17 January, 2001
I am hauling two full white 10 gallon water containers down a winding path. The water is for one of the long term experiments being conducted at Lake Hoare. Just about everything in Antarctica is done different than you would at your home; even the paths one follows to get from point A to point B.
Soils are what we came to study, to be more exact the top 10 centimeters of the soil. This is where the biology is occurring. As a result disturbed soils are useless. To prevent against disturbing a potential study site, trails are marked and followed in a single file line. If their is no trail, which there usually isn't, then the naturally occurring polygon cracks are used as walking paths. The polygon cracks on the surface of the dry valleys are a result of the freeze/thaw cycle of water that occurs below the surface of the soil. These polygon patterns are stunning when seen from the air. When used as footpaths however, it usually means you circle where you want to go before you get there.
Being careful where you place your foot wasn't always the case in the dry valleys. In the past, researchers and explorers hiked wherever they wanted. The prevalent attitude of the time was that I am one person, how much damage can I cause. It is the same human attitude that has gotten us into our current environmental situation around the world.
For this is a place where time seems to stand still. Even dead seals found in the valleys are often hundreds if not thousands of year old. These seals are mummified and often appear as if they died yesterday. This is a result of the extreme temperatures and climate found here.
The slogan that best fits this place is "pack it in, pack it out". This code of conduct even applies to having a pee bottle. A bottle that you want clearly marked when you also brought lemon/lime Gadorade in the same style nalgene bottle.
Preservation of this delicate environment is poised to change in the coming years. With the increase in adventure travel, Antarctica is now high on the list of extreme places to visit. Outside magazine listed a hike around Taylor Valley as one of the top 50 hikes to take. Additionally, two tour companies, for the price of 20,000 American dollars, will take you on a cruise to Antarctica using refitted Soviet Ice Breakers. What better way to impress people at your next dinner party. Not only will you visit McMurdo, see the explorer huts (complete with preserved seal blubber) and penguins but the two helo's onboard your cruise ship will fly you into Taylor Valley so you can stretch your legs. It is tough to enforce rules when everybody has different objectives.
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