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February 15, 2009

Christchurch > Lyttelton > San Francisco

Greetings from San Francisco where I’m back with family, back in the studio, and back to the Long View Project blog. Apologies for the less frequent updates while I settle in and await arrival of the material I collected and shipped home from Antarctica to incorporate into my artwork. It’s taking a while since the boxes are coming by sea. Once they arrive though, I look forward to sharing the creative process with you here. That process — the actual assembly of the artwork — will initiate the second phase of the Long View Project as described in my introductory post a couple months back.

In the meanwhile, an update from where I last left off, high above Antarctica en route back to New Zealand:


After enjoying a month of Antarctica’s 24/7 summertime daylight (the better to enjoy these amazing views by)…


…it felt odd to be greeted by darkness in Christchurch.


I used my first full day here to visit the nearby port of Lyttelton with fellow artist grantee Judit Hersko. Lyttelton interested us as the launching point for early 20th-century British Antarctic expeditions. This view is from the Timeball Station, an historic 1876 landmark once crucial for navigation. The castle-like structure’s timeball, partially seen at the upper right of the photograph, was used to signal exact Greenwich time to the harbor’s vessels until 1934 when radio signals took over.


Beyond the pier in the center lies Quail Island where Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton trained their sled dogs and ponies before setting off on their voyages. The island is the plug of the ancient volcano forming Lyttelton Harbor.


Down the hill on Gladstone Quay, the Lyttelton Historical Museum features local history, oceanography and, of course, Antarctic exploration exhibits. In its former incarnation as the Seamen’s Institute, the building provided shelter to mariners including some of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova expedition crew.


Robert Scott’s dog, Deek, guards over his master, framed at lower left. Born in Siberia and trained on Quail Island, Deek was a favorite among Scott’s dozens of Samoyed sledge dogs. He survived the Terra Nova expedition (which Scott himself didn’t) and returned to New Zealand to live out his days as companion to the mayor of Christchurch.


Pony snow shoes from the same expedition of 1910-13 on display with oats for feed, found at Hut Point in 1964.


Given all the Terra Nova memorabilia on display, one could be forgiven for calling it “the Scott Museum,” as one past visitor described it to me. However the Lyttleton Museum’s exhibits do include artifacts from James Cook’s, Ernest Shackleton’s, and Richard Evelyn Byrd’s exploits too. The collection was definitely worth the visit.


The following day I returned to Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum which readers may remember from December 28 and again on the 31st. Except this time I was back by appointment specifically to see the collection’s copy of Aurora Australis housed in the museum’s Documentary Research Centre. This was a thrill because each of the original edition’s approximately 25 hand-bound copies is unique — notably the wooden covers cut from provisions cases. Much thanks to Natalie Cadenhead, the Canterbury’s Curator of Antarctic History for showing me both this and the museum’s South Polar Times collection — an added treat.

I traveled on to San Francisco the next day, having accomplished all I’d hoped to, and so much more.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:38 pm

January 1, 2009


Between boardings of the LC-130.

Early this morning, we’re back at Christchurch airport. Our plane is the LC-130 ski-equipped aircraft shown above, operated by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard. These cargo planes provide heavy-lift capability to all inland stations as well as Search and Rescue across Antarctica. They make the trip from Christchurch to McMurdo in about 7.5 hours.

By 9 A.M. we were suited up and checked in at the USAP departure terminal. After two days’ delay, everyone was anxious to get under way.

We taxied to the runway. The skies were sunny, the weather at McMurdo was fine, and then, the announcement: Excessive turbulence overhead. The plane turned around and deposited us back at the terminal.

By afternoon, we were back on the plane, and we lifted off. The skies were sunny, the weather at McMurdo was fine, no turbulence to speak of. Then, the announcement: Pressure valve issue. The plane turned around, landed, and deposited us back at the terminal.

Amongst themselves, some veterans questioned the reason for the boomerang; it was suggested that the crew was just too exhausted to fly after last night’s long flight up from McMurdo. In either case the flight cancellation seemed justified, and we were sent back to town to check into our respective hotels for the third time.

At this point, it was necessary to appeal to the gods. I strolled over to Warners Hotel where Captain Scott used to stay, and ordered a half pint with fish and chips at Bailies, the hotel pub where Sir Edmund Hillary dined.

Wall placards, memorabilia and photos attest to Bailies’ historic popularity with the polar crowd, and also as a place where Scott and Hillary might today look kindly on fellow travelers in need. I left a chip and assorted batter crumbs as a sacrificial plea to the dual deities, and left, hoping for the best.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:27 pm

December 31, 2008

Wrapping Up ’08 in Christchurch

An unexpected free day in Christchurch, and an opportunity to re-visit the Canterbury Museum. I peruse its various areas, but like a heat-seeking (or in this case, ice-seeking) missile, I’m drawn back to the Antarctic gallery.

Artifacts from the heroic age of polar exploration.

The displays and dioramas here are decidedly old school, but in a uniquely attractive way. Perhaps it’s the lighting, or maybe classic exhibition cases are retro-cool. In many instances, I find the artifacts compositionally well-arranged. This is one of them. The items include a large bottle of Methuselah champagne to celebrate Richard E. Byrd’s return after the first flight over the South Pole, a .410 gauge shotgun used by zoologist Alton A. Lindsey to collect birds in 1933 (the signage adds that “penguins were never shot but caught and pithed with a large needle”), and three models of aircraft flown in Antarctica over the decades (Byrd’s plane, the Floyd Bennett, is the smallest of the three).

Looking like a Chuck Taylor high-top on treads, this Ferguson tractor is the first motor vehicle ever to reach the South Pole. The journey was led by Sir Edmund Hillary (of Mount Everest fame) for New Zealand’s section of the 1958 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. It was the first overland journey to the Pole since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912, and was followed shortly by Vivian Fuchs’ arrival in the hulking orange Sno-Cat shown in the December 28 post.

This Antarctic motor-tractor is among the earliest vehicles ever used in Antarctica, and also the most troublesome. Built in London for Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, constant breakdowns required the team to haul the tractor, instead of the other way around. The exhibit’s explanatory text describes the plywood-bodied machine as “the embodiment of mechanical perversity.”

New Year's Eve in Cathedral Square, Christchurch.

There are a lot more polar curiosities at the Canterbury to share, but I’ll leave it at that for today. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m headed to Cathedral Square for the Times Square-like extravaganza.

Happy New Year from Christchurch!

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:25 am

December 30, 2008

Southbound Flight Rescheduled

We passengers did our part, but the weather did not. Having suited up at the CDC at 6 A.M. with bags checked and boarding passes in hand, we learned that inclement weather had delayed our plane from leaving McMurdo to pick us up. By 11 A.M. the flight was cancelled altogether.

It was very frustrating, but we were warned that these things happen. And it was probably better than having taken off only to be forced back (“boomeranged”) just shy of McMurdo. That’s not uncommon given Antarctica’s swift and unpredictable weather patterns. The all-time record for consecutive unsuccessful attempts is seven, as explained in yesterday’s CDC video — a record, they added, that they’re not eager to break.

The next flight attempt is scheduled for January 1st. Our checked bags were all returned and our hotel rooms re-booked. New Year’s Eve, you could say, has boomeranged to Christchurch.

The International Antarctic Centre's Snow & Ice Experience.

Before returning to town, I dropped by the International Antarctic Centre‘s visitor attraction across the campus. Its indoor Snow & Ice Experience is touted as the next best thing to actually being in the Great White South, and whether or not that’s true, I must say it gives Singapore’s Snow City (December 25 post) a run for its money.

Granted, the Snow & Ice Experience lacks a bunny slope, Ice Bar, and the essential Yeti. But these oversights are compensated for with a polar room that simulates an Antarctic tempest in dramatic fashion, complete with lightning, blizzard audio and and 25 mph (40 kph) winds. Jackets and shoe covers are provided for victims… er, visitors, but legs are on their own as seen in the photo.

In the four seasons room.

Another room cycles through Antarctica’s four seasons in a matter of minutes, complete with a milder snowfall. Here’s part of that area during a calm summer moment.

Let’s hope it’s an omen for January 1st.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:25 pm

December 29, 2008

ECW Clothing Issue

There are 40 of us flying to McMurdo tomorrow. 29 are with the U.S. Antarctic program, the others are with New Zealand. Most of our 29 are either National Science Foundation grantees or Raytheon Polar Services Company staff. RPSC is the NSF’s prime Antarctic support contractor.

One of the USAP buildings at CHC

We were fitted today with government-issued ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing for the duration of our deployment. The CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) is out at Christchurch Airport, across the street from a behemoth hangar announcing the USAP’s presence.

Participant briefing at the CDC.

We were welcomed and briefed in the front room by Marlene, the CDC Assistant Supervisor. There was a fair amount of information to take in regarding bagging, tagging, fitting, weight limits and other requirements which were reviewed in an instructional video afterwards.

Our issued gear, whose sizes matched the requests we’d made earlier, was already waiting in labeled orange bags in the changing room. It was a matter of fine-tuning the fitting at this point.

View from the CDC loft.

The adjoining warehouse is massive. It has to be: more than 140,000 ECW items are stocked for issue to USAP participants. Stacked boxes line the upper loft from where this photo was taken, and a sea of red parkas fill the ground floor below. By this time of year nearly 2,000 of the down jackets have already been worn to Antarctica, leaving about 950 in stock. At least one of them fit me perfectly.

All geared up!

Ta-daa! I’m all snug and comfy. Yes, that’s me behind the balaclava, sporting all 6 items required to be worn or carried on all flights: knit headwear, goggles, wind pants, hand wear (there are 8,676 pairs of leather gloves to choose from at CDC), white insulated bunny boots (2,877 pairs available) and of course Big Red.

There are also neck gators, wind jackets, wooly socks, thermal underwear, caps, fleece, mittens, liners and lots more for whoever needs it. I clearly brought too much of my own stuff from home.

After the fitting, we packed our gear back away, ready to be worn again tomorrow.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:15 pm

December 28, 2008

New Zealand’s Gateway to Antarctica

Cathedral Square, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Today was my free time in Christchurch before suiting up tomorrow. It’s summer here in the southern hemisphere; the warm days and crisp evenings remind me of San Francisco’s best weather, perfect for strolling around town.

Christchurch is known as New Zealand’s Gateway to Antarctica for its century-long association with polar travel. Luminaries such as Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, and Edmund Hillary have a history here, along with many others whose expeditions utilized the Port of Lyttelton.

Robert Falcon Scott statue.

Captain Scott’s statue stands just a minute’s walk from Cathedral Square near the banks of the Avon. Scott, a British Royal Naval Officer, is best known for his 1912 Terra Nova Expedition. Expecting to be the first to reach the South Pole, Scott and his party not only lost out to Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team, but perished in dire conditions on the return journey.

The pedestal’s main plaque reads in part from Scott’s diary: “I do not regret this journey which shows that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great fortitude as ever in the past.” The monument, unveiled in 1917, is all the more fascinating for having been sculpted by his widow, Kathleen Scott.

Tucker Sno-Cat, Model 743.

A few blocks further up Worcester Street is the Canterbury Museum dedicated to New Zealand’s cultural and natural heritage. Its Antarctic gallery houses a wonderful assortment of machines, tools, artifacts, and information relating to various exploits. The Tucker Sno-Cat Model 743 is the dominating centerpiece. It was one of four such vehicles to complete the first crossing of the Antarctic continent as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1957-58. The venture, led by Sir Vivian Fuchs, commenced at the Weddell Sea and culminated 98 days and 2,158 miles (3,473 km) later at McMurdo Sound.

Motor Toboggan, 1980.

The second crossing of the continent happened in 1981 in smaller orange transport — a motor toboggan, also called a ski-doo. This journey was part of Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Charles R. Burton’s Transglobal Expedition which circumnavigated the earth longitudinally, taking them across both poles and back to England for a round trip of 37,000 miles (59,546 km). In addition to having been the first to visit both the north and south poles by surface transport, Fiennes was also the first adventurer to traverse Antarctica by foot.

Ancient Space Samples display.

I’m glad I’ll be spending a few days in Christchurch again on my way home from the Ice. I’ll want to comb through the Canterbury’s memorabilia in more detail, and I plan to check out Warners Hotel (Scott’s hang-out), the International Antarctic Centre’s visitor attraction, and yes, even some non-Antarctic-related art and history.

Christchurch sunset from my hotel room.

Wrapping up the day, a lovely Christchurch sunset as seen from my hotel window. Summer days are long this far south; the sky doesn’t fully darken until after 10 P.M. (this photo was taken at 10:03 P.M.), and it starts brightening back up by 5 A.M.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,New Zealand — mbartalos @ 3:05 am

December 27, 2008

Arrival in Christchurch

This is my first time in New Zealand. I’ll be here till Tuesday. Christchurch feels good and the weather is awesome.

I’m 5,244 miles (8,439 km) closer to McMurdo than I was yesterday. 2,415 miles (3,864 km) to go.

Filed under: New Zealand — mbartalos @ 3:57 am

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