American Alpine Institute Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership by Alasdair Turner

I just returned from another trip to the mountains.  This time it was a climbing course catered toward more advanced climbers.  The Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership course at American Alpine Institute is a three part course that covers most aspects of climbing and can take a beginning climber from top roping basic climbs to summiting some of North America's most sought after peaks in under two months.  This course was part two of the series where we teach students how to lead safely on alpine rock and ice climbs.  

For more on the course click here:,-part-2/

These are some of my favorite courses to teach due to the fun objectives we get to climb and it always gives me great photo opportunities.  

We started the course with four days of rock climbing.  We split our time between Leavenworth and Index, covering the basics of lead climbing, multi pitch anchors and basic rock rescue techniques.  

On the fifth day we heading into the Colman Glacier on Mount Baker to learn some more advanced glacier travel techniques, crevasse rescue and ice climbing.  The first day was amazing and after hiking in we managed to do a very technical tour through part of the Colman Glacier Icefall using good glacier travel techniques. 

The next day we woke up to rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  We were able to cover ice climbing, crevasse rescue and ice anchors and then made the call to hike out rather than spend a wet night in the tents.  

We drove to Mazama to cover alpine rock climbing, but had to start the next day with a little gear drying.  The Washington Pass area contains some of the best alpine rock climbing in Washington and despite a less than perfect weather forecast we managed to get some pretty good climbing done in the area. We climbed the classic Beckey Route on Liberty Bell.  The following day we climbed the 11 pitch route Prime Rib on Goat Wall and then the amazing 5.8+ SE Rib of South Early Winters Spire the following day.  All of these routes were climbed with students leading.  Its not often guides get to sit back and climb on top rope all day, but thats exactly what I got to do on Prime Rib.  

For the final two days of the course the weather dictated our objectives and we ended up in Washington's desert climbing area near the town of Vantage Washington.  Here we worked some more of some difficult rappelling problems and lead climbing.  

Overall this was an amazing 12 days and despite some weather challenges we covered a huge amount of material and climbed a lot of objectives.  I look forward to teaching another one of these soon.  

All images ©Alasdair Turner Photography.  Please go to my website if you would like to purchase images.

American Alpine Institute Denali Prep Course by Alasdair Turner

I just returned from teaching a six day Denali Prep course on Mount Baker with American Alpine Institute.  To learn more about the course click the link below.

 Denali from the west.  This print can be purchased at

Denali from the west.

This print can be purchased at

The conditions we had on this course were perfect preparation for a group planning on spending time on North Americas highest Mountain.  We managed to get good weather for the first two days allowing us to hike in and build our first camp under sunny skys, and then walk through the technical skills needed to climb.  We covered techniques for hauling sleds, roping up on the massive glaciers of Denali and crevasse rescue techniques.  

On day three of the trip we packed up camp and moved to a camp higher on Mount Baker.  The weather had started to deteriorate as we were walking to the camp, so we had some practice building a camp in less than perfect weather.  This included building a snow wall prior to putting the tents up.  Over night the weather deteriorated more and the next day was spent in camp digging out, eating in the cook tent and discussing conditions likely to be encountered on Denali.  We also covered traveling on fixed lines and some other technical skills needed for the mountain.  

That night the weather deteriorated more still, requiring digging out of the tents at 2am (perfect training for Denali).  Continued winds and heavy snow helped us make the decision to hike out the next day and head for Mount Eire on our final day of the course to cover crevasse rescue in more detail.  Here we covered the complexities of what really happens when a person falls in a crevasse with a 60lb pack and a 60lb sled.  This is a much more complex scenario than most people think, and makes getting out of a crevasse much more difficult.  If you are going to Denali and have not thought about these issues then you should probably spend some time training before you leave!

 Denali from the west showing most of the West Buttress route.    This print can be purchased at

Denali from the west showing most of the West Buttress route.  

This print can be purchased at

Overall this was a great course and we covered a huge amount of information in addition to the  regular course curriculum including menus, strategies for climbing the mountain, altitude preparation and illnesses, and tips and techniques for making tent living more enjoyable.  We even threw some photography and camera tips in.  For more on cold weather photography click here.

Antarctic Heritage Trust Conservation Work by Alasdair Turner

While working in Antarctica last season I was asked to do a project for the Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ.  This non-profit organization is the group who is responsible for the restoration and continued upkeep of the the historic huts and monuments located on and around the Ross Sea.  The request came after I offered some photos to the Trust which I had shot the previous season.  These photos were mostly of the outside of Captain Robert Falcon Scott' huts at Cape Evans and Hut Point and Ernest Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds.    The project was to provide some photos of the conservators working on the huts and artifacts.  It turns out that conservators are really good at shooting photos of the items they are conserving, but not of themselves conducting the work.  I was able to shoot these photos on my free time and donated my services to the Trust.  Without the work of the Antarctic Heritage Trust these huts would not be in the amazing condition that they are in today.  

The first part of the project was to shoot photos of the major restoration project being undertaken at Scott's Discovery Hut located on Hut Point.  Information can be found on Scott's Discovery Hut at:  The restoration of this hut includes removal of the floors and leveling of the entire structure that has been damaged by snow and ice buildup beneath the building.  In addition it included removal of all the items inside the hut and the cataloging and restoration of each.  

In addition to the work being conducted at the Discovery Hut, work continued this season at Captain Scott's second hut located at Cape Evans.  The Terra Nova hut has undergone a similar complete restoration over the last several Antarctic summer seasons and work this year focused on restoration of items within the hut and return all of the items that had been removed for restoration over the winter.  The number of items that have been restored and cataloged in this hut is staggering and has been an huge undertaking for the Trust.  One can get a sense of the number of items in some of the photos below.  This is also the hut where the long lost negatives were found that made news earlier this year.  Info on the negatives can be found here.  My work was to shoot some photos of the conservators returning the items to the hut and some of the restoration being done on items removed.  

This was an amazing project to be a part of and I want to thank the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust for all their hard work preserving these buildings for future generations to enjoy.  I have an agreement with the Trust that 50% of any photos sold of these three buildings will be donated to Antarctic Heritage Trust, so please order one of the prints below and support an amazing group of people doing amazing work.

 Earnest Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  

Earnest Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  

 Inside Earnest Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  

Inside Earnest Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  

 Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans, Antarctica.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans, Antarctica.

 Captain Scott's Discovery Hut, Hut Point Peninsula, Antarctica.  

Captain Scott's Discovery Hut, Hut Point Peninsula, Antarctica.  


The website for the Antarctic Heritage Trust can be found here:

The Discovery Park Lighthouse by Alasdair Turner

I spent an hour at the Discovery Park Lighthouse a couple of nights ago.  This spot is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Seattle, and although we did not get to see the sun set due to the weather we did at least have some pretty light.  

The two photos below were shot about a half hour apart.  The only differences in processing was the first one was desaturated slightly and the second had saturation increased slightly.  What a difference a little light change can make.  

Discovery Park Lighthouse, Seattle
Discovery Park Lighthouse, Seattle

Photos From The Air by Alasdair Turner

I just got done reading this great post from Twisted Sifter about why you should always get the window seat on an aircraft.  It got me thinking about how many of my favorite shots have been out of the window of aircraft.  I know, I spend a lot more time on aircraft than most people, and many of those aircraft are not your typical airliners, but several of the photos below were shot out the window of commercial airliners and are proof that you can get a good shot while flying ignoring the annoying person sitting next to you.  

 Mount Saint Hellens - Shot from a Dehavilland Beaver

Mount Saint Hellens - Shot from a Dehavilland Beaver

 The Mooses Tooth, Alaska - Shot from a Dehavilland Otter.

The Mooses Tooth, Alaska - Shot from a Dehavilland Otter.

 El Alto, Bolivia just after takeoff.  Shot from a 767.  

El Alto, Bolivia just after takeoff.  Shot from a 767.  

 The Aviator Glacier, Antarctica, from 30,000ft.  Shot from an Airbus A-319

The Aviator Glacier, Antarctica, from 30,000ft.  Shot from an Airbus A-319

 Pack ice on the Mawson Coast, Antarctica from 20,000 ft. Shot from a LC-130.

Pack ice on the Mawson Coast, Antarctica from 20,000 ft. Shot from a LC-130.

 Wallabies Nunatacks, Antarctica.  Shot from a Bell 212.

Wallabies Nunatacks, Antarctica.  Shot from a Bell 212.

 Blood Falls, Antarctica.  Shot from an Astar B2

Blood Falls, Antarctica.  Shot from an Astar B2

 Mount Adams, Washington.  Shot from a Dehavilland Beaver.

Mount Adams, Washington.  Shot from a Dehavilland Beaver.

 The Wright Valley, Antarctica.  Shot from a Dehavilland Otter.  

The Wright Valley, Antarctica.  Shot from a Dehavilland Otter.  

 Mount Shasta, California.    Shot from a 737.

Mount Shasta, California.    Shot from a 737.

 The Bay Bridge.  Shot from a 737.

The Bay Bridge.  Shot from a 737.

 Huyana Potosi, Bolivia.  Shot from a 767.  

Huyana Potosi, Bolivia.  Shot from a 767.  

 Clouds fall over Minna Bluffs, Antarctica.  Shot from a Twin Otter.  

Clouds fall over Minna Bluffs, Antarctica.  Shot from a Twin Otter.  

 The Trans-Antarctic Mountains, Antarctica.  Shot from an Astar B3

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains, Antarctica.  Shot from an Astar B3

 Crevasses in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, Antarctica.   Shot from a Bell 212.

Crevasses in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, Antarctica.   Shot from a Bell 212.

 The Trans-Antarctic Mountains.  Shot from a C-17.  

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains.  Shot from a C-17.  

 Mount Hunter, Alaska.  Shot from a Cessna.  

Mount Hunter, Alaska.  Shot from a Cessna.  

 A snowy Minneapolis St. Paul just after takeoff.   Shot from a MD-80;  

A snowy Minneapolis St. Paul just after takeoff.   Shot from a MD-80;  

Avalanche Course at Mount Baker with American Alpine Institute by Alasdair Turner

I spend last weekend teaching an avalanche course in the Mount Baker backcountry.  We had some great conditions for teaching an avalanche course with many unstable layers and lots of new snow.  The avalanche problems included storm slabs, wind slabs and a deep persistent slab layer.  The touring day made for some of the best skiing I have done yet this year.  Some amazingly deep snow that stayed light despite some warming temperatures.  


Leavenworth and Stevens Pass Avalanche Course with American Alpine Institute by Alasdair Turner

Last week I worked another avalanche course for the American Alpine Institute.  This turned out to be a great weekend and a great location for an avalanche course since there was some instability in the snow pack.  We were able to view some of the instabilities and find some great snow for a nice ski tour.  Some photos of the weekend are below.  

 A think layer of buried surface hoar is located about 40cm below the surface in many parts of the Cascades.  

A think layer of buried surface hoar is located about 40cm below the surface in many parts of the Cascades.  

 A close up of the crystals.  

A close up of the crystals.  

 Skiing the trees

Skiing the trees

 Skiing the trees.

Skiing the trees.


American Alpine Institute Avalanche Course by Alasdair Turner

The last couple of weekends have been spent teaching avalanche courses for the American Alpine Institute.  Although the snow pack has been a little boring, the weather has been great and it has made for some great courses.  Below are a few photos of the last two trips.   

 Early morning skiing in some nice light.

Early morning skiing in some nice light.

 Route finding and some wet surface conditions.

Route finding and some wet surface conditions.

 Although most of the snow was pretty solid,  Small areas of instability were found.  Here we conduct compression tests on the snow.  

Although most of the snow was pretty solid,  Small areas of instability were found.  Here we conduct compression tests on the snow.  

 Failure layers in the first 20cm.

Failure layers in the first 20cm.

 Time to ski. 

Time to ski. 

 A little route finding practice.  

A little route finding practice.  

 South slopes with lots of sun showed evidence of recent slides.   

South slopes with lots of sun showed evidence of recent slides.   

 Mount Baker in the distance.  

Mount Baker in the distance.  

 Skinning to find good snow.  

Skinning to find good snow.  

 Good snow had been located.  

Good snow had been located.  

Mount Baker Summit Climb with AAI by Alasdair Turner Photography

I just got back from a three day work trip up Mt Baker.  We had amazing weather and almost perfect conditions.  If anything it was possibly a little hot for me, but most days seem to be a little warm for me.  Day one consisted of gear check, driving to the trailhead and hiking into our camp.
The hike in.

A camp caretaker.

The hike in.

Excited to be at camp?

Day two consisted of skills practice.  We started with snow school which consists of snow walking and ice axe use and moves into self arrest.
Self arrest practice.
 After lunch we worked on roped glacier travel and took a tour of the glacier.

The ice fall.
 We ended the day with a little crevasse rescue training, after lowering one of the group into a crevasse.
Using the drop C to rescue a team member.  
 Day 3 was summit day and started at 2am when my alarm went off.  I started by shooting a couple of photos of the summit.

The long walk uphill.  

A cloud cap covered the mountain most of the day and we climbed into it.  

Steam rises from the crater about 1000ft below the summit.  

Into the clouds. 

Above the crater.

Signing the summit log.  

Summit Gu!


We took the scenic route down and stopped at one of the best overlooks in the lower 48.  

Living and working in Antarctica Part 4 Wildlife by Alasdair Turner Photography

Many people come to Antarctica in the hope of seeing wildlife.  The vast majority of Antarctica has no wildlife.  McMurdo has some, but it is not exactly teeming.  There is a grand total of five species of terrestrial animal that one has a chance of seeing and none of them  are really terrestrial since they all depend on the ocean.  After the sea ice melts then it is possible that various types of sea life will be spotted, but that only comes near the very end of the season when most people are either too busy unloading the cargo ships or have already gone home.  
My job allowed me to see quite a bit of wildlife since I work on the sea ice which is where most of the animals spend their time.  
By far the most common wild life seen by anyone on station is the skua.  Skua are a large seabird that looks a lot like a big grey seagull.  They are both hunters and scavengers and very intelligent.  It is not uncommon to see one swoop down from the roof of the cafeteria and knock a tray of food out of the hands of an unsuspecting resident heading back to their dorm.  They are smart enough to know the difference between a tray of chicken and a tray of veggies, and the owner of the tray of chicken should beware.  Even though McMurdo provides easy scavenging, their primary food source is fish.  They come to McMurdo to breed and like most birds they breed in an area with few predators and plentiful food.  Their only predators in the Ross Sea region is themselves and they have been know to eat their own eggs and even their own young.  Due to the ocean being frozen their main source of food(fish) is not available.  They instead feed on the placenta of pupping weddell seals and eggs and young of adelie penguins.  The largest nesting sites are located directly adjacent to the largest penguin rookeries.

The grinch steals lobster.
A very lucky skua takes off with an unlucky residents Christmas lobster.  

An angry skua with McMurdo in the background.   It is difficult to hike some trails during nesting season without a skua making its presence known.  

While most of the McMurdo population looks at these birds as a nuisance, I came to enjoy them.  This bird nests farther south than any other bird.  They spend the Austral winter off the coasts of North America making their annual migration up there with one of the longest of any birds.  They are rarely seen in North Amercia because they are primarily a sea bird.  

Skua mom and chick.

A skua showing its territorial display.  

A skua chick.  

A dead skua chick and its mother.  This mother sat on the dead chick and a frozen egg for over two weeks.

A close up of the egg and the chick.  A tiny beak is visible poking out of the frozen egg.  

It is important to note that my photos of these birds were shot from a long way off and the photos of the birds attacking me were shot when working directly with science groups, or when walking on open trails near McMurdo Station.  As soon as the birds showed aggressive behavior I left the area immediately.  The photos of the nestling were shot with a telephoto lens and at no point did the parent bird react to my presence.   In other words:  No birds were harmed in the making of these photos.

The emperor penguin is the most iconic of the antarctic species.  Luckily for most McMurdo residents they are fairly common.  Groups of them wander around the sea ice close to station.  They are curious birds and therefore anyone working on the sea ice within sight of an emperor is likely to be visited.  On their feet they are clumsy and awkward but they do seem to be able to travel reasonably quickly.

In the water they are an amazing animal that swims incredibly fast and can dive to depths that are difficult to imagine.  One was recorded at over 500 meters under water.  They spend large amounts of time out of the water.  There is no food out of the water so they do not eat for very long periods.  This includes almost the entire winter for the male birds.

A pair of emperors who visited while doing sea ice work.  

This bird spend several weeks near the airfield on its own.  

Emperors come to visit.  

If the emperor penguin is the statesman of the antarctic the adelie penguin is the jester.  Adelies are smaller than the emperor and seem to walk around the ice with no rhyme nor reason to their travel.   Like the emperors they are curious and will come and investigate anyone working on the ice.  

Adelie penguins traveling from Cape Royds to the open ocean.  

A group of adelie penguins at Cape Royds.  

A group of adelies investigates our activities while measuring a crack near Cape Evans.  

Several Adelie penguins were seen near McMurdo Station later in the season.  This was shot at Hut Point.  

Adelies investigate a Weddell seal on the sea ice.  

Weddell Seals
There are many Weddell seals all around the sea ice surrounding McMurdo Station.   The seals can be found at cracks in the ice, where they work to keep holes open by chewing on the ice.    Many of the seal holes have blood around them from the males who guard their holes from other males.  It is not uncommon to see bloodied male seals outside the holes covered in snow having not appeared to move for many hours.  These seals are exhausted from fighting for their holes.   As soon as they are rested they return to the water to continue to guard the hole.  From this blog post it might be easy to get the idea that we are walking next to the seals every day but this is not the case.  My job did not bring me close to the seals that often, mostly because we are encouraged to stay away so we do not disturb them. Most of the time the seals are just a dark spot on the ice in the distance, occasionally my job brought me close enough to shoot some nice photos.  

A male seal with a large wound on its side.

A seal pokes its head through the ice. 

Using its teeth to make the hole larger.  

A young seal trying to return to the water.   We were tasked with blocking its way due to explosives being used underwater close by.  We stood guard by this hole for a couple of hours until the explosives were used and then let the seal go about its business.  

Mom and pup

A very large seal in flat light.  

The final animal that one might see on Ross Island is the snow petrel.  It is a beautiful white bird that I never managed to get any where close to.  I saw them once and the photo was not good, but here it is.  

Snow petrels above Castle Rock.  

Once again it is important to note that all of the photos I have here were shot while working directly with science groups, or while doing my job.  The Antarctic treaty states that people may not change the normal behavior of animals in any way unless there is a scientific purpose.   

Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds 360 degree panorama by Alasdair Turner Photography

This is a project that has been on the back burner for a while.  This is a 360 degree panorama of the inside of Shackletons hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  I shot roughly 75 photos for this however not all of them were used in the final panorama.  Approximately 50 were uploaded to create this panorama.

And a photo of the outside of the hut.

A Season Working and Living In Antarctica - Part 3 by Alasdair Turner Photography

This is part 3 in a series of working and living in McMurdo.  See part one here and part 2 here.

Emperor Penguins are just one of the many things being researched around McMurdo Station.  

There are several reasons for the United States to have permanent stations in Antarctica.  The first and most commonly mentioned is that they are a station for science to take place.  This is true, and yes lots of science does take place at these stations.  There are other reasons for the United States to have such a large presence in Antarctica also.  One is that the United States and every other nation who has a presence wants to have a presence.  It should be looked at as a bird in the hand scenario.  To be building stations in Antarctica is to stake a claim of part of the continent if the Antarctic treaty were to ever collapse.  Having the biggest presence on the continent, the United States sees itself as a defacto enforcer of the Antarctic treaty.  The Antarctic Treaty says that a countries presence on the continent must have a scientific purpose, so the United States throws a lot of money at science in order to keep its presence in Antarctica, or the United States has a large presence in Antarctica because the believe that scientific research on the southern most continent is very important.  As far as I am concerned the reasons don't matter.  What matters is the United States and the National Science Foundation is a leading the way in funding some amazing scientific projects and living and working along side the people doing this research is one of the best things about being in McMurdo.  I could not possibly do most of these projects justice by trying to describe them on this blog, but what I have done is posted some links to information about some of the groups I know about some of whom I worked with, some whom I talked with and some whom I never met at all.  This is a very brief list.  There were many more projects last season.

Sampling deep inside a steam cave on Mt. Erebus, Antarctica.  

Thermal imaging is used to find the hottest areas of soil.  

WISSARD Project:
Wissard is a project that is drilling 800 meters through the Antarctic ice to investigate and sample water and sediments underneath.

Long Duration Balloon:

B-009 - Weddell Seal Science

Exploring the bottom of Antarctica food chain

Penguin Research:

Antarctica is cold, but you probably already knew that.  What surprised me was just how cold it can be.    After doing seven climbing trips to the Denali area I did not think the cold would be that much of an issue. It is.  It can be an issue for everyone and everything we do.  It is so much colder than anywhere else I have ever been that I was a little surprised by it.  I arrived in McMurdo on October 1st.  October is a pretty cold month, but it starts to warm up quite fast as the 24 hour day light gets closer.  December can actually be quite warm and I found myself walking around McMurdo in a t-shirt on numerous occasions.  Keep in mind by warm I mean close to freezing.  Due to the dry air and the solar radiation a temperature close to 0 degrees C can feel quite warm if the wind is not blowing.
There is a daily weather forecast at McMurdo which is about as accurate as one might think(not really).
Unlike the US, Antarctica does not have that many weather monitoring stations so figuring out what is happening with weather a day or two out can be difficult.  If stationed at a field camp it is possible to call into McMurdo to get the forecast for your camp but the inevitable answer from the weather folks comes in the form of the question "well, what is it like there now?"
There are three categories of weather in and around McMurdo:

Condition 1
Windspeed over 55 knots (60 miles per hour)
Visibility less than 100 feet (30 meters)
Wind chill below −100 °F (−73 °C)
Description: Dangerous conditions; outside travel is not permitted.

Condition 2
Windspeed of 48 to 55 knots (55 to 63 miles per hour)
Visibility 1/4 of a mile to 100 feet (402 to 30 meters)
Wind chill of −75 °F (−60 °C) to −100 °F (−73 °C)
Description: Unpleasant conditions; outside travel is permitted but not recommended.

Condition 3
Windspeed below 48 knots (55 miles per hour)
Visibility greater than 1/4 of a mile (402 meters)
Wind chill above −75 °F (−60 °C)
Description: Pleasant conditions; all outside travel is permitted.

At no time in my five months on station did I experience a condition 1 at McMurdo.  I did experience weather that would fit into that category while on Mt. Erebus however.

Antarctica is dry.  Very dry.  Most people think because there is a lot of snow and ice that it must snow a lot.  It does not.  Most of antarctica is considered a desert.  Most of the snow McMurdo Station gets is from ocean moisture.  The air is very dry and sleeping with a humidifier in dorm rooms is very common.

Antarctica is pretty windy.  It is notorious for its winds, however winds in McMurdo are often not too bad.  McMurdo does not get the catabatic winds that many other places do.  Winds are fairly common out on the ice shelf where we teach our happy camper courses.  Wind makes it feel colder, and makes it more likely you will get frostbite.

I was lucky enough to be out at the Scott Base pressure ridges when a storm was rolling in.  Major storms usually come from the south.

A storm rolls across the ross sea toward McMurdo Station.  

Fata Morgana stretches the base of the Royal Society Mountains.  
Ice Cave

The Erebus glacier tongue is the end of the Erebus glacier that comes off Mt. Erebus.  The glacier tongue floats on the ocean and extends a couple of kilometers from land.  Due to the constant glacial movement of the tongue pushing out to sea, the sea ice around it contains several cracks that are often challenging to deal with.  This makes it a perfect place to teach the field sections of sea ice courses.  It was during one of these courses that we noticed a small hole in the wall of the glacier.  The next day while conducting some sea ice monitoring we dug out the hole to find an incredible cave.  This cave and others like it, are formed when crevasses in the glacier become covered by snow bridges.  The surface melt water then percolates through the roof creating icicles.  These caves are often used as a recreational outing for the people in McMurdo Station, but this year a lack of suitable vehicles to transport people, in addition to other things meant that very few people would be allowed to see this amazing natural wonder.  

Entering the ice cave for the first time.  

Some features are beyond explanation.  I would love to know the dynamics behind the formation of this icicle.  

Looking up at the roof.  

This photo was featured on National Geographic Travelers Photos 365.  

Exiting the cave.  

Me enjoying the inside.  

A Season Living and Working In Antarctica - Part 2 by Alasdair Turner Photography

This is part 2 in my series of what it was like to spend five months living and working in Antarctica.  Click Here to read part 1.   In Part 1 I described the work I did while on the continent.  Here I will outline what day to day life in McMurdo Station  is like.

Life at McMurdo is much like life on a small college campus but rather than a whole bunch of kids who just left home for the first time, it is a whole bunch of adults who just left home for the first time since graduating college.  Everyone works 9 hour days, 6 days a week.  The station operates 24hours so many people are working night shifts.  There is a large cafeteria capable of serving over 1200 people food that has been buried in storage containers under the Kiwis rugby field in the MuMurdo Ice Shelf for the past several years.  There is a gym, a weight room and a building I never entered that is purported to have treadmills and other exercise equipment that I refuse to use(Observation hill hike is much more mentally stimulating for me).  In addition the roads on the sea ice and ice shelf are continuously groomed so that we can drive wheeled vehicles on them.  These make for a very convenient place for people to skate ski, and probably make for the most expensive skate ski trails in the world.  Two bars are conveniently located within 20 or so yards of the exercise building I never entered.  This is another reason I never entered as I am sure any attempt to step on a tread mill would have had me bored within ten minutes and playing foosball at the bar with a beer in my hand soon after.       I will stick to quick hikes up the closest hill.  A coffee shop is staffed by volunteers and has internet plugins (there is no wireless available for the support staff on station).  There is also a church which as far as I can tell is only used for yoga.  I stuck my head in once but much like every other church in my life it was only to see if it was pretty inside(its not).  A library which is staffed by volunteers is open most nights of the week and video rental is available at the store.  The store contains all manor of poorly designed gifts with either "McMurdo Station" or "Antarctica" printed on them.  There is also a hefty amount of penguin gifts of course.  Also available are some basic toiletries, but most people only use the store to buy beer or wine.  Other entertainment available includes a craft room and a recreational gear checkout.  There is a small hiking trail system on station and a slightly larger loop trail of about 8 miles that goes to Castle Rock and then down and across the McMurdo Ice Shelf back to Station.  Since this loop trail is located on glaciated terrain it must be periodically checked for crevasses and wandering off trail could and has in the past led to fatal accidents.  Checking for crevasses is done with a ground penetrating radar which is another one of the tools FSTP has to use.
Weekends consist of Saturday night and Sunday.  Saturday night is a great time to socialize with the other folks on station.  Sunday is a time to recover from the week and the things people do to themselves saturday night.  There is an incredible amount of talented musicians at McMurdo and luckily for those of us who enjoy music they often play at one of the bars on Saturday nights.  There are several fun events throughout the season.  These are mostly music based and usually take place on typical holidays.  Like most places of employment there is an awkward Christmas party that consists of standing around having forced conversations with people you would not normally feel comfortable drinking around.  The party takes place in the heavy machinery repair shop which is cleaned up and decorated with a few random christmas decorations.  On Christmas day, MAAG (McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery) consists of art projects and stage performances of all types from the support staff on station.  This really was a fun night and I was really amazed by some of the talents of the people around station.  Ice Stock is an all day live music festival and chili cook off that is the highlight of the local skua populations year.  It is also one of the more fun events that takes place all season.  It is held on New years eve and music continues until sometime after the new year has been brought in.  I brought in the new years on my own atop Observation Hill where I was positioned perfectly to hear the Kiwi base bring in the new year on time 3 minutes before the US.  Scott Base is the Kiwi Station located 2 miles from McMurdo.  They have a well stocked bar and lots of very friendly people.  Once a week the Kiwi bar is open for "American Night".  American night is an opportunity for Americans to see other americans in a different bar, since most of the kiwis hide in there dorm rooms due to the mass of Americans crowding their bar.  The Kiwis also have a ski hill complete with a rope tow.  This is not available for Americans to use unless invited.
My non work time was mostly taken up by playing board games at the coffee shop, fooseball at the bar and wandering around the station with a camera.  Many nights were spent reading or recovering from being outside all day in cold temps.
McMurdo Station.  Dorms are in the lower right of the photo, machinery shops in the lower left.  The big blue building is the cafeteria and to the right and behind that are the bars, a NASA building and some communications buildings, with the Helicopter hanger behind that.  In the top left are many fuel storage tanks and the road to Scott Base.  
The Chalet where station management are located.  Observation hill is located behind.   

Antarctic polar bear at MAAG.  I knew there were polar bears in Antarctica.   Now if only I would have seen an eskimo.  
MAAG art project and some antics.  

The Kiwi Ski hill on a powder day(5cm of new).  
Skua enjoying the music at Icestock while occasionally dive bombing unsuspecting concert goers with food in their hands.
Bringing in the new year atop Observation Hill.  Out of view to the left is a memorial cross to Robert Scott and his men who perished on their return from the south pole several hundred miles behind me.  
Pressure Ridges
There is a recreation department in McMurdo.  Their full time job is to attempt to keep the general public from going insane because they cant just leave base whenever they choose (mostly for their own safety).  Recreational outings this year were very limited due to sea ice conditions not allowing some of the larger vehicles to travel across some large cracks.  In normal years the outings could include trips to Cape Royds(Shackletons hut and penguin colony), Cape Evans (Scotts Terra Nova Hut), or a visit to ice caves that form in the Erebus Glacier Tongue.  This year none of that was possible.  There are however pressure ridges that form each year near just outside Scott Base.  These ridges are formed by the movement of the McMurdo Ice Shelf crushing the sea ice into the land causing it to crack and deform.  Tours of the ridges are performed by volunteer staff who take groups out on a previously flagged trail through the ridges.

Scott Base pressure ridges.  

Scott Base pressure ridges.  

Ice thrust into the air in the Scott Base pressure ridges.  

Melt pool with Mount Erebus in the background.  

Ice in the pressure ridges.

Another recreational outing is the room with a view.  Participants take a snow mobile across the ice shelf and up a hill to the base of Mt. Erebus.  From this spot there are amazing views across McMurdo Sound to the glaciers that block the views of the dry valleys.

Mount Erebus from the Room With A View.   
Returning to McMurdo.  Mt. Discovery in the distance.  

One question many people have asked is how is the food.  My best answer to that question is that the baked goods are amazing.  Bakery items are made fresh each day by some very talented bakers.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are flown in on daily flights early in the season while the C-17 is still flying back and fourth from New Zealand.  After that flight stops however everything except the baked items is from the freezer.  Yes there are actually freezers in the Antarctic.  Meals are fairly varied and can be pretty hit or miss.  Early in the season the head of the kitchen (who was soon fired) decided that anyone who did not eat red meat was pretty much an after though.  He also gave the staff no flexibility to be creative which made for some incredibly bad non meat options and left me eating bread and butter, really good bread, and butter.  Later in the season, with a new head chef at the helm, and the kitchen staff free to come up with their own ideas, dinners got better.  Over all given the fact we are in Antarctica they do a pretty good job.  As you might imagine complaints about food is always a staff favorite.  Lunches were always good due to a very creative person who was very good at her job making the sandwiches.  If only there had been sandwiches for every meal.

If you ask the people who go back year after year why they do it, the most common answer seems to be that they like the people down there.  McMurdo is an amazing community of talented and adventurous people all of whom have a story worth sharing.  It is possibly the most over educated community in the world.  Amoung the support staff everyone seems to have some sort of college degree that they no longer use and even if they don't have one they are so well traveled that you can talk to them about almost anything.  Of course there is also the scientists who are the reason that we are all there in the first place.  The large number of scientists also makes cafeteria conversations enjoyable and interesting.  Where else in the world can you sit at a table with one of the most respected scientists in their field, a mountain guide, an equipment mechanic, a carpenter, a cook and janitor for example.  Assumptions about anyones background at McMurdo are a huge mistake, because just about anyone could have a Phd in physics or any other subject.  People are there for the experience or the ability to have the summers off to travel or any number of other reasons that assumptions would get wrong.
Jen modeling her favorite part of the meal.  

Ned in his typical Antarctic outdoor wear. 

A Season Working and Living in Antarctica Part 1. by Alasdair Turner Photography

It had always been a dream of mine to visit Antarctica.  The reality of that dream was often realised by looking at the cost of travel to Antarctica and the knowledge that even if I could afford it, I would likely end up stuck on a boat unable to do the types of things I really wanted to do.  Last year I was offered an opportunity that I could not refuse--to work as a field trainer for the US Antarctic Program.  This would allow me a trip to Antarctica, and the ability to get paid for it.

It was not until I got my first glimpse of the Antarctic continent that I truly believed I would get to Antarctica.  The Antarctic Program had not sent me my ticketing information to New Zealand, a required stopover, until less than 24 hours before my scheduled departure time. Thus, even once we were in the air, leaving New Zealand behind, I still believed it was entirely possible this last flight might actually take me somewhere other than Antarctica.  

Flights to Antarctica are done mostly with US Air Force C-17s.  New Zealand and Australia also help out by adding couple of additional passenger aircraft in early and late season when large amount of people are moving back and fourth.  We flew down in a chartered Australian Airbus A-319.

Landing on the ice runway.  

We landed at McMurdo Station or, more specifically, on the sea ice about 2 miles outside of McMurdo Station.  McMurdo is the main US research station in Antarctica and also the biggest.  It is located on Ross Island very close to where Robert Scott built his first hut in 1902.  The station is so close and now so large, outward sprawling like every other American city, that the Scott hut almost feels like a part of the station.  It was originally built by the US Navy.  The US Antarctic Program (part of the National Science Foundation) now runs the station since its sole purpose under the International Antarctic Treaty is scientific research.  Although I do poke a little bit of fun at the expense of large government entities, I do truly respect the science that takes place in Antarctica and believe that it is invaluable to this and future generations.

Robert Scott's Discovery Hut

The sprawling metropolis of McMurdo Station.  
McMurdo houses somewhere between 150 and 1,200 people depending on the time of year.  When I arrived, there were about 300 people on station.  Within several weeks that number grew close to 800 people including support staff and scientists.  During the winter a core group of about 150 people keep the station running, but there is very little science underway.  The support staff at McMurdo consist of everyone from janitors and mechanics, to fuel handlers and IT people.  Imagine a totally isolated city with lots of heavy equipment, an airport (or two), a sewer treatment facility, a garbage sorting facility, a fire department, a cafeteria, gym, helicopter hangers, an amazing scientific laboratory, and even two bars.  For each part of this small town there has to be a person to keep it running.  Housing is another story. Everyone is housed in dorms, two to a room much like college.  

Fuels employee refueling an LC-130.  

My job, "Field Instructor," in the Field Safety Training Program (FSTP) consists mostly of teaching survival courses to every person who is going to leave the station for field work.  Much like a cold weather camping class we teach setting up tents, lighting stoves, and digging survival trenches.  Survival trenches are basically a shallow grave dug in the snow in which to die in if all else is lost.  They will, however, allow you to live slightly longer than if you did not know how to dig one so they remain part of the curriculum.  In addition, we put the students through some scenarios, one of which we call bucket head, where the students attempt to find a missing person with buckets on their heads to simulate a whiteout.  So as not to forget that this is a government-sponsored entity we also cover many of the protocols of McMurdo Station which take about as much time as the survival training.  The course is a two-day course affectionately referred to as Happy Camper.  Each participant gets to spend the night camping outside in Antarctica on the McMurdo Ice Shelf while we, the instructors, sleep several hundred yards away in a hut warmed with a diesel burning stove that even on the lowest settings makes us wish we were sleeping outside also.  

Setting up a Scott Tent on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

A well-built happy campers camp with Mt. Erebus in the background.  

Bucket head

Sun dog over Mt. Erebus as seen from happy camper on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.  

Happy campers are not the only course we teach.  Trainings are a key part of the US Antarctic experience, and anyone who has to do anything must take a training in order to do it.  If you are going out on the sea ice you must take sea ice training. If you are going to altitude, and most of Antarctica is at high altitude, you must take altitude training.  FSTP teaches both of these.  In addition we provide specialized technical trainings for science groups going to glaciated areas of the continent.  Other required trainings include driving snowmobiles (basic and advanced class), Hagglunds training, Piston Bully training, chainsaw training, and light vehicle training.  Light vehicle training is a two-hour class that explains how to drive a pickup truck at less than 5 mph, check the oil, and place a wheel chock any time you park it.  This is all done via a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation while the trucks are parked safely outside with their wheels chocked.

In addition to trainings FSTP is also responsible for establishing travel routes on the sea ice for science teams to travel to and from dive huts and Weddell Seal breeding areas. This is amongst other things that I will get to later.  Route work consists of flagging routes, and monitoring the sea ice and known crack crossings for safety.  This sea ice work is conducted in the early season when it is cold.  Working on the sea ice can result in some of the most fun days and also some of the worst.  Overall enjoyment of sea ice work depends on weather, and, as most people probably know, Antarctic weather can be fairly bad.  Antarctica may not have a lot of wildlife outside the water, but what it does have is most likely to be found while working on the sea ice.  Weddell seals are often laying on the ice near the cracks that FSTP monitors, and occasionally penguins wander over during the work.  Penguins are drawn to pretty much anything else that is moving on the ice so if they see you they almost always come to investigate. More on penguins and seals later...

A not so good day of sea ice work.   
Drilling holes to measure ice thickness.  
Lunch break.  

FSTP and members of our Kiwi (New Zealand) equivalent are also responsible for search and rescue.  Each Thursday the team trains together.  Training days consist of whatever we deem necessary to become a more effective search and rescue team.  Throughout the course of a season, we step in and out of helicopters while they are hovering under full power, we set up pulley systems for an entire day, and climb around Castle Rock (one of the few recreational outings available to staff).  One of the more interesting parts of search and rescue in Antarctica is the tools available to us.  A lost person in an Antarctic storm would be next to impossible to find using standard search and rescue techniques.  FSTP uses three Hagglands amphibious vehicles.  These vehicles are meant to float if we drive them on to ice too thin, but due to a lack of spare parts neither the door seals or the pumps work in any of them, dooming them to the bottom of the Ross Sea if we were to ever drive them into the water through thin ice.  Roof hatches will allow us to escape out the top as the Hagglunds slowly sinks.  The Hagglunds are equipped with marine radar, Radio Direction finder, and infra-red video that allow us to drive around in zero visibility to find lost people or vehicles.  All this equipment would be useless if we did not know how to use it, so we spend several days working with that also.  In past years it has been used several times in real situations to find and return lost people to McMurdo safely.

In the 2012-13 season, FSTP participated in a real search and rescue involving a downed aircraft with a Canadian crew.  It turned out to be a major mission involving many resources and almost all of the members from both the American and Kiwi teams.  Six of us were transported approximately 800 miles by helicopter and dropped near the summit of Mt. Elizabeth in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains.  At this time I will not go into any more details about this tragic accident.

SAR training on Castle Rock
Traversing a snow slope on Castle Rock with Mt. Erebus in the background.  
The Hagglunds early in the season when the sun still sets.  
Driving a Hagglunds using radar only.  
Even with radar navigation some route marking flags become casualties.  
Testing the roof hatch of the Hagglunds.  

Mt. Erebus Work
One of the best parts of our job is field support of science projects.  Science grantees can request the help of FSTP for field work.  In the 2012-2013 season, FSTP supported several field projects ranging from seal tagging, to placing very precise sensors at over 10,000 ft on the polar plateau.  The job of FSTP is to ensure the safety of the scientists.  The field project to which I was assigned was investigating micobiological life around the volcanic vents near the summit of Mt. Erebus.  Mt. Erebus is a large active volcano that makes up a huge amount of the total area of Ross Island.  It is also the most southern active volcano on earth and the second highest in Antarctica.  Mt. Erebus is also home to one of the only permanent lava lakes on earth.  Because Mt. Erebus is an active volcano it has many vents near the summit, many of which are located underneath the glaciers and snowfields.  These vents melt the glaciers from the bottom up and create large cave systems all over the mountain.  There are at least 50 known caves, some of which have never been entered.  Access to these caves is highly restricted due to the sensitivity of life forms that could be in them.  The goal for our group was to look for microbial life in the darkest parts of these caves. More information on this work can be found here.  My job was to get them in and out of the caves safely, and, in some cases, to look for pristine, previously unentered caves from which to collect samples.  This work involved finding the safest entrances, building anchors on the outside, belaying or lowering the scientists, ensuring they could climb back out, and monitoring the air for dangerously high levels of CO2.

Weather on Mt. Erebus can be exceptionally bad.  Our first few days had us stuck inside a small hut while the temperatures dropped to -35F with winds up to 60 mph.

My evening accommodations on a windy day.  
...and on an even windier day.
Inside the Lower Erebus Hut, desperation called for the use of a human waste bucket for the Thanksgiving turkey brine. 

Many of the cave entrances are marked by large towers of ice.  These are formed by steam freezing as it escapes into the incredibly cold Antarctic air.  There are hundreds of these on the mountain and each is truly unique.  

The large ice tower at the entrance to Sauna Cave.  
Looking strait up inside one of the ice towers.  

Ice towers near the Erebus hut.  

Exploring the ice towers.
This tower, located above a small cave (haggis hole) with no recorded entries, was one of the sampling caves for the project.  

In the past few years both BBC and National Geographic have spent time photographing inside the Erebus caves.  There is no doubt that these caves are one of the most incredible places on the planet, and I feel truly lucky to have been able to work inside of many of them.
Exiting Warren Cave, the same cave captured in both the National Geographic and BBC visits.  
Some caves are covered in crystals so fragile that even the lightest breath causes them to collapse.  
Deep inside Warren Cave.  

The one and only thing I truly have problems with is small spaces. I had to talk myself through this.  

Exiting Mammoth Cave.

Light shines through the thin walls of Heroine Tower.  

Warren Cave.

Crystal found in one of the caves.  
The aptly named Imax room.  
Inside Mammoth Cave, one of the largest on the mountain.  

Inside Worm-tounge Cave

Not all of the work was inside the caves.  One area of the mountain has surface temperatures so hot that  any ice on it is melted off.  This area also has unique biological life.  We spent some time here locating and removing experiments that were left last season.

Sampling on Tramway Ridge.

The summit crater of Mt. Erebus is huge and active with a large lake of lava in the bottom.  I was able to hike around the summit on two different occasions during my trip.  There is something truly amazing about visiting active volcanos.  It is difficult to give a sense of place in photos since because of the incredible sounds that were present when the images were taken. 

Mt. Erebus summit crater.

The lava lake at the bottom of the crater. 

Looking into the earth. 

In the next several weeks I will add more info on what it was like to live and work at McMurdo Station.  

Using Your Camera in Extreme Cold and Wet Weather. by Alasdair Turner Photography

This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago but still get a lot of questions about.  I have updated with some recent information.

As a guide who always carries a camera, I am often asked about cameras on climbing trips and whether it is a good idea. My answer to that is always YES! Bring along your camera! The results are often amazing. 

 Inside and ice cave in the Erebus Glacier, Antarctica.  

Inside and ice cave in the Erebus Glacier, Antarctica.  

There is a wealth of information on outdoor camera use already available on the internet, but much of it does not apply to taking cameras up mountains and in arctic areas where conditions are considerably more severe than what the internet articles are presuming. The information in this article is my personal opinion. It's a description of what has worked for me over the last twenty years of shooting outdoor photographs, including six climbing trips to Alaska and time in Antarctica in which I have never had a camera failure.

Point and Shoot vs SLR

A point and shoot camera is lightweight and easy to carry and cheaper; a single lense reflex (SLR) is bulky and heavy and expensive. Most people I know use point and shoot cameras, and for most people they are the best option.  One camera I highly recommend is the Cannon G12 or its latest version.  I carry a Nikon SLR with a multi purpose zoom lens (and sometimes a tripod), because it allows me more freedom to shoot the exact photo I want. The debate here goes on forever all across cyberspace. For more information on this subject, you can just Google it.

 Shooting Weddell seals on a bad weather day in Antarctica.  

Shooting Weddell seals on a bad weather day in Antarctica.  

How to Carry Your Camera

Carrying is easy with a point and shoot type camera, because it fits nicely in a pocket; however, I recommend a small camera case that fits on the shoulder strap of a backpack. This keeps the camera close by for quick use and outside clothing so there are no potential moisture issues.

For a large SLR I sometimes will keep the camera in my pack to protect it, but most of the time my camera hangs on the hip belt of my backpack. This allows me to get to the camera quickly, but can be a bit annoying when I am on more technical terrain. Another option that I have seen with SLR cameras is to hang it between the shoulder straps so it is right in front of you. From a comfort perspective this is not my favorite option, but you should try several different things to see what works best for you.

Cold Weather Camera Use

One of the most common myths I hear about camera use in the mountains is that the new digital cameras don't work in the cold. I have never seen a camera that does not work in the cold. The working temperature range for most electronics is well below the temperatures you are likely to encounter in the mountains. So your camera will still work. There are however some parts of your camera that could be less likely to work in very cold weather, so if you are going to Denali or Antarctica, keep reading; if not, you can skip to the next section.

  An exceptionally difficult day of work on the Antarctic sea ice.  

An exceptionally difficult day of work on the Antarctic sea ice.  


Very cold temperatures do effect some non essential parts of a camera directly and other parts indirectly. One example is the LCD screen on the back of a camera. These can freeze at low temperatures, or just not work quite right, so you can't depend on that. Get yourself a camera with a view finder so you can see what you are shooting photos of. In VERY cold and dry conditions, even an eyepiece viewfinder can be a problem. On one trip I did to the Alaska Range, every time I held my camera up to my eye, my viewfinder fogged from the moisture near my body. These were the coldest temperatures I have ever encountered, and it is not likely that you will see these types of conditions. To put it simply, your camera is actually better suited to working in the cold than it is in extreme heat. On hot sunny days, don't leave your camera in the car. The batteries are another story that we will discuss next.


The problems most people encounter with their camera in cold weather are only indirectly related to the cold weather and can be avoided by a few simple rules. This brings us to the second most common myth of cameras in the cold. I often hear people say they keep their camera in their jacket so it stays warm. This works great with water bottles, but is not a good thing to do with a camera. Picture a man with glasses walking into a warm room after having been outside in cold weather. Glasses fog, and so will a camera the second you put it back in your warm jacket. As long as it is dry outside, keep it outside. Cold is not your cameras enemy, changes in temperature are. This moisture problem applies to the inside of your tent as well. Tents can be very moist. I keep my camera in my backpack out of the tent at night and hanging on the outside of my backpack when I am moving during the day.


Your camera won't have any problems in the cold, but your batteries might. Batteries do not loose their power in cold weather; they are just not able to give quite as much of it up. So as soon as a battery is warmed up, it is good again. Older metal hydride and nickel cadmium batteries are not very good in cold weather. Battery technology is advancing very fast, and this has been a great thing for digital cameras. Most new camera batteries are Lithium ion. They are expensive, but they work well in the cold. If you camera uses over-the-counter AA or AAA, buy the more expensive lithium ion batteries. They will last twice as long and save you money in the long run.

If you don't want your camera to die on summit day, spend some time learning how long your batteries last. I know that given normal temperatures I can shoot all the photos I want with my Nikon SLR and spend a lot of time reviewing them and not run out of battery power for any trip three weeks or less. I carry two extra batteries just in case on Denali, and almost never carry an extra for any other trip. I have never run out of batteries with this system, but cameras vary. You should know about how many photos your camera can shoot on one battery and then subtract 30% to know what you might get in cold weather.  I have seen lots of battery failures on small point and shoot cameras.  I feel like more of these camera have problems than don't so be very careful which camera you buy.  If you can find one that uses AA batteries that is the best option.  Either way you will need to bring lots of extras on a long trip.  


The only time I would think about leaving my camera at home is in very rainy weather, for example, the Cascades in early spring. Even then I usually bring it along anyway.  Moisture probably won't completely kill your camera, but it might. Keep your camera in a plastic bag if it is raining. Skip the long photo sessions, since they probably won't be great photos anyway. I always try to think about where the most moisture is and keep my camera somewhere else.  I will remove the camera from the plastic bag quickly shoot and then return it to the bag.  Sometimes I open the bag poke the lens out and leave the rest of the camera in the bag while a shoot a couple of photos.  I keep my camera in the tent when I am in wet climates and outside the tent when I am in Alaska.  Remember,  snow is not the same as rain.  It is a lot easier to keep a camera dry in the snow than the rain.  If your camera ever does get wet, immediately take the battery out and do not use it for the rest of the trip. Attempt to dry it out as soon as possible by leaving it in the sun or some other warm (not hot) area. Get a bag of rice wrap the camera in cheese cloth and bury it in rice for a week.  I have heard of some people putting their electronics in an oven to dry them out, but I don't suggest you try this. I just had an amusing email from a fellow guide asking for everyone's phone numbers after cooking his phone in the oven and losing all the data. Heat is one of the primary enemies of electronics.

  A south polar skua in very wet snow.

A south polar skua in very wet snow.


I just returned from a trip to Antarctica where temperatures were the coldest I have ever encountered.  I spent some time shooting in volcanic vents which are warm and very moist.  This creates some of the most difficult conditions for shooting that exist.  In order for the camera not to fog the second it is taken into the cave it must be the same temperature as the cave.  The temperatures outside the cave were -20 and inside they were often above freezing (thats over a 50 degree change).  I entered the cave with the camera sealed inside a ziplock bag and placed the camera on the floor (the warmest part of the cave).  After finishing all my other work I then pulled the camera out to shoot photos which was sometime as much as an hour after entering the cave.  This is the only way to shoot in this type of environment.

 Extremely challenging shooting conditions in a steam cave near the summit of Mt. Erebus, Antarctica.  Outside temperatures around -30 and inside temperatures of just above freezing and 100% humidity.  

Extremely challenging shooting conditions in a steam cave near the summit of Mt. Erebus, Antarctica.  Outside temperatures around -30 and inside temperatures of just above freezing and 100% humidity.  

Camera Use

The most important thing about having a camera in the mountains is using it. The best thing about shooting digital photos is that it does not cost you any more to shoot more photos. You won't automatically get better photos because you shoot more on a given trip, but if you consistently take a good quantity, two things will happen. You'll accelerate your learning of what works and what doesn't work in creating quality images, and if it becomes automatic to be taking photos throughout the day or throughout a climb, you are unlikely to miss great photographic opportunities - many of which are only there briefly. Shoot away!

Photo on National Geographic Traveler by Alasdair Turner Photography

The first of what I hope to be several photos from Antarctica was published yesterday on National Geographic Travelers Travel 365 feature.  It is located here:

The photo published by NG.  

The cave was located in the Erebus Ice Tongue near Ross Island, Antarctica.  An ice tongue is simply a glacier that continues past the edge of the land and is floating in water.  This was the second time we had been to the cave after finding it the first time two days earlier.  At that time we did not enter it because we did not have the equipment or time to determine stability and overall safety.  This photo was shot as Cory and I entered the cave and assessed the roof stability.  The original intent of entering the cave was so it could be used as a recreational trip for people working at McMurdo Station.  Ice conditions and transportation issues unfortunately did not allow this to happen.  The New Zealand program did end up using it for this purpose and used it as a side trip on Cape Evans and Cape Royds recreational trips.  

The cave and as much as two kilometers of the ice tongue are now gone.  Sometime in mid February the floating tongue broke off and floated out into McMurdo Sound.  

Here are a few more photos of the cave.  

Skua by Alasdair Turner Photography

Skua are one of the four commonly seen wildlife species around McMurdo Station, and almost certainly the least loved.  Residents of McMurdo learn quickly to hide their food from these birds since they have learned to recognize the blue cafeteria trays that contain easy meals.  It is not uncommon to see a unsuspecting victims tray be knocked out of their hands by a skua and then have the remains stolen from the ground.

Here a skua takes off with christmas dinner (lobster tail).

Skua are very territorial and hiking around McMurdos minimal trail system is at some point likely to put you face to face with an angry skua.  Skua are also very common at Cape Royds and nest along side the adelie penguin colony.  

This skua took exception to me having a walk on the Hut Point trail late one evening.  I was divebombed several times before I was able to move on and get out of the way.  

The skua at Cape Royds seemed to be even more aggressive still, but this is likely because they were protecting nests.  I captured two photos of this one (with a wide angle lens) as it came within just a few inches of my head while visiting the penguin colony.  

 Unlike most people at McMurdo, I find the skua an amazing bird.  They spend half of their time off the coast of North America as far north as the Aleutian Islands, and then head south to breed in Antarctica. They feed mostly on fish in the open ocean but take to scavenging fairly well.  They are the southernmost nesting bird in the world and one has even been seen at the South Pole Station.  I spent a little time watching some nesting birds.  There were five nests that I knew of around McMurdo Station. Three of the five produced young birds and the other two failed.  Skua have a reputation of eating their own young and preying on the young of other birds, but I did not see this type of behavior in them.

Here a mother sits with her chick in the nest.

I observed one nest in which the mother bird appeared to be sitting on eggs for many weeks.  Even after all the other nests had chicks running around, this one bird was still sitting on a nest.  I went back to the nest a few days later and got close enough to see that the mother had been sitting on a frozen egg and a dead chick.  I believe she had been sitting there for as long as a month, but would not leave her nest.  This is unusual behavior for any bird, especially one that has a reputation of eating its own young.  

It is important to note that my observations of these birds were done from a long way off and the photos of the birds attacking me were shot when working directly with science groups, or when walking on open trails near McMurdo Station.  As soon as the birds showed aggressive behavior I left the area immediately.  The photos of the nestling were shot with a telephoto lens and at no point did the parent bird react to my presence.   In other words:  No birds were harmed in the making of these photos.

Captain Scott's Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans, Antarctica by Alasdair Turner Photography

I visited the Terra Nova hut yesterday on a trip out to Cape Evans.  This hut is the biggest of the three historic huts here on Ross Island, and is probably the most interesting to visit.  For more information about the hut check the Antarctic Heritage Trust website here.  

The Scott expeditions were known for their great advancement of science, and the inside of the hut shows this.    Several lab areas were present in the hut.  

Seal Blubber

Penguin Eggs


Expedition dog.  Still chained to the wall.