Hugh and I have convinced each other that we are up for a return to Mt Denali and a summit attempt in May/June of 2017.
Both of us have been to Denali on 2 previous occasions, and returned home with the summit just beyond our grasp. Denali is a tough ask, some rate it more difficult than Mt Everest and this is proven in the summit stats. The long run average for successful summit attempts is 52%. (between 1903 – 2016) During the 2016 climbing season 676 climbers reached the summit of Mt Denali – 60% of those that made an attempt.
And so to next year.
We’ve started the logistical planning, but more importantly we have upped the anti on our physical training programme as well. With the Mt Denali climb requiring approx. 30 days on the mountain pulling sleds and carrying backpacks as we progress slowly from the Kahiltna glacier to the summit, fitness is crucial.
Eventually we’ll also have to set a start date for our climb. On both previous occasions we’ve commenced our climb early in May, being one of the first groups to reach Basin Camp and take our turn on the Head Wall. Each time, these early arrivals at 14,200 feet have coincided with bad weather that has eventually been the reason for our turn-around and return to Base Camp
For now though the big focus is developing and sticking to a training programme that will have us ready for the long haul up Mt Denali.
Follow Hugh andI over the next 6 months as we ramp up our training programmes. There’s a lot of gym work ahead of us but we also have some exciting plans in the outdoors as well.
I took a Splashdrone quadcopter with me to Heard Island, the promise of a drone capable of operating in a wet environment was just what I thought I needed.
In the end the opportunities to fly the drone on Heard Island were limited. There were several days around Base Camp when the winds were low – unfortunately at those times I was camped miles away on the Laurens Peninsula.
In the end I only flew the drone on the last 2 days before leaving Heard Island. On each occasion the flights were short 5-10 minute opportunities. But they were the first ever drone flights on Heard Island.
Here’s some video to prove it really happened. The conditions were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination as you can see from the pitch and roll. (this is not special effects) and then on the last day the snow came to town creating some awesome imagery.
Newspapers reported waves of “spectacular heights of 11 metres” when “the worst storm in a decade” struck the eastern beaches of Sydney in 2015. The impact on the city of Sydney was severe.
Image then the force and devastation that would result from waves 60 feet in height! That’s exactly the situation that occurred deep in the Southern Ocean back in July of the same year.
60 feet, that’s approx 20 metres – double those experienced in Sydney. What would be the result of that type of water force on an unprotected island?
Back in March this year Fred and I got the opportunity to see for ourselves. We were landed at Sydney Cove the northern end of Heard Island by the crew from the Braveheart and for the next 3 days we lived at the most remote camp site in the world.
At some point the northern most point of Heard Island was itself an island – Red Island. Old maps record a clear separation between Heard and Red Islands. Our map that we carried with us (1972 topographical) showed a single land area with an inland lagoon.
And as we oriented our map to what we could see in front of us now it was clear another change had taken place.
Fred’s theory (researched after we returned from Heard Island) is that the storms of 2015 struck with such force that the wave action and water flowing across the land, an area that’s at best 2-3 metres above sea level, created breaks in the sea wall on both the western and eastern sides of the lagoon.
It’s a compelling argument. I can only be thankful that I was not camped on Laurens Peninsula when the storm struck.
I am 4,000km’s from the nearest populated land mass, below the Antarctic Convergence, and in an area where the ocean drift models suggest that marine debris will not reach. And yet I am observing more plastic bottles, timber, fishing net buoys and other containers than I would expect. And then there is the very valid question – what should I expect?
I am on Heard Island and there is clear evidence that marine debris is drifting onto the island. I walked south-west along the shoreline of South West Bay and observed all kinds of debris that has washed ashore. Along a 100m stretch of shoreline around Erratic Point I have counted –
55 600mm – 1.5l plastic drink bottles
7 cleaning product plastic bottles
1 very large plastic float (1m circumference approx.)
1 large marine float with antenna
2 polystyrene floats
1 gas cylinder
And an almost endless amount of machined timber that has been weathered by the sea.
Before I left for Heard Island I made contact with the Tangaroa Blue foundation, an Australian-wide not for profit dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris. We incorporated the collection of marine debris information into our permit application to the Australian Antarctic Division and the activity was formally included as one of the field team activities.
I did not expect this “simple data collection activity” to have the emotional impact on me that it had. I was stunned by the first glimpses of the cliff lines of Laurens Peninsula as we first approached Heard Island. Day after day I had new experiences as we moved to different locations on the island.
But the most vivid picture I now have in my mind is of all the plastic drink bottles floating in the water at Erratic Point. At the time, as Fred and I wandered around the small gully at Erratic Point and counted the debris items I felt sick. It reminded me of a rubbish dump.
It’s feels hard to explain, having returned Sydney, but I now “get” the Tangaroa Blue message. Heard Island has given me a unique view on the significance of this sentence from the Tangoroa Blue web site “if all we do is clean-up, that is all we will ever do“.
How do we clean up Heard Island – and should we need to, there’s no need for the debris to be there in the first place!
I hope the image of rubbish on the island fades and is replaced by another, maybe the Leopard Seal resting on the beach – I much prefer that one.
For 4 days I lived in the most remote camp site in the world!
Australian Antarctica Division had installed an “apple” in 1987 and this was our home for 4 days. The apple had suffered some minor corrosion damage from the sea elements and the door fell of in my hands when I first opened it but we weren’t going to make this a show stopper as we were excited to have the privilege of being here.
Laurens peninsula is at the northern end of Heard Island and the crew from Braveheart dropped Fred and I into Sydney Cove on the eastern side of the peninsula by zodiac. What an exhilarating ride to a camp site, the swell coupled with the wind made for an rollercoaster ride north from Atlas Bay.
For 3 days we trekked around the hills, the dunes, the moraine left by retreating glaciers and were amazed at the wildlife that we encountered. These birds and animals have never seen a human before and it was interesting to experience how various species accepted or feared our presence. The king penguins, skua and seal pups were trusting while the macaroni and rock hopper penguins had an inbuilt fear factor that prevented them from openly engaging with us.
These 4 days were an amazing experience and one that I have been very lucky to be involved with. Unfortunately my experience was blunted by the obvious impact that those of us living far away have on the island. On a short 100 metres of the foreshore I counted 20 plastic drink bottles, 2 cleaning product plastic bottles and 4 fishing net buoys.
True to form the Braveheart crew provided us a theme park ride home by zodiac. Exiting the small lagoon into the open waters of Sydney Cove provided us a ride unlikely to be repeated…
My morning walk today was a chance to get out of the office (Base Camp) for both Jim and I. I wanted to have a look at the narrow neck of the Laurens peninsula to see if it was a viable option for access for upcoming Mt Dixon climb.
Once more down the Walrus Bay coastline but this time we held tight to the bay and continued on below the cliff line of the eastern side of the bay. There’s all sorts of wide life in this area and the terrain has to be seen to be believed.
Today our aim was to complete a simple day walk but complete some of the scientific work along the way. In simple terms we were going to the summit of Mt Drygalski, all 226 metres of it.
On leaving Base Camp Fred and I had a casual walk south along the foreshore of Walrus Bay as a warm up, and we needed it, overnight there had been a small fall of snow and the temperature had dropped accordingly.
We left 2 of the light and temperature sensors at the southern end of the bay on the rock finger that reached out to us from Mt Drygalski and then started the short climb. The trick was to pick a line to climb that was clear of the lush green azorella plant and also avoided the small pea to tennis ball sized lava rocks that covered the hillside.
The view along the way is outstanding. North is the Azorella peninsula with Walrus Bay on the left and Corinthian Bay on the right. The unique rock formations of the far north of Azorella peninsula defy my explanation. All I can say is that the bands of different coloured rock that flow upward through the cliff face are impressive and I’m told are part of the Drygalski formation on which Heard Island sits.
By the time we reached the summit point the winds had increased to the pint that standing was a difficulty and shortened our stay to a few minutes.
From the summit we headed east along the ridgeline and a view out over the Schmidt glacier and also over the King penguin rookery that we had visited several days before. It’s from here that we really get a view of the trek that these penguins make from the rookery to the sea. We had seen them ambling along when we followed their trail but from above the true magnitude of their trip is clear. Why don’t they move closer to the sea?
There are ridges of moraine rock in front of us that are just too tempting and I’ve convinced Fred that a walk along the far ridge will give us even better views over the Schmidt glacier. There are several small glacier lagoons that we see from the ridge and maybe on an other trip out this way we can get some time to investigate these.
Our route of Mount Drygalski is relatively simple, stay high until we are clear of the cliff lines on the eastern end and then plunge down the lava and sand terraces to reach the sand flats before the short walk back into Base Camp.
ad-ven-ture (noun): unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity