Homathko Part 4 – Leaving the Icefield

Given the sustained bad weather we’d been sitting through, we were surprised when the forecast came true and blue skies appeared. It took a long time to dig everything out of the snow, but eventually we were packed and bid farewell to the igloo. The 2-3′ high ridges of snow that had built up between the tents were impressive and showed a fair amount of snow had been moved around during the storm.

We were starting from Sasquatch Pass, where we had left our food cache on the flight in, and figured three days to be a reasonably generous amount of time to get to the Franklin Arm of Chilko Lake, where Roland Class was going to pick us up with his boat.

Immediately after cresting the pass our first obstacle was the Alph Glacier, which passed surprisingly easily despite a steep serac band. Ahead lay the final hanging valley, guarded by very steep slopes. We stopped early in the day so that we could tackle these slopes in the cold of the morning when avalanche risk is much lower.

The second morning we climbed into the hanging valley that would give access to our exit route, swapping skis for crampons on the steep and hard snow. By late morning we found ourselves looking along the long ridge leading to Snowsquall Pass. Our plan was to reach the pass and drop onto the Stilly Glacier by the evening, but below us a series of ramps beckoned invitingly.

We made the decision to get onto the ramps an into the final valley floor as quickly as possible before the sun made the slopes too soft. What followed started as a worrying crossing of big, steep and heavily loaded slopes  but ended as the only good downhill skiing of the trip; good soft spring ego snow allowing long lazy turns despite the steepness of the slope. We then had some fantastic easy angled tree skiing into the head of Nine Mile Creek and, we thought, the trip was pretty much done. Turns out those final nine miles would be the longest of the trip! More in Part Five…

Letter to Liseda Dawnbloom


I know that you are pushing quite hard to get this first expedition underway, but please remember that safety, including your own, should always be the first priority. I realize that we are no longer dealing with students and apprentices. However, that does not negate the real dangers that exist out there. You of all people should know that better than anyone.

Think about it.

I’ll be in my office this weekend and in the city next week if you need anything, including a conversation.

- Tarc

Last fall, Ornithology Collections Manager Paul Sweet was one of a team of Museum researchers who travelled to the island nation of Papua New Guinea on an Explore21 Expedition. Sweet and his colleagues Brett Benz and Chris Raxworthy will be discussing their fieldwork at the next SciCafe on Wednesday, March 4. (If you want to learn more before the talk, you can also read the team’s reports from the field here.) Sweet answered a few questions about his time in the field:

You were in the field for seven weeks on this expedition. How do you prepare for a trip like that?

I’ve led and participated in many expeditions, so I have a packing list ready. You have to be prepared with camping gear like your tent and sleeping bag, as well as equipment to capture and prepare specimens. There’s a visit to the doctor to get inoculations up to date, as well as prescriptions for malaria prophilaxis and antibiotics. But every trip is different. For instance, we knew this was going to be a very wet trip, so gear like a wet bag—a waterproof backpack that rolls closed—was key. And then there’s the research prep, like studying field guides and loading the vocalizations of birds we hope to encounter onto an iPod.

Was there anything you wish you had packed once you were there?

A better pair of hiking boots. I decided not to buy a new pair for this trip, because hiking boots take some time to break in. But the moisture in Papua New Guinea was such that the soles detached from my boots within the first day. So I was stuck hiking in “muck boots,” which are like heavy-duty rain boots. They’re not meant for the heavy hiking we were doing, and they cut my legs up pretty badly.

Read more on the Museum blog.

Today’s peek into the archives shows a dinosaur skull uncovered in 1925 during the Museum’s famed Central Asiatic Expeditions. “Dinosaur skull, Shabarahk Usu, Mongolia, 1925,” was photographed by James B. Shackelford. 

From 1921-1928, the Museum sponsored five expedition seasons exploring Mongolia, especially areas in the Gobi Desert. The expeditions were led by Roy Chapman Andrews a well-known explorer, naturalist and paleontologist. 

Images from these expeditions show the Mongol people the expedition encountered as well as photographs of landscapes, expedition camps, camel and motor caravans, religious structures and many fossil sites, including the first discovery of dinosaur egg.

See the collection of images from the Central Asiatic Expeditions



Desolation Island, Antarctica

Located on the northern fringe of the foggy and windswept South Shetland Islands, Desolation is fringed by treacherous reefs and constantly pounded by the Southern Ocean. Names like “Cape Danger” and “Neck or Nothing Passage” sum up the views of early explorers who charted this godforsaken islet. The chart notes that many of the rocks are probably in the wrong place and may not exist at all.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these facts, Captain Sergei Nesterov brought our ship through the fog banks and reefs before finally the surf-fringed rocks revealed themselves and we were able to lower the boats and head in. A protected landing was found, and soon we were surrounded by the detritus of centuries of shipwrecks and whaling activities. Seals covered every beach and Chinstrap penguin colonies added their cacophony to the surf booming on the rocks. Our Expedition Photographer, Sue Forbes, captured its beautiful yet isolated nature perfectly in the shots above.

We scoured our records but could find no information on this island, relying on the depth sounder, chart and radar to bring ourselves in safely, while those of us in the shore team produced our own map as we explored the island. It’s not often you get the opportunity to visit somewhere so little visited, so little considered and so, well, desolate. 

People frequently ask why it is still important for Museums to collect physical specimens. Collections Dean Scott Schaefer answered:

“[Physical specimens] often represent the only tangible snapshot we have of life on Earth. You might say, “You can sample the genome of a specimen. You can take a photograph of a specimen, won’t that be sufficient?" 

Well, the answer is no. It might be adequate. Those might be excellent photographs. That might be one kind of representation, if you talk about a genome sequence, for example. But it isn’t necessarily sufficient to answer all the types of questions that could potentially be asked about that biodiversity at that place and at that time. So today, it’s just as essential to collect and acquire information about the remaining biodiversity of life on earth as it was 145 years ago when the Museum began building collections.”

Read the whole Q&A with Ichthyologist and Collections Dean Scott Shaefer.