Archive for February, 2011

Packing for Antarctica. What worked. What didn’t.

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I did a lot of research on what to pack for this trip since you can’t really run out to the nearest store to pick up something you left at home.  Here are just a few of the links that I found helpful in preparing for the trip. (The most detailed list I found)

They go over the basics like bring layers, a warm hat, extra batteries, etc.  All good advice which we followed and were very comfortable for our trip.  I won’t go duplicate the good work they did but I will go over a couple of items that we found indispensable.

One of our favorite pieces of gear were our muck boots.  This advice was courtesy of the The Traveling Richters blog.  The Arctic Sport Hi-cut by Muck Boots are the ones I would recommend.  They are very warm, comfortable and are great for hiking around antarctica.  They are pretty big and are difficult to pack but it’s worth finding a way.

Another must have items is a nice pair of clothes.  I had one pair of ice climbing gloves that were supposed to be made to handle cold and wet environments.  They didn’t work well at all and were stuffed back in the bag after the first day.  The best gloves (especially for photographers) are the OR Meteor Mitts.  They come with a removeable fleece liner with flaps that can be pulled down so you fingers are free to work a camera.

Next most important thing is to keep your head and face warm.  The Loki Liner Hat did the trick for us.  The big red parka is the other piece of gear that we grew fond of.  It is supplied by Lindblad is one of the warmest winter jackets we’ve ever worn.  We will be keeping them for quite some time.

Onto the camera gear.  Apologies for bad iphone photo but all my other cameras were all laid out trying to find their way into one camera bag.

Gear list:

  • Canon 5D mark II
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 30D (converted to infrared)
  • Canon G11
  • 24-105 F4
  • 70-200 F4
  • TS-E (tilt shift) 24mm
  • 100-400mm
  • Sigma 10-22
  • 1.4x extender
  • 580 EXII flash with ST-E2 transmitter
  • Remote camera triggers
  • Gitzo 2524 tripod
  • Really Right Stuff ballhead
  • Nikon MONARCH X 10.5×45 Binoculars
  • Nikon MONARCH 10×56 Binoculars
  • Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA backup drives X2
  • Blower, battery charges, cleaning cloths, misc camera stuff
  • All packed into a Gura Gear Kiboko backpack (best camera bag ever)
  • Large Cabela’s Boundary Waters dry bag backpack.  I bought this based on a recommendation from because he used this bag in Antarctica to put his Kiboko in when doing landings on the Zodiac. From my experience, the dry bag is not necessary.  The Kiboko can easily repel whatever little amount of water may get splashed over the side.  The Cabela is a nice bag but its overkill for this trip.

Yes, it all fit… barely.  The Kiboko can really hold a lot of gear.

If I were to go back to Antarctica I would only do a few things different from a camera gear perspective.

1) I would bring a laptop.  Normally, I don’t travel with a laptop because I’d rather enjoy the destination rather than spending time at a computer editing photos.  However, for a trip like this it’s worth it because you can get critics from the photo experts on board.  They also had a photo gallery at the end of the trip were you could show off your work.  Basically, everyone just setup their laptop in the lounge and put their photos in slideshow mode for people to look at.

2) I would bring a Canon 500mm F4 lens.  The 100-400mm lens I brought is a fantastic lens but there were times when the light was low and the wildlife was far off.  The extra 100mm and 1 more stop of light would have helped me a get a few shots I couldn’t have got otherwise.  The 500mm is massive lens but it wouldn’t be to much of a hassle because it would be most useful when shooting from the ship.

3) I would have used my tripod more often for creating panoramas.  I did many hand held panorama shots and a lot of them turned out well but I would have got more keepers if I took the time to setup on a tripod and do a proper pano.

GPS tracks in Antarctica

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I thought it would be pretty cool to record our tracks with a GPS for our trip to Antarctica.  I’ve tried to record GPS tracks before on other trips using my Garmin but it was always battery hog and it was very inconvenient to keep it charged and turned on all the time.  For this trip I thought it would be worth it so I searched for a Garmin map of Antarctica.  After a bit of searching I found there wasn’t one made by garmin but I did find a free one  here After a couple of hours of messing around trying to get it loaded onto my Garmin I found out that all the Garmin GPS devices don’t support maps above or below 60 degrees.  This rules out Antarctica completely.  The GPS will be able to give you the coordinates but it won’t show on the map.  Pretty stupid design Garmin!!

Then I found this cool little gadget call the “Travel Recorder XT” by Qstar.  It’s a simple little thing that just records your tracks.  No display.  1 on/off switch.  Nothing fancy.  Just records where you’ve been and the battery life is much better than any Garmin GPS.  Of course this one turned out not to be perfect either.  I kept it on most of the trip but didn’t realized until I got home (no display to check if it was working) that it didn’t record very accurately that far south.  The tracks were all over the place.  Didn’t record anything at all in other places.  Really not very usable.

In the end, the pictures of the charts with the route drawn in with a marker proved to be the easiest to use and most accurate way to show where we’ve been.

Chart of our Antarctica voyage

Chart of our Antarctica voyage

I used these to update my travel map at the top of my blog.  Not exactly what I had in mind but when technology fails you can always do things old school with a pen and paper.

Antarctica – 12/27 & 28 – Passing back through the Drake Passage

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Hope you enjoyed the brief break about Antarctica with a couple posts about our long weekend in Tibet. Now back to finishing up the trip report to Antarctica…

NatGeo Explorer crashes through waves

The journey back through the Drake passage was A LOT more exciting this time.  We had some pretty large swells as you can see from the pictures above.  There weren’t nearly as many people walking around the ship for the 2 day trip back to Ushuaia, Argentina.  I guessing a lot of them were in the cabin hugging the toilet ;)

I was doing fine so I spent some more time photographing the sea birds following the ship.

Albatross following the NatGeo explorer

Sea birds following the NatGeo explorer

We then had the pleasure of hearing another talk by Peter Hillary.  This time he talked about the krisis on K2.  I’m surprised he is able to talk about this event because of the tragic nature of the trip.  He was the sole survivor of the group of 8 climbers that tried to summit K2 in 1995.  I’m glad he has the courage to tell this gripping and painful story.

Peter Hillary slide show about the K2 krisis in 1995

We also had some time to chat with Peter and get him to sign a copy of his new book.  In the Ghost Country: A Lifetime Spent on the Edge. I haven’t read it yet (sorry Peter) but I will get to it soon.  I read most books on my Ipad now but one of the problems with that is you can’t really get authors to sign a digital version.

Picture with Peter Hillary

There was also a talk by Ira Block on his assignment to photograph Naomi Uemuera’s solo expedition by dog sled to the North Pole.  Ira is a great speaker and teacher.  I will definitely try to meet up with him again for one of his workshops or maybe even another Lindblad Expedition he is on.

Photo with Ira Block. (all good photographers are bald :)

and then before you know it the port captain from Ushuaia borded our ship to take her into port…

Returning to Ushuaia

Video Slide Show – Tibet & The Panda Base

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Click here to view video slide show on youtube.

Also check out the galleries with a few more pictures that what I’ve posted on the blog…

Faces of Tibet

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

B&W - Faces of Tibet

Even more Faces of Tibet here.

A long weekend in Tibet

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Sunset on Potala Palace in Tibet

Tibet is a beautiful country that has a had an unfortunate past.  I’m not going to going into details since I’m not an expert on the topic but I would encourage you to learn more about the plite of Tibetan people at They are some of the nicest, hardest working people we’ve met in our travels.  The world should know their story.

We only had 4 days in Tibet so we had to restrict our travels to around Lhasa.  The first stop was to the Jokang Temple.  There were thousands of pilgrims from all over Tibet praying, walking around the temple, and standing in line for hours to get inside.

Pano in square in front of Jokang Temple

From the top of the temple you can get a very good view of the market with Potala Palace in the background.

Lhasa Market in front of Potala Palace

We spent a lot of time wandering around the market.  The sights, smells, and colors were all overwhelming.  Miki also enjoyed filling her backpack with various souverniers.

Lhasa Market

Selling spices in Lhasa Market

The faces of the Tibetian people were captivating.  I took hundreds of portraits and could have stayed there for days taking hundreds more.  I’ll do a separate post later just show the Faces of Tibet.

Faces of Tibet

After visiting Jokang Temple we went on to visit the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama.  The Jokang Temple and market were much more interesting but it was a nice afternoon stroll.

Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama

The next day we got up early to go to the main site in Lhasa.  The Potala Palace (also pictured at the top of the post).  It’s a little bit of a hike to get to the top and the altitude makes it even harder but the views from the top are worth it.  You can easily see all of Lhasa.  In the far distance is the least popular monument in Tibet… the monument to commemorate the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”.  It’s constantly guarded by Chinese Military to make sure the Tibetans don’t destroy it.

Panoramic view from the top of Potala Palace

We went to the Sera Monastery (the second largest monastery) in the afternoon.  Not a very photogenic place and cameras weren’t allowed in the areas that were.  The next day I came down with food poisoning so I spent most of the time laying in the car while Miki enjoyed the sites of Tibet.

Pano of Gan Dhan Monastery

We went to the Gan Dhan Monastery in the morning.  The monastery is over 4,000 meters above sea level.  (That is higher than the top of Mount Fuji).  The high altitude in combination with my food poisoning wasn’t a pleasant experience.  We didn’t stay there long…

We attempted to go to the Dark Yerpa Meditation Caves but had to turn back after I spent some time curled over a rock getting rid of the last remaining bits of Yak Curry.  (Picture courtesy of my caring wife ;)

Yak Curry + High Altitude + Winding Road= bent over rock next to cow shit

After I was done with that we visited a Tibetian family were Miki was served some home made beer.

Visit to home of Tibet Family. Served home made beer.

The day was topped of by Miki throwing prayer flags into the air at a top of the pass on the way back to Lhasa.

Throwing prayer flags in Tibet

The next day we boarded a plane back to Hong Kong with a short stopover in Chengdu to visit the Panda Base.

St Regis Lhasa – not ready for guests… yet.

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

View from the St Regis Presidential Suite

The St Regis Lhasa just opened in Lhasa, Tibet so I thought we’d use some starwood points to go check it out when we had some time off over chinese new year.  The hotel opened back in November but in my opinion, its still not ready to receive guests.  Construction was still going on, the internet had connection problems, the lights would randomly turn on in the room (usually in the middle of the night), the electrical sockets needed to be fixed to plug my computer in, the elevator bank nearest our room wasn’t working, there was no directory in the room, they only had a trial room service menu, and the pool and spa weren’t open yet.  However, the staff is trying very hard and they will eventually get the hotel up to the St Regis standard… its just not even close to ready yet.  The staff mentioned the hotel was only in the soft opening and the grand opening wasn’t until May.  (Would have been nice for Starwood to mention that on the website before I booked the hotel).

Room tip: there are only 3 rooms in the hotel that have a Potala Palace view.  This is the most disappointing thing about the hotel.  They have designed it for only THREE rooms to have the view that everyone wants.  The presidential suite and the 2 Lhasa suites on either side have the view in the picture above.

We had a deluxe suite which was fantastic but we only had a view of someones laundry drying next door.  Here are pics of our suite.

with a number 5 sticker (that was peeling off).  The number 4 in chinese means death so most hotels label their 4th floors and as the 5th and count up from there.  The St Regis Lhasa uses a sticker to replace the 4th floor and then creates two 5th floors.  You would think they would be able to afford another sticker to cover the second 5th floor with the number 6 :)

A perfect example of the St Regis Lhasa not being ready for guests.  The “4th” floor button was covered over

and some pictures from around the hotel.

I asked the chief butler if I could check out the presidential suite to take some shots of the potala palace at sunset and he was more than happy to help out.  The presidential suite is huge…. I mean really huge.  He wasn’t sure of the exact price but said it would be over 5,000 USD per night.  It only has two bedrooms so technically it could only sleep 4 but you could have 50 friends over for a party and have room to spare.

pics of the presidential suite.

Panda Base – Chengdu, China

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Taking a brief break from the Antarctica posts to share our trip to Tibet and Chengdu, China over Chinese New Year last weekend.  I’ll finish up the Antartica posts after I finish this brief trip review from Tibet and Chengdu.

Panda Base

Through a comical series of flight cancelations by Air China (an unbelievably disorganized airline) we had an unexpected free afternoon in Chengdu.  A quick google search turned up the Panda Base.  We’ve never seen Panda’s before so I figured it was worth a visit.  I also found that you could get your picture taken with a Panda which I thought would be very unique experience.

Baby Panda at the Chengdu Panda Base

Once we arrived at the Panda Base we quickly went to the Nursery where they kept the baby Pandas.  This was also the location where you could take photos with the baby pandas.  I knew you had to pay extra to take a picture with them but was a little surprised when they asked for a $150 USD “donation”.   I thought that was pretty steep… especially for China.  I knew Miki would like it so I went ahead and paid the donation fee.

Our time soon came up to take a photo with the baby Panda but I got stopped at the door and they said you only paid for one.  I explained that I didn’t want to hold the Panda.  I just wanted to take the pictures of Miki holding it.  My negotiation skills failed.  I had to hand over my camera to one of the staff so he could take the pictures.  I would have gone in with Miki but I was out of money and the nearest ATM was a 30 minute drive away.  I didn’t care much about holding a Panda but I didn’t want to hand over my Canon 5d Mark II with 24-105 L lens.  I’m pretty controlling over who touches my camera… basically nobody ;)

I did eventually hand over the camera and the pictures were very funny.  The baby Panda was a girl named Ya Yun.  She was born on September 9th, 2010.

Baby Panda "Ya Yun" at the Chengdu Panda Base

The Panda seemed to be pretty hungry because it kept trying to take a bite out of Miki.

The first attack…

Panda nibble #1

The staff had to step in to help remove the panda from her cheek.

Panda nursery staff saving Miki from a panda attack

Maybe Miki didn’t learn to keep her face away from the Panda’s mouth?  Maybe the Panda was very hungry?  Maybe Miki smelled like Bamboo?  I don’t know but the Panda went in for another nibble and had to be removed again.  She got a good hold of Miki this time.

Panda nursery staff saving Miki from a panda attack... again.

Obviously the panda couldn’t fit Miki’s whole cheek in her mouth so next she went after something a little more bit sized… her nose.

Baby panda taking a bit of Miki's nose

and she had to be rescued again.

Panda nursery staff saving Miki from a Panda attack... AGAIN

The Panda wanted to show Miki there were no hard feelings so she gave Miki a nice goodbye kiss.  A kiss from a panda with some crazy little beady eyes and a few teeth are showing too… we can just say it was a nice goodbye kiss ;)

Ya Yun's goodbye kiss

The “attacks” look worse than they were.  The panda was only playing and none of the bites were hard.  Even though the main destination of our weekend away was Tibet, this was the highlight of the trip.  The Panda Base is a nice little zoo (if you can even call it a zoo since they only have pandas).  If you happen to be in Chengdu you should definitely visit.

On the way out of the Panda Base there was a very pathetic looking man selling Panda junk souvenirs.  I really hope he lost a bet with his friends or he’s on some candid camera show.  Really… what grown man would even wear that stuff.

A very pathetic looking guy selling panda stuff. I bet his parents are proud.

Here are a few more pics from around the Chengdu Panda Base.

Antarctica – 12/26 – Port Lockroy & Cuverville Island

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Penguin in front of Port Lockroy

We visited Port Lockroy in the morning.  Port Lockroy was a British base in Antarctica from 1944 to the mid 60s.  It was then abandoned and fell into disrepair until the British Antarctic Heritage Trust stepped in to restore the base.  It is restored very well and shows how some of the early scientists lived in Antarctica.  It’s only staffed during the summer months.  It’s pretty isolated but the 4 girls on the island get plenty of ships coming in to visit.  They also have a couple thousand penguins and beautiful landscapes to keep them occupied.

Port Lockroy Landscape

It also serves as a post office and has a nice little gift shop.  Yep, there is a even a gift shop in Antarctica where you can buy crappy souvenirs that your wife will save for years.

After Miki mailed her postcard we were off to Cuverville Island.  This island had some amazing landscapes and I went a little crazy with the panoramic shots.

Cuverville Island Panoramic

Cuverville Island Panoramic

We spent most of the time on Cuverville just sitting on the beach watching the penguins coming in and out of the water.  We’ve spent so much of the trip running from one side of an island to the other but just sitting there on the beach was one of the best experiences.  It also provided some of the best chances to photograph even more penguins.

Gentoo Penguin - water beads

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin running out of the water

There was also a large group of male Skuas about that were making a lot of noise.  Lots of fighting, flapping of wings and just general chaos.  The penguins didn’t seem so bothered by this group probably because they focused on showing off to the other skuas rather that eating penguins.


Miki bought these penguin socks and for the whole trip she kept telling me she wanted to get a photo of her socks next to the penguins.  After realizing she wasn’t joking I got a couple shots for her.

Penguin Socks

This was our last day on the Antarctic continent so we wanted to squeeze every last second we could out of our time on the island.  I was able to get a few last landscapes in before the final Zodiac left.

B&W Cuverville Island Landscape

B&W Cuverville Island Landscape

iceberg landscape

The final panoramic shot was taken with my infrared converted 30D.

Infrared Cuverville Panoramic

Daily Expedition Report and more pics after the break