I’m excited to report that I’ll be delivering a keynote address to students at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York on November 8th. If you’re in the area (or on campus) I hope to see you there!
As some of you know, I’ve always been protective of my private life, keeping personal matters out of interviews over the years. That said, I feel it’s important to share some news that, while extremely personal, is big enough that those of you who take the time to keep up with what I’m doing will appreciate hearing it from me.
Obviously, my writing / blogging has been sporadic in recent months. This was intentional, as my energies and attention have been elsewhere for much of July, August and September. The reason? Well, in September, at what had to be one of the most magical and elegant weddings in recent history, I got married!
I’ve decided (with my wife, of course) to keep the details of the wedding and the subsequent honeymoon private, but thought I’d share at least this one photo so you could appreciate the nature of the event and the absolutely picture-perfect quality of the ceremony itself. The wedding was in Jerusalem, Israel, a place that has always been very special to me and is now even more so. The guest list was relatively small and we intentionally avoided any media attention.
The wedding itself was special beyond words.
There’s so much more to this trip in Iceland than I can write about. Truthfully, it’s been hard to keep up, as this time of year it’s easy to be outside doing things until 1 or 2am each night. However, this evening’s experience was the perfect end to my 8-days here leading/guiding a trip for Delta Airlines. Thanks to someone who will not be named in print (but you know who you are), I was put in touch with Iceland’s First Lady Dorrit Moussaieff. She and I traded e-mails for a few weeks with the hope that I could make a special visit to Bessastaðir, the President’s residence, with my group. At the last minute, everything came together and this evening I had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting Iceland’s President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.
I first heard President Grimsson speak at The Explorers Club’s Annual Dinner in March, 2005. However, that was to a group of 1000 people at the Waldorf=Astoria. Tonight, it was just me, my group of 18 clients, and the President himself (and his dog Samur).
We had a fantastic time discussing our journey in Iceland, how amazing everything had been, and the special quality of the country. And, of course, we learned a lot about the challenges he faces as the country’s president given the economy and global market fluctuations. All in all, it was an amazing week and I think that I’ll have to return one day with a camera crew in tow so that I can properly document everything all over again. For now, though, I encourage you make the trip to Iceland!
In my continuing quest to fully-explore Iceland and experience all it has to offer, I decided to go whitewater rafting down the Hvítá (pronounced Kveetau) River. Hvítá means “white” in Iceland and for obvious reason — it can churn. But this trip, which I did with the people at Adventure.is, was pretty accessible. The trip began at the Drumbó River basecamp, where I was given a huge BBQ lunch and then the appropriate gear for rafting. Basically, I brought thermal fleece underwear and they provided the rest — waterproof Farmer John-style overalls, booties, helmet and paddle. I then boarded a bus with a large group of fellow participants to the put-in area on the Hvítá. Once there, we went through a basic introduction to whitewater rafting and paddling technique, followed by some in-water practicals. These lessons were about the same as others I’ve gotten in Colorado or Costa Rica: quick, efficient and fairly focused on giving clients the basic moves and commands. Once my boat was under some semblance of control, we took off downriver.
The day was overcast with a slight drizzle, so not the best conditions for appreciating Iceland’s rugged beauty. But it was glorious nonetheless and we all had a fun, if not frozen, time. After 45 minutes of splashing down the rapids, everyone in my boat was pretty chilled. The water, after all, was glacial—the same 37 or so degrees that I was diving in a few days earlier, only this time, we weren’t wearing drysuits. Thankfully, the activity and adrenaline helped.
Two-thirds of the way down the route, the guides steered us through a narrow canyon with 50 foot walls on either side and then into a small eddy where we could climb onto shore. For those intrepid enough to try, we could jump off the cliff and into the water at either of two heights: the lower 25-foot jump or the higher 50-foot jump. I opted for the higher jump. I mean, I’m here, right? Might as well get the most bang for my buck.
The technique, we were told, was to jump straight out from the cliff and keep our arms down by our sides. Then, as we plunged into the water, kick and pull like mad until we broke free of the current and reached the boats on shore. Here you can see someone jumping, and in perfect form.
Unfortunately, the person taking pictures missed my jump, but you get the idea. I have to say that the water wasn’t as cold as I’d expected. By the time I hit it, I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body that I was pretty oblivious to anything else. But I swam to shore, climbed up the bank, and jumped again just to make sure I really appreciated every moment of it.
We then paddled downriver some more and returned to the buses and Drumbo Basecamp, where we could shower and put on dry clothes. Perhaps not the ideal activity for those who like to avoid getting wet or being cold, but I found it thrilling and heartily recommend it. I also recommend a nice dinner in Rekykjavik afterward.
One can’t really spend much time in Southern Iceland (near Reykjavik) without doing the Golden Circle Tour. It would be like going to New York City and skipping the Empire State Building. So today I went for a drive from Reykjavik through Thingvellir until we got to Gullfoss Waterfall, the first stop. Gullfoss means “golden falls” and I suspect the name comes from the way light plays in the mists above Europe’s largest waterfall.
The volume of water is truly awesome, in the literal sense, and one can’t watch the pounding rush of the Hvita’s glacial waters and not feel something special for Iceland’s landscape. Should you go, make sure you take the extra 40-minutes needed to hike out to the edge of the falls, where you can see people in this picture. It’s a simple hike and SO worth the trip.
From Gullfoss, we left the comfort of the highway for the fun and thrill of some off-road driving. In Iceland, they call these vehicles “Super Jeeps” but they’re really Super Land Rovers that are ultra-modified to drive on dirt, snow and lava — and through water. Again, if you ever get the chance, it can be a thrilling way to travel. My favorite part was crashing through the door-high riverbeds.
The next destination was the geothermally-active valley of Haukadalur. The landscape looks very much like Yellowstone National Park - hot pools of bubbling, geothermal water pockmark the landscape and there’s the definite smell of sulfur in the air. The two main attractions are Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir is where the English word geyser comes from—this is the namesake of all erupting springs. The Icelandic word geysir comes from the Old Norse “geysa” which means to gush. Truth is, Geysir herself doesn’t do much gushing these days, but Strokkur delivers a spectacular explosion of geothermal water every 5-10 minutes.
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how suddenly it erupted and how high the water column reached. It’s similar to Old Faithful, only more frequent and not nearly as crowded. Definitely a thumbs up.
After a morning of looking at glacial and geothermal water, it was time to get closer to the Hvita river. In the afternoon, I went whitewater rafting, but that’s for another post.
For those of you who SCUBA dive, here’s an unique opportunity and something to consider doing when you come to Iceland: dive between two continental plates. Once I found out about this, I simply had to do it. To make it happen, I contacted Tobias Klose and his team at Dive.Is, The “Sport Diving School of Iceland.” Hossi, the general manager, made things very easy to coordinate.
This afternoon, Tobias himself picked me up at my hotel and we made the drive out to Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir is a site worth visiting in its own right—the location where the world’s first parliament was held. It’s a magical place to walk around—something I did a few years ago for an episode of Digging for the Truth. But on this trip, we headed to Silfra, a site at the northern end of Lake Thingvellir.
The dive started just after 7pm, which would be late for most dive trips. In Iceland, though, one can do this as it really doesn’t get dark this time of year. So we got in the water at 7:20pm and, for those curious, it was COLD. This is definitely drysuit not wetsuit diving. According to my dive computer, the water was 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 degrees Celsius). Thankfully, the Waterproof suit I was wearing was up to the challenge, as it’s a proper arctic drysuit.
We descended into the water using a ladder that I’m guessing Dive.is and other dive companies installed to ease access for clients. Once in, we swam just a few feet to a spot where, if you wanted to, you could dive down about 15 feet and stretch your arms out so that you could literally touch two continental plates at the same time. It’s the only place on the planet, I think, where you can do this! Thanks to the ever shifting nature of plates, the gap separates about an inch more each year. In 15-20 years, it may be harder to span the distance with your arms, but for now it made for a fun experience:
Once that was done, the rest of the dive was just a swim along the channel, south to Lake Thingvellir. Before we got to the lake (max depth approx 375 feet), we turned east and swam into a shallower section of mostly broken rocks and algae.
My average depth for the dive was 20.8 ft, max depth of 47.5 ft. What was truly astounding, though, was the visibility. The water in Lake Thingvellir comes from glacial water that is filtered through volcanic soil for over 50 years before it comes up into the lake through springs. This makes it essentially the cleanest, purest water on earth. The cold temperature and purity combine to create the greatest visibility I’ve ever dove in — they say you can see 300 feet in the lake, and I believe them. In the past, my best viz dives have been in the caves and caverns of the Yucatán Peninsula, but this completely blew that away. And what was even more interesting was that if you wanted to, you could drink the water while diving by letting it slip past your (slightly frozen) lips on your regulator. Again, I can’t stress just how much fun this dive was. Next time I’m in Iceland, I’m planning to go back to Silfra again just for the thrill of it.
Assuming all goes well in-studio at NBC on Thursday morning, at some point viewers will be invited to submit expedition ideas for future TODAY show segments. Given that TODAY has almost 6 million viewers, surely some of them are involved in legitimate expeditions for research and scientific discovery, right? So why not have those people submit their pertinent details via this website? My goal is to work with you to highlight exciting and adventurous stories around the globe on a regular basis.
In order for this to happen, though, there are some guidelines / criteria that will need to be honored. Here are a few of them, subject to change:
1. Any expedition I participate in must have a scientific purpose and be grounded in the quest for some type of knowledge. We’re not talking about a quest to drink margaritas and study the scientific effects of tequila (although…). I’m looking for real expeditions to study new terrain, learn about new lifeforms, explore the fringes of familiarity. Or it could be about new technology and how that’s contributing to our knowledge of the world. But active is better (see #5 below).
2. Ideally, the expedition should be affiliated with a university, institute, foundation etc. or at the very least a 501(c) not-for-profit. This helps us avoid what could be a commercial for a guide service or a fishing boat operator.
3. Given my travel schedule, it’s likely I will be in the field / on site for no more than 5 days. This may change, but it’s best for now if expeditions can accommodate my coming in late / going out early (I can help with those logistics).
4. The expedition must be able to accommodate a small camera crew. In tight spots, I can film things solo, but it’s better all-around if I can travel with at least 2 other people. Permits and lodging should take that into account.
5. Expeditions should be TV-friendly (visual in nature) and ideally adventurous. If I can rappel, climb, hike, paraglide, dive, etc. with your team, that’s much better than just walking and talking.
Those are just some of my initial thoughts. If you feel like you might have a possible segment for me, please click here and submit the information in the boxes provided. I’m not sure we’ll respond to everyone—likely just those we feel are suitable. But I encourage you to submit your details and we’ll see where it goes. Thanks!
I just got an email from Bob Poole, one of the most talented DPs working in the nature documentary space (for a list of shows he’s done, click here). I haven’t (yet) had the chance to work with Bob, but there’s always next time….
Bob was principal cinematographer on Great Migrations, the new epic nature series from National Geographic that’s launching worldwide on Nov 7th. Here’s the trailer:
My other friends in the industry who worked on it say that it kicks Planet Earth’s butt. I’m certainly tuning in on Sundays to watch what looks like a masterpiece. Bravo, Bob and Nat Geo for all your hard work making this!
I’ve spent the last 5 or so days in Jerusalem to attend the Israel Museum’s annual International Council. Over 520 people from 15 countries have flown here to attend it—the largest Council ever. The reason for the record turnout and all the excitement? In just a couple of months, on July 25th, the museum will reveal the results of a three-year, $100-million renewal project. The attendees of the Council represent major donors, sponsors, supporters and others who have played a critical role in this project. As part of the Council, I was honored to visit the museum a little early to witness the final stages of the construction and hear about the design features from the people who led it (for photos of everything, see my Twitter feed and photos on Twitpic).
The entire project was, in large part, the vision of James S. Snyder, the museum’s director since 1997. Under his astute insights and careful watch, and with the architectural expertise and sensitivity of Jamie Carpenter and the people at James Carpenter Design Associates in New York, the entire campus has been revamped. Not only have so many of the old buildings been completely redone, but new buildings have been brilliantly inserted into the campus and the architectural elevations in a way that both improves the flow of the visitors’ experience and enhances the original vision of the museum’s design by Alfred Mansfield in 1965. Things that weren’t possible 45 years ago but are now possible today were done. For example, the windows that allow Jerusalem’s special light to come into the galleries couldn’t be transparent back in the 60’s because the UV rays of the strong sun in Israel could have damaged the artwork. But today, thanks to advances in glass technology and multi-layered filters, new glass panes (and therefore, new lighting) give each gallery and the artwork within an elegant glow.
In addition to straightforward changes like the glass, the campus has been reorganized, consolidated (in some places) and expanded (in others) so that building functions are more logical and the flow across the campus more efficient. Everything has been streamlined, important for an encyclopedic museum that sits on 20+ acres. In honor of the renewal, two unique pieces were commissioned by the museum. The first is a spectacular 9-ton Anish Kapoor piece entitled “Turning the World Upside Down [Jerusalem]” that reflects the sky to the ground and the ground to the sky. Honestly, it’s mesmerizing to walk around it and watch the reflection change.
You’ll find the second commissioned piece at one end of the all-new “Route of Passage” tunnel carved into the very bedrock of the hill. It’s an installation by Olafur Eliasson called “Whenever the Rainbow Appears” and will greet people as they approach the museum galleries from below-ground. I wasn’t able to see the real piece (only a temporary placeholder), as it hasn’t been installed yet, but the effect should be pretty incredible—a 50’ by 8’ spectrum of colors celebrating the rainbow that signified the covenant between God and Abraham in the Bible.
And then there are all the other exhibits in the newly refurbished wings and galleries of the museum, including the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing (my favorite). Honestly, if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem or even anywhere near the Holy Land, you should give yourself a full day or two to walk around the Israel Museum. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to return in late July for the official grand unveiling.
Just returning from 10 days of technical diving in the Florida Keys. Dive trainer Richie Kohler, and co-instructors Gary Mace (of Conch Republic dive shop) and Cliff Diamond (of Empire Divers in NYC), were running a course for the past 10-days, and I tagged along for the fun.
As I’ve mentioned on Twitter and here, I need a certain number of hours on my CCR (closed circuit rebreather) in order to take the next level of training, so I had 8 days of diving with no real agenda except to enjoy the dives on the reefs and wrecks of the Upper Keys. Places like Conch Wall, Davey Crocker, and Molasses sprang to life with everything from large Spotted Eagle rays, Nurse sharks, Sea turtles and Goliath Groupers to small Sergeant Majors and nudibranchs like the Red-Tipped Sea Goddess. And then there were the artificial reefs—the wrecks!—that make diving the Keys so fun. I dove the Bibb, the Duane, the Spiegel Grove, the Eagle—enjoying the swim-throughs on some and doing proper wreck penetration on others (Note: you must be trained for this). And then yesterday, on my final dive, Richie and I went on a fantastic dive into the very bowels of the Bibb, heading as far aft as one could, to the deepest part of the ship. We suspect no one has been in that room since the ship was sank on November 28, 1987.
All in all, it was a truly memorable trip, and I’m hopeful I can do even more fun diving later in the year—including drysuit dives so I can start exploring Arctic waters. And, yes, I need to get an underwater camera so I can share more of the experience. Will do so before my next trip. Stay tuned…
French skipper Franck Cammas and his nine-men crew set a new record this past weekend, sailing around the world in 48 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 55 seconds. They beat the previous record by 2 days, 8 hours, and 35 minutes, sailing 28,523 miles at an average speed of 24.6 knots in the 105 ft trimaran the Groupama 3.
On winning the Jules Verne Trophy, Cammas remarked “I think we could do a lot better but I’ll let someone else beat our record first as I don’t really see the appeal of battling against myself.” Ah, such modesty…
Interesting to note the improvements in race times in this competition over the past 20 years:
1993 - 79 days (Commodore Explorer)
1994 - 74 days (ENZA)
1997 - 71 days (Sport Elec)
2002 - 64 days (Orange)
2004 - 58 days (Cheyenne)
2005 - 50 days (Orange II)
2010 - 48 days (Groupama 3)
Makes one wonder at what point the technology of better navigational equipment and lighter/stronger ship materials will peak and times won’t be so easy to beat. Maybe 42 days? Regardless, it’s a remarkable commitment to dedicate oneself to… Congratulations to Skipper Cammas and his team!
I love vintage cameras. I have a small collection of them at my place in Utah and marvel at the beauty of their construction. Laid out in a row, one can see how they’ve evolved, from the large folding plate-film dinosaurs to the smaller (but still pretty big) cartridge and roll-film models, all the way down the line to today’s featherweight and film-free digitals. One hundred years ago, people would have thought you mad if you talked about a film-free camera. Where would the image be stored? But I digress.
The hunt is now on for a very special old camera: A Kodak Vest Pocket Model B. But not just any Kodak Vest Pocket Model B. People are on the hunt for the Vest Pocket cameras carried by climbers George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine on their attempt to summit Mt. Everest in 1924. Here’s the last photo taken of them before they disappeared on June 8, 1924.
In the upper left inset, you can see what a Vest Pocket camera looks like. You can also read more about this particular model here. We know Mallory had this camera with him on the climb (as did Irvine), but when his body was discovered on May 2, 1999, the camera wasn’t found. It’s possible that Irvine had both cameras on him (his body has not yet been found) or that the camera is somewhere nearby. Thus continues the quest to resolve one of the greatest mysteries in mountaineering: Is it possible that Mallory and Irvine got to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1924, almost 30 years earlier than the May 29, 1953 ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay?
When last scene by climber Noel Odell in 1924, the pair were above the Second Step, just 850 feet below the summit and still climbing strong. They never returned. 75 years later, Mallory’s body was found by climber Conrad Anker 2,030 feet below the peak. From its condition and placement, Mallory appeared to have fallen before dying, as you can read from this website: “The fall has dislocated Mallory’s right elbow and the rope is coiled around his chest, breaking his ribs. At some point he breaks his tibia and fibula just above his right foot. He is still sliding face down the mountain, his fingers digging into the rocky ground. He slides off another ledge and his forehead smashes into the rocks. Finally his battered body comes to a stop. He is still alive! He digs his fingers into the ground and to protect his shattered right leg, he crosses his left foot over the right foot—to protect it.” Pretty fascinating account, to say the least.
On the body were Mallory’s goggles, knife, altimeter and wristwatch.... but no camera. The climbers appeared to be descending when they fell—had they made the summit? This is the million dollar question. If either camera can be found, it’s possible that the film could contain images of Mallory or Irvine on the peak, thus re-writing history. Of course, the camera could be smashed to bits. Or 86 years of cosmic rays could have penetrated the camera’s body and ruined the film. The people at Eastman Kodak have long-pondered what could still be discernible on that film, should it be processed today. But first, of course, the camera must be found, and it’s the latest expedition that is now gearing up and looking for sponsors. If you’re interested, you can read more here. Either way, it certainly makes me appreciate the benefit of recording history with a camera and inspires me to take even more photographs of my journeys.
So, back in September, The New York Times ran an article about Vanessa Serrao, a woman who came back from Belize with an unusual bump on her head. As the weeks went by, the bump became larger and larger, and more and more uncomfortable. Turns out Ms. Serrao had a botfly larva in her scalp—something that can be understandably troublesome. This is particularly of interest to me now because I was just in Belize this past weekend and I, too, came home with an unusual number of mosquito bites. Time will tell if any of them progress into anything more than a distant memory. For now, though, I’m fascinated by Ms. Serrao’s story. Turns out she used to be a producer for Discovery Channel (small world, huh?) and, God bless her, she produced a video of her ordeal and the eventual extraction of the botfly! Enjoy! (Note: not for the faint-hearted.)
I just read the initial report that a body was found in the landing gear of a Boeing 777 that had landed in Tokyo from JFK this morning. Police suspect the person froze to death and suffered from the shortage of oxygen at high altitude. This reminded me of a survival story I read a few years ago in Xavier Maniguet’s book Survival: How to Prevail in Hostile Environments, so I pulled it down off my shelf to check. Sure enough, on pages 5-7, there are some interesting accounts of others who have tried to travel from one country to another via the landing gear compartment of a plane, only to die from exposure and hypoxia. Yet some survived. I found one case particularly fascinating, so I’ll paraphrase what Maniguet reports.
At 6:30pm on June 3, 1969, 18-year old Cuban Armando Socarras Ramirez and his friend Jorge Perez Blanco make a mad dash for the landing gear on an Iberia DC-8 plane departing Havana airport, heading non-stop to Madrid. Ramirez jumps into the right-side compartment, Blanco the left. When the plane takes off, Ramirez somehow avoids being crushed by the wheels’ hydraulics. Blanco isn’t as lucky; he’s killed seconds after take-off. The next morning, after flying for 8 hours at over 30,000 feet, the plane lands in Madrid. While placing the chocks under the wheels of the plane, two ground crew members are surprised to see a stiff bundle come tumbling out of the compartment. Shocked to discover it’s a human being, they notify local emergency services, who take Rameriz’s frozen, comatose body to the hospital, where doctors assume he’ll die. After all, no one can survive with so little oxygen for more than 30 minutes, much less 8 hours, and surely the -40ºF temperature would have damaged him permanently. Indeed, his kidneys have failed, his heart was barely beating, and his brain must have been in deep hibernation. And yet, after 24 hours of gentle rewarming and emergency care, Armando Socarras Ramirez is awake, eating normally, reading about his miraculous survival in the newspaper. 24 hours after that, he makes a complete recovery.
This type of survival miracle is the exception, not the norm, of course. Humans are not typically able to survive extreme altitudes and cold. So how did Ramirez survive? As Maniguet discusses in the book, he had a few things going for him: First of all, he was both young and fit. Secondly, he had taken some precautions, placing cotton in his ears to help reduce the deafening noise of the engines, and he had tied himself to the landing gear with a rope and his belt so he wouldn’t fall off before hitting the runway. Most importantly, he had known almost nothing about the ordeal he was about to face. An 18-year old kid from Cuba, Ramirez had no idea what extreme temperatures he’d be subjected to, nor did he understand the issues of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) that come with high altitude. He didn’t even wear warm clothes! All of this became an advantage, experts believe, as he calmly froze into a state of hibernation, too ignorant of the risks to resist in any way. When he later learned how dangerous the trip actually was, he said had he known, he never would have done it. But during those initial moments, he was calm and his pulse rate, his arterial tension, and his adrenaline level were all low, making his body better able to survive a sudden freeze and thaw, as it were. Interestingly, due to air traffic, the pilot landed the plane by making a very gradual descent from a holding pattern over Madrid, giving Ramirez’s body the time it needed to slowly warm up. It’s all pretty fascinating stuff, and as a result of this incident, the medical community had to completely rethink their understanding of what the human body could withstand. For the man in Tokyo, however, he wasn’t nearly as lucky.
Early yesterday morning, reports circulated on what I thought was a most unusual discovery… four new glaciers. It seems a group of British geographers from the University of Manchester (no doubt members of the RGS) were on an expedition in the “cursed” Prokletije Mountains of Northern Albania and stumbled upon these large masses of compressed snow. They weren’t discovered sooner due to the wars in the region, which kept many from entering these mountains until about 10 years ago. On top of that, the glaciers sit at an usually low elevation (6500 feet) for such a southern latitude.
If you want to zoom in on the general area using Google Maps, the coordinates are Longitude: 43.368248° Latitude: 18.593170° (roughly).
What I find most unusual and exciting about this announcement is the fact that in this day and age anything as massive as a glacier can go unnoticed and left for explorers and geographers to discover. You’d think Google Earth and all the satellites taking pictures of our planet (especially in war zones) would bring such things to our attention. Who knows… maybe it’s just a matter of getting all the data out to more people. (I suspect military strategists don’t care much about finding glaciers.) Perhaps in the years ahead more data will be gathered and shared with environmental scientists and others looking at climate change issues. For now, though, it’s nice to know there’s a little more fresh water on the planet that we thought, even if it’s only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction. This also makes me wonder about the existence of Lost Worlds and what else could be hiding in plain sight on our planet. Yetis, anyone?
"JoshBernstein: @epmasia "PNG Mummies" was my favorite episode of Into The Unknown. Thanks for working on it!"
17 May 2013 | 7:11 am
"JoshBernstein: @apriledmonds Thanks, April, for listening and the tweet!"
17 May 2013 | 7:10 am