Monday, May 26, 2014

5. The Lions of Antarctica

Royal Society Range, Transantarctic Mountains, view from Hercules. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
The Royal Society Range rises above the clouds over
McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. View from ANG Hercules.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Excerpt from, chapter 5

Scene: At McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica, 1989. Bruce and the Team of five others are preparing to be inserted into the wilderness of the Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land, eight hundred miles to the east. After his first day in McMurdo Bruce spends the evening in one of the four bars in town. He drinks with geologists and students until midnight, then exists the bar…]

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This had been fun but time was near midnight and I had things to do tomorrow. I said goodnight and walked out the door. “Ah, ah, ah…” I dropped my head, squinted and dug into my parka pockets for sunglasses, the light blinded me. I forgot, or I was too buzzed, no sunset in late November at 78 degrees south.

The sky showed itself calm and clear. I decided to take a bit of a stroll - weather’s great now. I faced left towards McMurdo Sound and saw a small white church at the end of the road. What? Small, like a shrunken down version of a New England church complete with a steeple and bell. It sat at the edge of the Sound above a slope that had a good vantage point.

At the church a sign read Chapel of the Snows, I went in an unlocked door. I figured it’s always open for business. It had been a couple of decades since I’d been in a church – decided I had enough of Confession. Didn’t look too much like a church inside, pretty minimal, plain walls. No one was here at midnight - quiet, I felt comfort. A few rows of padded chairs faced an altar table with a stained glass window behind – a nice touch but it blocked the view. A room to the right had windows over the frozen Sound. In the room a coffee urn was on. I grabbed a cup and stood to look out, my first chance to see it all and think alone.

The scene presented white and deep brilliant blue. The Sun sat low in the southern sky. I looked west, miles across the ice covered Sound - viewed the carved, faceted peaks of the Royal Society Range, they glowed white. Shadows of the peaks lay over wide glaciers that cut through them. I knew these mountains stood 13,000 feet above the sea ice. I thought I could make out horizontal rock layers in the higher peaks – those must have been formed under the sea, and then uplifted with these mountains. When was that?

I imagined what it would be like to stand on those mountaintops, to view the infinity of ice beyond them, the excitement of that, the aloneness. The longer I stared at the range the more my imagination worked. I saw the peaks as members of a pride of white lions crouched at rest. They faced me, guarded the colossus of the interior, dared me to enter.


 Soon we will be in the wilderness – in conditions much harsher than here. I will have to be ready. I didn’t feel sure of myself as I faced this fact, it confused me what to do about it. Am I up for this? It doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Antarctic Ice Sheets – the fuse has been lit.


snowmobile and sledge cross blue ice on Balchen Glacier, Marie Byrd Land. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Snowmobile party crossing blue ice of Balchen Glacier, 
Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Have the Antarctic Ice Sheets reached the Point of No Return? My last entry was an excerpt from my memoir about flying past the Point of No Return (AKA Point of Safe Return) in route from Christchurch to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This entry is about an entirely different PNR, that where the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is lost.


Two research studies published in the last few weeks have confirmed what has been feared; the PNR for stability of the ice sheet has been passed.


The WAIS covers the subcontinent of West Antarctica in thousands of feet of ice.
About the area of Mexico, if the WAIS melted entirely sea level would rise an average three meters around the world (ten feet).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

4. Point of Safe Return

Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica, seen from New Zealand Hercules. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Cockpit view of Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica. 
Photo © B. Luyendyk 
Excerpt from chapter 4

“Ice is the beginning of Antarctica and ice is its end. As one moves from the perimeter to the interior, the proportion of ice relentlessly increases. Ice creates more ice, and ice defines ice.” Steven Pyne, South Light



“I’m goin’ to ask if I can get up on the flight deck,” I said to Tucker. We sat with thirty others crammed hip-to-hip on the red web seats that lined the sides and center of the Hercules cargo hold. He heard me through the yellow earplugs we all wore, nodded, went back to his book.

I timed my visit so I could see Antarctica for the first time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Big Dead Place - The Man Who Loved Antarctica

Reprinted here is my Amazon review of this book…

Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange and Menacing World of Antarctica
by Nicholas Johnson

Photo of Birchall Peaks taken from Maigetter Peak, Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Snowmobiles in the Birchall Peaks, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk 

Although Big Dead Place was published over nine years ago it has remained in the spotlight.


HBO planned a miniseries based on the book. The actor James Gandolfini pushed the project as a producer and was expected to star in it. Peter Gould of Breaking Bad was to do the screenplay. Gandolfini died in June 2013. Ironically, Johnson committed suicide in late 2012. Whether the project goes forward or not remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the book remains a first in memoirs of Antarctic experiences in its unflinching, no-holds-barred exposé of what it means to work in Antarctica as an underling to the institutional mission - which is to stake a virtual claim of Antarctica for the U.S.