Three Months

I’ve left the field. I’m back at McMurdo and in one more day I’ll be off the continent. I was in the Valleys for 3 months.

Month 3: Finished, complete, happy

The Dry Valleys are without a doubt the most incredible place I’ve been. What enamors me about this continent is how little of it is known and how much remains to be discovered. More than half of what I’ve learned about Antarctica has been from the people I’ve encountered. Most of the stories, the history, and even the scientific and geographic details of the continent are housed within the memories of seasoned residents. There is no Wikipedia page for many of the places I’ve been and the only source of information are facts passed from person to person. Indeed, many of the most interesting stories here aren’t written in any books, though it means I have no way of checking their validity. For instance, during World War II the Nazis apparently flew over the continent and dropped flags as a statement of military prowess. There’s also an old abandoned Soviet base covered by snow, where a statue of Lenin pokes out of the ice as the last remnant of past inhabitants.  Whole mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers are known to be trapped under the 2 kilometer thick ice of East Antarctica. In Beacon Valley, there are rock covered glaciers with the oldest ice in the world (8.1 million years) that are only now beginning to be analyzed. And no one really knows why Blood Falls is Blood Falls in Taylor Valley.

I’m only left to imagine what else lies outside of my brief glimpse of the continent. My experience here has been one of relative comfort in a polar desert, devoid of dramatic Antarctic wildlife. The Valleys are one of the driest places on Earth, an irony that has been hard for me to grasp given my daily work with rivers and streams.

This experience has been the realization of a dream I had for three years. I am not a winter person, so Antarctica seemed like a logical ambition. I pursued the idea of working in Antarctica harder than any plans I’ve created before, and the excitement of getting this position has only been matched by the enjoyment of living here. What I thought would be a singular pursuit has become something I plan to make a career out of. Just hours away from leaving, I’m consumed with thoughts of how to come back next year.

My last night in the Valleys I stayed up late to enjoy some peace and quiet as the others slept. It was a windless night as I sat out in the 3 am sun. The silence of that evening was unique to this part of the world. No humans were awake, no cars or planes or generators were running to disturb the night. The valley had no birds or insects to create a droning hum. It was in this stillness, the lack of everything, that you could hear the Earth move. Candle ice shifted on the lake with the faint sound of breaking glass. The glacier creaked and groaned as its weight shifted. Sand would slide softly down the hill. But as the temperature cooled, signifying the coming winter, the thick lake ice cracked like a gunshot and the boom echoed across the valley.

I’ll miss this place.

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22 thoughts on “Three Months

  1. I’ll miss this blog… thanks for all the fantastic stories and photos, they motivated me to at least visit Scandinavia in the summer :).

    Have a safe trip home!

  2. I have enjoyed reading you blog immensely! Thanks for the great pics and the fun writing. Have a safe trip back!

  3. I have never been to Antarctica, but from all accounts, the desire to return, once having visited, is a common one. I have been reading stories written by scientists and writers who spent time in this frontier. I hope there will be continued funding for the arts. The writers sent to Antarctica are putting the information and stories in print for all to enjoy; the stories are moving and intense. Thank you for your part in it.

  4. I found your blog via http://www.reddit.com and I’ve been following your adventure ever since with mild jealousy. I’ve always wanted to go to the Antarctic and through your eyes it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get. Thank you. If you decide to keep this blog open and use it in the future if you return, I’ll keep it book marked and check back from time to time. Be safe on your journey homeward. From snowy and cold Calgary, Alberta I wish you all the best and congratulations on a job well done!

  5. I could say the same for your photos, though you do have a better a camera;) Looking forward to seeing the rest at some point. Take care!

  6. I’ve been following your blog since it was posted on boinboing and it has been a fascinating insight into life at the bottom of the world :) thanks for letting us know what it was like for you. Is there any advice you can offer for those of us that would like to follow in your footsteps?

  7. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing this adventure with the rest of us. It’s been great reading your blog and taking a look at your photos. Congrats on making it through safe and somewhat selfishly I hope that you make it back next year because we’ll have more to read.

    All the best to you.

  8. Thanks for bringing us along for the ride. I don’t know that I’ll ever make it to Antarctica, but I love dreaming about it, reading about it, imagining, and your posts have helped make it real for me in a new way.

  9. Beautiful! I will miss this blog and the vicarious thrill of knowing a little piece of what’s going on at the bottom of the world. Thank you for sharing your amazing experience! I hope you do make it back, again and again.

  10. shit you seem to have learned to dress more like a pirate out there too!
    sorry I totally missed you while you were @ my moms place, hope life is treating you good :)

    • No worries, hopefully I’ll run into you when I get back to Montreal (it’s going to be home base now). And after painting your basement I have a new found respect for people who have to paint ceilings everyday. Hope all’s well in Montreal!

  11. BTW- thank you for painting my moms place, while I was booked to paint other peoples moms places.

    She was like “Oh Michael is the tallest, so I need him to do as much of ceilings as possible.”
    me: “Eric is like a foot taller than me and I paint ceilings every day”

  12. Thank you to everyone for all of the wonderful comments.

    And in June I’ll be restarting the blog as I head off to the next big adventure for two months – the Arctic.

  13. Mike,
    Wonderful journal. I have been enamored with the polar regions since traveling to Antarctica in 1990. We dropped off a NOAA team on a remote island for a three month stint. The peaceful beauty of these extreme locations put them at the top of my list. Remember “Top of the World”? Safe travel, adventure forever!
    Steve M.

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