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Dry Valleys: Taylor Valley

No, we have not just slept through the 28th. It did not exist. The date line.

The weather just can’t get better than it is today. That is the opportunity for our longst helicopter operation, the flight into the Dry Valleys, namely Taylor Valley. The Ortelius is in New Harbour, on the western side of McMurdo Sound, pushing its bow firmly against the edge of mile of fast ice separating us from the real coast. Ahead of us we have got the Transantarctic Mountains, this immense mountain chain with countless wild peaks stretching hundreds and hundreds of miles from Cape Adare to well beyond 80 degrees south. And in the middle of it, these weird valleys which are too dry even for the glaciers.

It is a lot of work today for the pilots to fly almost 100 people from Ortelius to Canada Glacier in Taylor Valley. By the way, the last visitors before us, apart from scientists, will also have come from Ortelius, in February 2013. It is, generally speaking, not an overcrowded place.

Canada Glacier, Taylor Valley

As everything here, visits to the Dry Valleys are strictly regulated. There is only one small visitor zone, everything else is generally off limits. The bottom of the large valley is completely covered with ancient moraines, a huge, colourful open air museum of the regional geology, a wide desert. A little meltwater stream is running from the glacier to Lake Fryxell, which is of course frozen. You won’t find any traces of life here, you would have to have a microscope to discover anything alive, with biggest chances for discoveries in the streams or lakes. Don’t expect trout or salmon, though, but hardy microbes. But even some seals have made it up here ages ago, more than 10 km away from the coast, just to find out that life in the Dry Valleys is no good for a seal. The condition their sad remains are in are silent witnesses to the raging sandstorms that are frequent in this hostile place.

Apart from seal mummies and glaciers, the moon must be quite similar, I guess.

Penguins and Orcas, McMurdo Sound

As a contrast, there is plenty of wildlife at the ice edge, where others are cruising with zodiacs, the day is long and leaves time for more than the flight into Taylor Valley. Several pods of Orca are travelling in the channels between the big ice floes, slightly nervously watched by Adelie penguins, who are standing every here and there in small groups. The zodiacs are sometimes in the focus of peaceful attention of these mighty predators. A little walk on one of the ice floes, which measure metres in thickness and are hard as concrete, with Mount Erebus providing a more than appropriate background, rounds the day off.

last modification: 2015-02-18 · copyright: Rolf Stange