By Everen T. Brown
Note: This article was originally published in the December 1997 Issue of PANORAMA, The Journal of the International Association of Panoramic Photographers
On November 22, 1996, I left the Salt Lake City International Airport armed with two Globuscope panoramic cameras, a digital video camera, two suitcases overflowing with film and videotape, and one oversized duffel bag with the few clothes that I could still pack inside it. I was already over every standard airline check-in allowance that has been known to skycaps worldwide.
I had to pack for an expedition, since I would be going on one… sixty-six days circumnavigating the entire Antarctic continent. All 12,565 miles of it, I would spend over two months sightseeing and photographing the perimeter of the last place on earth. I would not have any chance to buy film, videotape, or get anything repaired since civilization was far behind. After a flight to Santiago and on to the Falkland Islands, I would board a Russian icebreaker, the Kapitan Khlebnikov. Now a leftover of the cold war, this Russian ship has been privatized and is chartered for travel tours and expeditions. This would be one of a handful of trips ever to successfully circumnavigate the continent.
Saying farewell to the “green foliage” of Port Stanley, this would be our last sighting of civilization as we know it. We would spend three days sailing through the Drake Passage as we inch closer to Antarctica. We make our first landing at the South Orkney Islands. Penguins at last!
We continue through the Weddell Sea for six days before we reach land again. Along the way, we cross the Antarctic Circle. We are now officially in another time and world… For it is summer in Antarctica, the sun simply circles the horizon, dipping ever slightly, but never really setting.
As a child I dreamt of a place where the sun would never set. A place that your parents would never demand that you go to sleep, since it would be as bright as noontime, at three o’clock in the morning. I have entered that magical space. This would be a highlight of the cruise, having twenty-four hours of light to photograph panoramic views. The sun would give me energy to keep going in the wee hours of the morning. Over fifty-six landings would be made on this trip. With three helicopters, plus a fleet of zodiacs we had plenty of time ashore. A few of my favorite stops are outlined below.
Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf on the “far” side of the continent. It is home to a fabulous Emperor penguin rookery. If you have ever wondered what you do or see in the Antarctic, come here and you will encounter dramatic scenery and extremely tame animals.
The blue ice caves frame a grand backdrop for a group of Emperor penguins who grow in excess of thirty inches high. Scullin and Murray Monoliths are Antarctica at its most remote. It was even a first for our expedition leaders who have spent over twenty years in this area.
After waiting for the right weather for the helicopters, we begin flights to the top of Scullin. Famous for sheer cliffs that provide nesting spots for 157,000 pairs of Antarctic Petrels (birds). These birds flutter in groups like a monarch butterfly migration mating dance. Scullin is rugged and unforgiving. You must watch every step as you wander about taking panoramics from ledges. The scenery is intoxicating. Six hours in the cold fly by. I don’t want to leave; I am on the last helicopter out.
Holidays are celebrated with great fanfare. Thanksgiving, Christmas with a visit from Santa, and soon it is New Years. Ushering in 1997 with a multi-course feast and dancing the night away in a helicopter hangar turned discotheque!
Some of our stretches at sea can last up to eight days. The ever changing scenery keeps us fascinated. We brush up on Antarctic history with lectures and plenty of time for reading and research. If there ever were a place in Antarctica that could be dubbed “World Park Antarctica” it would be Franklin Island.
Abundant wildlife, spectacular scenery, and a variety of unexpected color! If access were easy, this would be a theme park at the bottom of the world! The visits to the historic huts of the early explorers were nearly scrubbed due to weather. Luckily, the weather changed and we made it to Robert Falcon Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, then on to the picturesque hut of Ernest Shackleton at Cape Royds. The New Zealand Historic Trust has renovated these huts and they are completely furnished with artifacts inside. You expect one of the weary explorers to return “home” any moment!
The Dry Valleys are home to many a NASA experiment replicating the Martian surfaces. It has not rained here in over two million years, but the day before our visit, the wind blew snow particles around, giving the appearance of fresh snow. Stops were made at a variety of research stations and bases. From a historic first-ever visit to the South African station to the totally underground German station, we are constantly surprised by the amount of work and support that is required for each nations endeavor.
The Russians have abandoned various sites. The Japanese, New Zealanders, Australians, and French have a very active presence in the Antarctic. American tax dollars are put to good use at McMurdo Base, complete with a scientific center with modern aquariums and laboratories. It is a self-sustaining city of 1200 people in the summer months.
At the Australian Base of Casey, I stumbled upon a pieced together, black and white panoramic photo of the base taken some twenty years earlier, and framed (see photo). Panoramic photography graces the walls on all seven continents! Cruising via the Antarctic Peninsula, we head back towards civilization. Arriving back in Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands, I feel as though a dream is coming to an end. My total film count: 311 rolls of film exposed, 269 of these rolls in full 360 degree panoramic format. 56 hours of videotape shot.
Keeping the Globuscopes warm, I have no problem with them. Since they are spring driven and do not require batteries, they make my life so much easier. The video camera batteries held up better than expected, but still had to be replaced frequently due to the cold.
I take my final panoramic shots of the Falkland Islands, complete with the “green foliage” we had not seen for so long. Then on to Santiago, Chile and the shock of returning to big city civilization. The noise levels take a little getting used to. I experience “nightfall”. I am back to the nine to five workaday world. I am now home.
More images taken by Everen T. Brown during his circumnavigation
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