of mountains and valleys and direction of the prevailing winds meant that often the cloud cover was lifted above this glacier so that a shaft of sunlight could illuminate it when everything else is in cloud or shadow. Even when the glacier is in shadow, it is brighter shadow than its surroundings.
Picked out by a shaft of sunlight. Robin Peak glows in a dusting of early winter snow
and the type I like best are where the ground is lit up against a dark sky.