Questions and Responses #5
Posted November 16, 1999
Dear Ms Tyler, Response from Mike Sharp, Poles Apart:
Dogs played an interesting and important role in Shackleton's journey. Did you take any dogs with you, or do you have access to dogs on South Georgia?
The Antarctic Treaty recently enforced a protocol to remove all non-indigenous species (except people) from the Antarctic. This included all the dogs. The fear was that canine diseases would be passed to the seal population, with devastating effects. In the early 1990s, the final dog teams were removed from the British, Argentine, and New Zealand scientific stations and relocated to suitable homes.
These dogs were brought to Antarctica for scientific work in the late 1940s and 1950s and were used for transport of scientific teams, frequently doing journeys of many months and fed on man-made dog food. When not out working, the dogs would be fed on seal meat while at the base station. A large sled dog would be fed seven pounds of seal every two days.
The work of the dogs is now done by snowmobiles, which have the following advantages: They run faster, they do not require skill to use, and they do not need to be fed when they are not traveling. However, people will argue that when you are really stuck you cannot eat your snowmobile, snowmobiles have no character, and they are not such good company. One could also argue that dogs are less polluting of the Antarctic environment.
I used dogs in Antarctica in 1978 and got special enjoyment out of forming a close working partnership with my team of nine. I had a leader who understood directions, a 'foreman' who would keep the other dogs in order, and two very large, strong dogs at the back who did most of the work. While traveling I would sing to the dogs to keep their morale up. I would sometimes get strange looks if it was a tune they didn't care for. The 'foreman' dog would make sure that I kept all the team members working and would step in himself and nip a dog if I missed a slacker.
If the surface was hard, I would ski along behind the sled, but if it was hard going for the team, I would whip off my skis and put my shoulder to the sled to help them along - and they knew it. I was part of the team.
After evening feeding, the dogs would settle down in the snow to sleep as we would in our tents, but normally about 1 a.m. they would all point their noses to the sky and give a howling Antarctic chorus - the call of the wild.
Snowmobiles may be more efficient at collecting data, but they lack the charisma to provide the real Antarctic traveling experience.
This question is for Sandi Sissel, Director of Photography. What are your main challenges in filming in the cold? Hope you are great. Lots of warm hugs to you and the crew.Response from Sandi Sissel:
Ameeta & Meena
Santa Monica, CA
Dear Ameeta and Meena,
When filming in Antarctic weather, there are many challenges. First, you must make sure your equipment is protected from moisture. At times the wind is so strong that others must shield you in order to steady the camera. Often the camera assistant must change film and lenses in conditions too difficult for most people to see through reading glasses.
Before leaving for Antarctica, we had the fluids in our equipment changed out so as not to freeze. We also brought canisters of air and spray deflectors to keep the lenses dry. Also, we have a SCUBA cam to protect our camera bodies. There are heaters for the eyepiece, because my skin will cause the glass to fog. We even tape hand warmers around the equipment.
Once we feel secure about our equipment, we then have to worry about our bodies and how to stay warm and dry. If you are like most of our crew from Southern California, that means working in many layers of clothing, heavy gloves, and large boots. This makes it very hard to hike with heavy backpacks of equipment. I must admit that for me the most challenging is trying to focus the lenses and feel the camera switches through gloves so heavy. Just when I take them off, however, my hands start to lose feeling. So you just have to concentrate and learn what works best.
This is a team operation, and everyone has his or her place on the team. We help one another, depend on one another, and share the best ways of coping in difficult conditions. The photographic results are spectacular and definitely worth the effort.
I hope you are doing well. I miss sunny Santa Monica.
What are your greatest concerns or objectives for the next part of your journey to re-trace Shackleton's route? Is it different from your expectations? Response from George Butler:
London, Ontario, Canada
My greatest concern is to have a serious interruption in the film schedule due to inclement weather or an accident within the production team. As for the unexpected, the severity of the Shackleton traverse of South Georgia quite surprised me. Flying over this route in a helicopter, with intermittent stops beneath, gave me an ever greater regard for the achievement of Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley. By the way, I have made two lengthy canoe trips in Northern Ontario. Is the Berens River still flowing?
I'm so jealous. I just finished Endurance and just happened upon your Web site. My question is: Does your team plan on trying to locate the "Snuggery" on Elephant Island? [Editor's note: The Snuggery was the name given to the two huts made by overturning two of the lifeboats, the Stancomb Wills and the Dudley Docker.]Response from Kelly Tyler:
Elephant Island is an extremely difficult landing, one of the reasons why the island is rarely visited. Our Antarctic guides facilitated a safe landing, and we filmed for several hours on Wednesday (until 9:30 p.m.—it was still broad daylight!). We were able to find the Shackleton camp site and the launching point of the James Caird very easily with the aid of Frank Hurley's photographs. It is located on Point Wild, which is occupied by a breeding colony of several thousand chinstrap penguins. It's necessary to stay at least 15 feet away from these animals, in order to not disturb their natural lifestyle, but we weren't able to see anything that resembled wreckage there. The point is a strand about 100 feet wide with a rocky beach on each side.
The photographs show us that there has been considerable erosion and narrowing of the strand, evidence of severe storms likely sweeping the entire area underwater over the past 85 years. Gales or hurricanes undoubtedly washed away any loose debris.
We were wondering how the "civilian" participants were chosen to go on this adventure. Was there a formal application or audition process? What were some of the criteria, like health, availability, or good "sea legs" and adaptability to cold climates? Good luck and best wishes for a safe and fantastic adventure. We are looking forward to the "finished product!"Response from Scott Swofford:
Salt Lake City, UT
Because of limited space on board the two expedition ships, everyone invited had special skills relating to our mission. All had prior Antarctic field backgrounds, worked as technicians on the expedition films, managed satellite communications, or were hired as porters due to physical condition and outdoor experience. The team is working out very well, although, given the number of us taking seasick pills, "sea legs" was not a requirement.
Please, let me know how it feels to be in the middle of the Southern Ocean during a windy night. And what about living always together with your companions without the possibility of "going out for a beer"? Good work—fortitudine vincimus!Response from Kelly Tyler:
Our most recent trip through the Drake Passage was pretty rough, as described in Elephant Island. We had swells as high as 24 feet, with high winds, which sent water and spray up to the upper decks. That's not nearly as bad as the Drake can be—Shackleton reported that he faced a 100-foot wave in the James Caird—but it's enough to make Antarctic veterans and first-timers feel a bit off. People think of seasickness as feeling queasy, but it's a little more than that. It feels sort of like your insides are moving in a different direction than the ship, which is unsettling. Some people get a headache. Lying down or staying on deck, where you can perceive the source of the movement, can help.
High winds mean you've got to be careful. Last night, it was 46 mph on deck, and to be safe, I asked two people to go out with me. We held on to one another so we wouldn't be knocked over. Sometimes the captain closes the bow or upper decks because of safety concerns.
We're pretty lucky—we've enjoyed all the crew as company, and it's been a pleasure to get to know the Canadian and Russian crew members aboard the Shuleykin.
Ms. Tyler,Response from Sandi Sissel:
Could you tell us a little more about the night you had to spend in the Krillton in Stromness? Could you get any rest under those conditions and a wind of 108 mph? What types of things were left there from explorers in the past and did you leave anything there to be found by the next group that may find themselves there under the same conditions someday? The main reason we want to know is that our Aunt is Sandi Sissel, and she was right there in the middle of it all. Thanks for this Web site, it is great to keep up with the expedition and see Aunt Sandi. Try not to get trapped again, though.
Zack and Caleb Hooper
As I look back on our night in the Krillton, frightening as it felt at the time, it has become somewhat romantic in retrospect as all great adventures do.
Have you ever tried to walk in wind so strong that you can't stand up? Have you ever been so cold that you have to snuggle next to your friends to stay warm? Or, worst of all for me, have your friends ever warned you about rats crawling around just as darkness descends and you have only a floor to call your bed? Well, those were the bad things.
The good things turned out to be what we all share now. I found out that we were strong enough to overcome our fears. We even laughed a lot and played silly games to pass the time. One guy kept going outside to get freshwater to boil, and we always had tea or hot chocolate to keep warm. Most of all, I made the first steps toward what I hope are lasting friendships with the other people trapped on shore that night.
And in answer to your question, we did get some rest that night. Luckily, I had a position in the middle, which was probably the warmest, and I slept a bit—at least enough to block out the howling winds blowing so much metal around all through the night.
In the Krillton was a bit of a makeshift diary signed by others who had been stranded in Stromness and found shelter there. We all signed our names and made mention of the fact that it was Halloween. Some other signatures in the book were from members of the British Antarctic Survey team, including two of our field guides. Another was Trevor Potts, who had come to follow in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton and sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island, and he wrote of the difficulties he had faced and his darkest fears.
The marines of the HMS Endurance carved a slate and left it as a memorial after they completed skiing over the route Shackleton and his men had walked.
And then there were the constant reminders of whalers who had come to the end of the Earth to work and send money home to their families.
As I looked out the window the next morning, it looked very much like a work camp in Siberia until my eyes fixed upon the remains of an old movie theater. I tried to imagine those whalers once upon a time in such a remote place, long before Blockbuster, going to the latest movie, maybe even eating popcorn, laughing and crying and thinking of home.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and much love,
Greetings, Kelly! I haven't had a chance yet to explore the site, but I wanted to say hello, and was wondering how the difference in the length of daylight (from what you and the rest of the crew are used to) might affect your sleep and moods. And how the entire experience is manifesting itself in your dreams!Response from Kelly Tyler:
Now we're in the Weddell Sea, near Ross Island, and the sun sets at 11:30 p.m. this far south. It usually takes until about 1:30 for it to get completely dark. It's very hard to go to bed in this light—I'm tired now, but it's 10:30 and I'm not even thinking of sleep because of the daylight! The experience of being here is so intense that my dreams are usually a continuation of our activities during the day—so I'm going 24 hours!
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