Sometimes procrastination is beneficial. Had I written this post closer to the time, November 2019, it would have been very different. As I wrote the initial draft, several months later, some sad news further increased the significance of this remarkable experience.
It changed what I had to write, adding another storyline which strangely paralleled aspects of the first. I have abandoned and revisited this several times since then. Not the usual writers block of what to say, more not knowing how to express an experience which was the culmination of a near four-decade journey. That is why (although backdated to the evening it happened) this was not published until April 2020.
Just to recap, after a busy day of shore landings we had left the evening barbeque, on-board Ortelius, to spend a night ashore camping on, or more accurately in, the Antarctic ice.
Kerr Point 'Camp Lazarus' preparation
We had returned to Kerr Point (last night's campsite) for our camp. It is a tribute to the zero footprint guidelines enforced by Oceanwide that you wouldn't know a bunch of people had been camping there just 24 hours before. Even with no fresh snowfall, and little to no wind all day, there wasn't a sign of the previous evening's activities. When you learnt what 'making camp' involved this was all the more impressive.
Apart from two guides (Koen & Lucas with a satellite phone) we were left alone as the last Zodiac departed and Ortelius sailed off around the corner. In itself, given the remoteness of the location, this felt quite amazing.
- GPS Latitude - South 64 deg 42' 22.00" (from phone photo exif data)
- GPS Longitude - West 62 deg 38' 9.00"
Each camp pack had a bivy bag, inner and outer sleeping bags (with cotton liner if wanted), both foam and Thermorest pads. We had been told how to assemble this lot in one of the Drake Passage briefings but, several days later, I was glad had made a note on my phone (yay OneNote!) to get the layers sorted.
And then we dug a grave!
The penguin in the background was there when we arrived. It didn't move a muscle, even lift its beak, while we landed or during Koen's demo dig.
Having done a convincing and lengthy impression of a dead, not just resting, penguin it then stood up and wandered off. Both it and our camp were promptly christened 'Lazarus'.
We were shown how to 'dig 'n stack'; cutting cubes of snow and stacking them to build a low wind break wall around the hole created which was our bed for the night. Koen complimented my 'neat stacks', I replied 'Years of practice with LEGO pays off'!
Last night they had been nearer the campsite, one in particular who was promptly named "Dylan' (as was that days camp).
On the way back we passed one place I hoped to avoid. Although it had a superb view, and 'privacy wall' built by the guides, I had deliberately stopped drinking anything mid-afternoon in an effort to avoid the port-a-potty which had to be used for No. 1s or 2s. It's that nothing left behind policy in action. It wasn't so much about avoiding the loo, more the thought of extracting yourself from the cosy cocoon, donning snowshoes and getting there & back!
'Lazarus departs' would be a great title for this shot, but I can't be sure this was the same penguin.
Koen & Lucas supervise the site as we bed down for the night.
The silence, sounds and taste of Antarctica
It was time for bed, even if the lingering light told the senses otherwise. The photo below shows how bright it was, at 21:55, but the sunset still had one last act to entertain us.
As the sun dropped below the mountains behind us, the peaks opposite blushed. Reflected in the near mirror calm sea, it was a spectacular sight.
Around 23:00 it was time for bed. The kit was so warm, and with no wind to chill, I spent the night with it open per the glamorous selfie below. There was lots of talk about 'how much or if you'd sleep', because of the cold, but I had some music in case I didn't.
I'd put my snowshoes by 'the door' (a gap in the wind screen wall) in case I needed to do the toilet trek in the night. In fact, avoiding drinking prior meant I ended up thirsty in the middle of the night. Dr Karl had advised sleeping with a water bottle in your bag, to stop it freezing, but I forgot to bring one. I figured the exposed snow around me (bottom of a 300mm+ deep hole) was a fresh as any water could be so ate some. Antarctica quenched the thirst and tasted just fine!
I wasn't really aiming to sleep, seemed like a waste of the experience, and didn't very much. According to my 'Gear Band' between 23:00 and the wake-up call I was asleep for about 90 minutes. The rest of the time I was dozing, listening to the sounds of ice cracking in the distance, penguin's squabbling and/or loving, the incredible still silence or, in the two awake gaps, some very special music.
The lack of sound on this video, apart from me moving the phone around, is just the natural silence:
Listening to Vangelis' Antarctica, there
It must have been soon after its 1983 release that, fellow Carrington Tech (now Unitec) Product Design student, Jeff Fisher introduced me to a movie soundtrack by Vangelis. 'Antarctica' was a rare NZ import of a Japanese only LP release, and only years later released worldwide.
He had it playing in a communal workspace, and it caught my ear. I have no idea where Jeff is now; he was the type of guy who could have ended up anywhere. Quite spiritual and into Eastern culture & religion, I truly would not have been surprised to see him in a Tibetan Monastery when I was cycle touring there.
I have loved this music ever since and, crazy as it sounds, listening to it on location was one of my ambitions, one of the reasons, for this trip. Having experienced the actual Antarctic soundscape, it seems even more remarkable how Vangelis, who has never been there, captured the atmosphere.
It is a mixture of delicate and booming synths; his unique synth-orchestral style over-layed with Asian themes which suit the subject. Antarctica is based on an ill-fated 1958 Japanese scientific expedition to the South Pole and the (presumed) fate of fifteen Huskies they were forced to abandon due to ice preventing their expedition ship arriving and storms necessitating a helicopter rescue. Instead of the planned week, it was eleven months before the dog handlers could return with the next expedition.
Although I like them all, the calmer tracks like 'Antarctic Echoes', 'Song of White', 'Memory of Antarctica' and 'Deliverance' seemed particularly appropriate to the serene scene that night. Hearing 'Antarctica', looking at this view, watching Penguins wandering through the camp, in the forever twilight was in a word: unforgettable.
Photo (above) was taken at 03:06 am, with exposure adjusted to match how it looked. Note the penguin on the right inspecting the camp.
Antarctica is a soundtrack album by the Greek electronic composer Vangelis, released in 1983 (Official YouTube Audio links).
- Theme from Antarctica 7:29
- Antarctica Echoes 5:58
- Kinematic 3:50
- Song of White 5:17
- Life of Antarctica 5:59
- Memory of Antarctica 5:30
- Other Side of Antarctica 6:56
- Deliverance 4:30
Lyle Mays - Lyle Mays, Vale Lyle Mays
I listened to another album that night, written for the other hemisphere but still very appropriate. It was an unconscious coincidence that, once again, it was Jeff who introduced me to Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny with the album 'As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls'. I have been a fan of both ever since.
Lyle's first solo album 'Lyle Mays' is a mix of very different styles but from the opening 'Highland Aire' to the three part 'Alaskan Suite' (with astonishing drumming on 'Ascent') and his masterpiece finale 'Close to home' it fit this setting. I chose it because of the jazz infused soundscapes but it wasn't until writing this that I noticed some of my photos, the colours of sunset tones of that November night, also somewhat resemble the album art.
This would have been all I wrote about music but, in the midst of that first draft, a Facebook post on Lyle's page (from his niece) changed everything I remember about that night:
"It is with deep sadness that I share that my uncle, Lyle Mays, passed away [aged 66] this morning in Los Angeles surrounded by loved ones, after a long battle with a recurring illness. Lyle was a brilliant musician and person, and a genius in every sense of the word. He was my dear uncle, mentor, and friend and words cannot express the depth of my grief.
From his family, thank you for loving him and his music.
At this time, there are no details regarding a memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Caltech Fund.
From @Lyle Mays 11 February 2020"
A long planned musical highlight of an expedition, hearing Antarctica in Antarctica, also became a very special memory of another artist whose work has been a lifelong companion. I never had the privilege to see Lyle perform live, only to know his genius from audio/video recordings. Donating the concert ticket I never got a chance to purchase to the Caltech Fund seems a trivial token of appreciation. Vale and thank you Lyle, from one of the many fans you never knew but whose life you made immeasurably better.
Lyle Mays is the first solo album by Pat Metheny Group keyboardist Lyle Mays, self-titled, and released in 1986 (Official YouTube Audio links).
- Highland Aire 7:04
- Teiko 7:24
- Slink 8:18
- Mirror of the Heart 5:04
- Alaskan Suite: Northern Lights 3:17
- Alaskan Suite: Invocation 3:57
- Alaskan Suite: Ascent 6:58
- Close to Home 6:13
We were due to be collected at 06:00 but the wake-up call was at 05:00. This was to give time to pack up, including filling up our 'graves' to leave no trace (other than footprints in the snow) of having been there.
The morning of day three on the Peninsular was still incredibly calm; this run of weather was not what I expected of Antarctica and rare according to the crew. After an exceptional night we had another full day of exploring ahead!
Day 5 – 28th November 2019 | Neko Harbour and Danco Island (Kerr Point, Camping)
GPS position at 0800: 64°50.7 S 62°32.4 W | Air Temp: 8°C | Wind: NW1 | Sea state: Calm
Day 6 – 29th November 2019 | GPS position at 0800: 64°45.7 S 62°50.0 W | Air Temp: 8°C | Wind: NW1 | Sea state: Calm