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Monday, March 28, 2011

We Experience the Desert Freeze with Ron and Talma

I met Ron and Talma at Chez Eugene for our star gazing tour. It turns out they are veteran travelers with many exotic destinations under their belt. I found out that Ron is a big fan of Sir Ernest Shackelton, the British explorer who tried to be first to the South Pole in 1914. Instead his ship, the wooden sailing vessel "Endurance", became ice bound in the Weddell Sea, kicking off one of the greatest adventures of all time.
Shackelton's adventure is retold in a number of books, perhaps best in his own "South". This is the kind of hair-raising story where on every page I would read something that caused me to leap up and shout, "That's impossible." (No exaggeration.) If you haven't read about Shackelton's adventures you owe it to yourself to get his book. Shackelton failed at all of his goals, but was perhaps the greatest expedition leader of his time. Not a single man was lost on his star-crossed voyage. Among his accomplishments in rescuing his men were sailing the fearsome Drake Passage alone in a dinghy (not possible); navigating precisely enough to end up on South Georgia Island (not possible); and crossing South Georgia Island from the west to the east side without climbing gear (not possible), a feat that would not be attempted again (with climbing gear) until 1950.

But I digress. Ron and Talma have been to South Georgia Island twice. Shackelton is buried there, after dying tragically at early age from a heart attack. South Georgia Island, which used to be a British whaling station and the "gateway" to the Antarctic, is one of the most remote, rugged and beautiful places on earth. They've also sledged across northern Greenland, sleeping outdoors in -40* C weather.

They (We all) were cold when we went out to my observing plateau, Talma spending most of the time in the car. She was a good sport to come along. Needless to say, it wasn't for being thin skinned that they were cold. Lack of warm clothing will do it every time. The desert, especially in winter, is very cold at night, and we had a stiff wind blowing last night. I would say the wind chill may have been in the 20s, one of the coldest nights of the winter in Mitzpe Ramon. So, if you want to go star gazing in the winter with us, bring plenty of warm clothing.

Nevertheless, we had a excellent, mostly clear and dark night for our star tour. Shackelton probably had it darker and clearer, but we got home in 10 minutes, without having to sail the Drake Passage.

Talma and Ron

And remember to keep on lookin' up!

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