Adventure

Antarctic Photography – an ebook Review

Posted on Jan 30, 2015 | Comments Off on Antarctic Photography – an ebook Review

DenisGlenon

During the 2014-15 Antarctic season David McGonigal led an Expedition for One Ocean Expeditions aboard the Akademik Ioffe that was sub chartered to Iconic Images/C4 for a Photographic Group led by Art Wolfe and Frans Lanting. An ebook has been produced from the voyage and it reveals Antarctic, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands in all their glory. It can be downloaded as a pdf at https://www.dropbox.com/s/2b88hxycqu7g9ms/ICONIC%20IMAGES%20_%20C4%20IMAGES%20%20ANTARCTIC%20PHOTOGRAPHY%20WORKSHOP%20eBook.pdf?dl=0

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Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Posted on Dec 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Akademik Shokalskiy

SMH Photo: Andrew Peacock/www.footloosefoto

Ice-cave-antartica-herbert-ponting-main

 Herbert Ponting – the Terra Nova

Antarctic rescue musings by David McGonigal

No I’m not stuck in the ice

Thanks for all the queries but fortunately I’m not stuck near Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, awaiting rescue or evacuation. Rather I’m sweltering in Sydney on New Year’s Eve. In my 100+ voyages to the Antarctic I’ve yet to be on a ship beset in ice (touching wood as I type). However, I’ve assisted in rescues and experienced much that the Southern Ocean can throw at you. So, since the Shokalskiy became stuck, I’ve been following the saga with great interest and here are a few observations. These are based on no more than the news reports everyone else has been seeing, too.

A summer of setbacks for Antarctic Science

Today (the morning of Tuesday 31 December) it looks like the decision has been made to take passengers and staff off the ship (by Chinese helicopter from the ice to the Aurora Australis), leaving just the Russian crew. That will take the drama out of the situation and allow the Chinese and Australian vessels to return to their resupply work for the summer science program  that runs on a very tight timetable during the short polar summer. This year looks set to be a setback for ongoing Antarctic science programs – by far the the biggest being that the US budget dispute was not resolved in time to allow US programs to run this summer and, more relevant for Australian science, my understanding is that the Aurora Australis left for the rescue attempt halfway through resupplying Casey Base.

Once there is just the 20 or so crew left on the Shokalskiy they simply wait until they can get free. That won’t be a problem for the crew – the ship normally carries months of extra provisions and Russian polar ships’ crews have done extended research in the past where they only returned home after more than a year at sea. The ship is their real home and I’ve worked with some who have been on the ship since it was built more than 20 years ago.

“Like an almond in toffee”

The Shokalskiy was built to ice-strengthened Russian specs in Finland in 1982. It’s Shuleykin-class so it’s quite small (1753 GRT) and sturdy. However, it’s getting quite old and several of the others in this class have been withdrawn from working in Antarctica. Ideally, the wind will change and the ice will scatter and the ship can escape. Or it will spend a while “like an almond in toffee” as one of Shackleton’s men put it. From what we hear, I don’t have much fear for its safety. The two main risks are that the ice will push it towards land or shoals or that an iceberg could collide with it. The sea ice that the ship is stuck in is moved mainly by the wind; icebergs, on the other hand, with their deep ‘keels’ are moved by ocean currents and sometime a large iceberg looks like an icebreaker plowing through sea ice.

I hope everyone has been impressed by the way the Chinese, French and Australian vessels rushed to the rescue?  That’s the seafarers’ code – to always aid a stricken vessel when it calls for assistance. However, once the people (and ship) are safe there’s the matter of who pays? This operation will have already directly cost millions of dollars (and many more in curtailed programs) so there will be a hefty bill. I’ve known rescuers to bill at exorbitant full commercial rates. Hopefully, insurance will cover it.

Down the line deeper questions will be asked. How and why did the ship get stuck? I have no idea but I bet there are rumours soon enough – and they will only be dispelled after a lengthy enquiry, if there is one.

Science, safety and tourism

For me, once the passengers, crew and ship are safe, the most worrying ramification will be the impact this has on Antarctic tourism. Antarctica is a continent run by the nations of the Antarctic Treaty “for peace and science”. There is provision for tourism and generally that operates in a safe and responsible way. Even so, many scientists regard tourism as a diversion and an unnecessary risk and some would like to see it limited or stopped. This incident will add to that pressure. Never mind that tourist ships often help scientific research programs and research bases, just as the science ships are helping a tourist ship right now. Antarctic tourists soon become and Antarctic advocates with an important role to play in promoting its preservation. The outcome of the next Antarctic Treaty meeting may be crucial to those of us who love Antarctica and love the opportunity to show it to travellers with a passion for the last great wilderness.

 

David McGonigal is an expedition leader in Antarctica who has visited it on more than 100 occasions. He heads back at the end of January 2014. He, with co-author Dr Lynn Woodworth, is the author of “Antarctica – the Complete Story”, “The Blue Continent” and “Antarctica – Secrets of the Southern Continent”.

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The Arctic – Two Sides of the Same Story Pt 1

Posted on Oct 6, 2013 | Comments Off on The Arctic – Two Sides of the Same Story Pt 1

Figure

Fig 1.

Figure 1. A geography of the Arctic. (The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean, courtesy of Martin Jakobsson.)

The Arctic shifts to a new normal

Martin O. Jeffries, James E. Overland, and Donald K. Perovich

October 2013, page 35

On 5 September 1980, when the Arctic sea-ice cover reached its minimum extent for the year, it blanketed much of the Arctic Ocean and choked the inter-island channels of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. Not only did ice extend over 7.5 million square kilometers, almost equal in area to the contiguous 48 US states, but it was an old, and thus thick, ice cover: 62% was multiyear sea ice—that which survives one or more summer melt seasons—and 38% was first-year sea ice. The age and thickness of the ice made it resilient to atmospheric and oceanic forcing, such as solar radiation, storms, and air and water temperatures. Consequently, the seasonal cycle of winter advance and summer retreat was thought to be in a near steady state.
The extensive, thick ice cover that persisted through the end of the summer was considered normal at the time and for many years afterwards. It was expected of a region generally perceived to be cold, hostile, and isolated from the rest of the world, a zone of Cold War confrontation yet of little immediate consequence to most people. Northern residents would rightly have disagreed with that characterization, and multinational corporations were finding and profitably exploiting large energy and mineral reserves. The Prudhoe Bay oil field in northernmost Alaska had been producing for three years—and continues to do so—and the Polaris mine on Little Cornwallis Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago was to begin 22 years of lead and zinc production in 1981. And scientists continued to visit, almost exclusively in the summer—rather like migratory birds—to conduct fieldwork. (See figure 1 for a map of the region.)
In October 1980 Syukuro Manabe and Ronald Stouffer (both then working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory) reported the results of a numerical experiment on the sensitivity of global climate to a quadrupling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.1 The consequences for the Arctic were profound. Their model projected an asymmetric seasonal surface air-temperature response—greater winter warming than summer warming in the Arctic itself, and greater winter and annual warming in the Arctic than at lower latitudes. It also projected a large decline in sea-ice extent and thickness.
Whereas Manabe and Stouffer’s simulation quadrupled the atmospheric CO2 concentrations in its artificial world, the actual increase to date has been much lower. At Barrow in northernmost Alaska, for example, the mean CO2concentration of 385 ppm in September 2012 was only 15% higher than the 331 ppm of September 1980. And yet profound changes in surface air temperature, sea ice, and numerous other environmental conditions have occurred in the Arctic.

Retreating sea ice

On 16 September 2012, the minimum extent of sea ice was 3.4 million square kilometers, the lowest since satellite observations began in 1979 and 55% less coverage than existed in September 1980, as shown in figure 2. In September 2012 there was little sea ice in the inter-island channels of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, and in the Arctic basin the summer ice edge was distant from the Alaskan and Eurasian coasts. The 2012 ice cover was also younger and thinner, with 58% of it less than a year old. A thin ice cover is less resilient and more prone to melting and retreat in summer than a thick one. It is also more translucent and thus allows greater light transmission into the underlying ocean. One consequence is a rise in what’s known as primary production—that is, photosynthesis by algae and phytoplankton—in the water below the ice and in previously ice-covered waters.
Figure

Fig 2.

Figure 2. The decline in areal extent of Arctic sea ice has been mapped daily since 1979 by satellites using passive microwave sensors. (a) Between September 1980, when the summer minimum was 7.5 million square kilometers, and September 2012, when there were 3.4 million square kilometers of ice, the end of summer ice extent has shrunk by 55%. (b)Minimum (September) and maximum (March) ice-extent anomalies for each year are plotted beginning in 1979, when satellite observations began. Each data point represents the departure of the measured ice extent in March and September each year from the average of those months over the reference period 1979–2012. (Data are from the Sea Ice Index, National Snow and Ice Data Center; see http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index. Walt Meier provided the plot.)
The minimum extent of sea ice is currently declining by an average of 91 600 km2 per year, roughly equivalent to the area of Maine, or −13.0% per decade relative to the 1979–2000 average. The maximum extent, typically recorded in March, is also declining, though at a slower rate of −2.6% per decade, and in March 2013 sea ice more than a year old made up only 30% of the ice cover. The shift to a younger, thinner ice cover is due to dynamic and thermodynamic processes, but determining the relative contribution of each remains a difficult research problem (see the article by Ron Kwok and Norbert Untersteiner in Physics TodayApril 2011, page 36).
The decline in summer sea-ice extent has attracted growing media attention since 2007, when a precipitous drop shook the scientific community. That drop was followed by yet another to a new low in the summer of 2012. Indeed, the six years from 2007 through 2012 have seen the lowest ice extents in the satellite record (see figure 2b). The marked downward trend experienced in those years suggests a shift to a new normal for sea ice. Profound change is not limited to sea ice, though. A new normal is evident throughout the Arctic environment—in the atmosphere, in the ocean, and on land.

What else is changing

Global warming produces a larger effect in the Arctic than it does in midlatitudes, as shown in figure 3 and as predicted by Manabe and Stouffer.1 (Incidentally, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first, in 1896, to quantify the contribution of CO2 to the greenhouse effect and to suggest greater warming in the Arctic than at lower latitudes.) Arctic air temperature increased in all seasons during the period 2000–09, with the greatest warming in autumn and winter.2Mean annual temperature in the Arctic is now 1.5 °C higher than the 1971–2000 average; that’s more than double the warming at lower latitudes during the same period.3
Figure

Fig 3.

Figure 3. Annual near-surface air temperature changes in the Northern Hemisphere are mapped as the average temperature measured between 2001 and 2012 relative to the average temperature for the 30-year baseline period 1971–2000. Arctic temperature changes of +2–3 °C, compared with the more modest rise of +0.5–1 °C in midlatitude regions, exemplify Arctic amplification of global climate change. Higher temperatures in all parts of the Arctic indicate a response to global change rather than to natural regional variability. (Data are from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado:http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd.)
As the sea ice has retreated, it has exposed an ever-growing area of open water to solar radiation, and ocean heating each summer has increased due to the large difference in albedo—the fraction of solar irradiance reflected by the surface—between ice and water.4 Consequently, August sea-surface temperatures are now as much as 3 °C higher than their 1982–2006 average, and the upper-ocean heat content has increased by as much as 25% in the Canada Basin’s Beaufort Gyre, compared with its content in the 1970s. The Beaufort Gyre is also the region of the greatest freshwater accumulation in the Arctic Ocean, up about 25% since the 1970s, a rise that has strengthened the stratification of the upper ocean and deepened the halocline.3
The halocline is the upper-ocean layer in which a strong salinity gradient and near-freezing temperatures maintain the water column’s stability, which keeps apart the cold surface waters and sea ice above from the warmer Pacific and Atlantic waters below. In the Canada Basin, the halocline lies at depths of 50–150 m, just above Pacific water that enters the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait,3 where oceanic fluxes of heat and freshwater have increased by some 50% since 2001.
Sea ice is integral to the marine ecosystem, and its decline has biological consequences. Satellite measurements, shown in figure 4, reveal a roughly 20% overall increase in ocean primary production between 1998 and 2009, mostly on the Eurasian side of the Arctic Ocean due to increases in the extent and duration of open water.5 Unexpectedly massive under-ice phytoplankton blooms, found in July 2011 to extend at least 150 km into consolidated pack ice in the Chukchi Sea, suggest that previous estimates of annual primary production might be 10 times too low in waters where such under-ice blooms occur.6 The blooms might benefit from sea-ice melt ponds acting as skylights that channel solar radiation to the water below the ice.
Figure

Fig 4.

Figure 4. The maximum Normalized Difference Vegetation Index(MaxNDVI) is a measure of vegetation greenness observed from space. It is also a proxy for aboveground biomass at the peak of the growing season. Shown here is the change it underwent from 1982 to 2011 and, with the same color bar, the change in total annual primary production—a measure of photosynthesis by algae and phytoplankton in units of grams of carbon per square meter per year—over the period 1998–2009 in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent waters. (Adapted from ref. 3, prepared by Karen Frey and Uma Bhatt.)
In the Canada Basin, by contrast, the strengthening of upper-ocean stratification and deepening of the halocline may be limiting primary production. Coupled with the uptake of atmospheric CO2, the reduced primary production probably accounts for the acidification of surface waters in the Canada Basin.7
Researchers looking at the other end of the biota size scale find that the loss of sea-ice habitat is negatively affecting certain marine mammals. Walruses, for instance, have increasingly limited access to summer sea-ice cover where they normally rest while feeding in shallow continental-shelf waters near the coasts of Russia and Alaska; instead, they are going ashore in large numbers along the Chukchi coasts of Russia and Alaska, farther from the feeding grounds. There is also evidence for the migration of mollusk, crab, and fish species northward through the Bering Strait. A shift to an ecosystem whose food web is spread throughout the water column rather than localized on the sea bottom of the Chukchi Sea8 would favor species such as bowhead, fin, humpback, minke, and blue whales, while bottom feeders, such as walruses, bearded seals, and diving ducks, would be disadvantaged.
On land, snow-cover duration is declining in North America and Eurasia, primarily due to earlier spring melt, which reduces the land surface albedo.9,10 As terrestrial snow cover and sea ice have retreated and the sea surface has warmed, tundra greenness and aboveground biomass (see figure 4), particularly shrubs, have increased.
Change is also occurring belowground. A steady increase in permafrost temperature on the North Slope of Alaska exemplifies a circumpolar trend that has been evident since the mid-20th century.3 What’s more, the warming has coincided with observations of large fluxes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere from terrestrial and offshore sources. Reassuringly, though, evidence to date indicates that natural methane emissions in the Arctic have not risen significantly in the past decade.11
Glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland ice sheet are rapidly losing mass (see figure 5), a worrisome trend given their potential role in sea-level rise. On the Greenland ice sheet, the area and duration of melting have been increasing, and the surface albedo has been decreasing7 since satellite observations of the two effects began in 1979 and 2000, respectively. Strong advection of warm air from the south in recent summers has contributed to the extensive surface melting and mass losses from the Greenland ice sheet and Canadian Arctic glaciers and ice caps.3
Figure

Fig 5.

Figure 5. The Greenland ice sheet and glaciers and ice caps in the Gulf of Alaska region and the high Canadian Arctic have been losing mass, by melting and iceberg calving, since GRACE satellite observations began more than 10 years ago. Mass loss, in gigatons, from the Greenland ice sheet is accelerating and is currently almost three times the combined total loss from the Alaskan and Canadian sources. The seasonal cycle of winter snow accumulation and summer melting is evident in the oscillations recorded from each region. (Adapted from ref. 7, prepared by Marco Tedesco and Gabe Wolken.)

Sources of Arctic amplification

Manabe and Stouffer did not use the term, but the strong, all-season temperature response in the Arctic to CO2-induced global warming is now commonly referred to as Arctic amplification. As mentioned earlier, the actual increase in Earth’s atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels since 1980 is a small fraction of that used in the Manabe–Stouffer model. The disparity raises the question of what drives the amplification. The short answer is modest external forcing from midlatitudes combined with multiple positive feedbacks within the Arctic system itself; for more details, see the accounts by Mark Serreze and Roger Barry2 and by Julienne Stroeve and her coauthors.4
The spatial synthesis of atmospheric data, known as reanalysis fields, offers evidence that the poleward transport of energy in the troposphere leads to higher Arctic air temperatures at the surface, particularly in winter. Satellite measurements indicate that the heat flux into the Arctic is accompanied by an increase in cloud cover and water vapor. Clouds amplify the effects of surface warming by augmenting the net downward long-wave radiation flux and the greenhouse effect of water vapor (see the article by Bjorn Stevens and Sandrine Bony in Physics TodayJune 2013, page 29), particularly in winter and spring. Model studies indicate that the warming might be further enhanced by the rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon aerosols, known as black carbon or soot, which also absorb solar radiation. Black carbon deposition might be reducing the albedo and thus accelerating the melting of sea ice and of snow and ice on land.
The poleward transport of atmospheric heat and moisture causes local changes in the sea-ice cover and other Arctic-specific variables. Higher air temperatures at the surface reduce winter sea-ice growth rates; the thinner cover is then more vulnerable to melting in spring. Areas of dark (low-albedo), radiation-absorbing open water, in turn, lead to further melting. The increase in the ocean’s heat content inevitably delays the autumn freeze.
Ponds of meltwater that accumulate on the sea ice absorb an increasing amount of solar radiation as they grow larger, which leads to further melting over the course of a summer. The albedo effect also applies to glaciers and snow on land. On the Greenland ice sheet, for example, the decreasing albedo of the ice surface promotes further melting and runoff, an effect enhanced by a decline in summer snowfall. On land, atmospheric warming leads to earlier snow melt in late spring and exposure of the darker land surface. That exposure, in turn, further warms the surface and the atmosphere above it.
The transport of Atlantic and Pacific waters also provides heat to the Arctic. However, those water masses flow many tens of meters below the surface, and the processes by which the heat would reach the surface of the highly stratified upper-ocean water column remain to be determined. A new upper-ocean feature is the so-called near-surface temperature maximum. Originating from solar warming in summer, the NSTM is residual heat that has survived autumn cooling and has the potential to melt ice in the subsequent winter and reduce the maximum ice thickness.
The combination of external forces and regional feedbacks doesn’t alter only the Arctic environment. Interestingly, growing evidence suggests that changes in the Arctic have their own effects at lower latitudes, as outlined in the box onpage 37.

Socioeconomic consequences

The Arctic Ocean and adjacent subarctic seas supply food for indigenous peoples whose culture and traditional way of life are affected by the prevalence of open water. They now must travel farther offshore—over more unstable ice or through increasingly rough seas—to hunt mammals that live in icy habitats. The wave action on thawing and vulnerable shorelines accelerates the coastal erosion and is affecting village, archaeological, and sacred sites. In Alaska, the estimated cost of relocating a single village farther inland is on the order of $100 million.
Roads, railways, runways, pipelines, harbors, and homes are all vulnerable to effects of warming in permafrost-rich regions. Yet the demand for new construction and its impact on residents and the environment will only rise with the predicted increase in oil, gas, and mineral extraction efforts. Recognizing a growing interest in an Arctic Ocean fishery, the US declared a moratorium on commercial fishing in its Arctic waters in 2009, citing the need to learn more about fish stocks and the ecosystem.
Maritime transportation, including cruise-ship traffic and summertime trans-Arctic shipping that takes advantage of the shorter distance between Europe and Asia, is also expected to rise. The prospect of increased vessel traffic and natural resource extraction indicates the need for other types of supporting infrastructure and capabilities—for instance, maritime domain awareness, oil-spill prevention and response, search and rescue, and communications—in a region where they are severely limited. Some people predict that global competition for natural resources will lead to confrontation, instability, and militarization. Others doubt such consequences in a region where governance is considered to be strong.

Whither the Arctic?

The Arctic environment is highly sensitive to increases in global mean temperatures and ultimately to the continuing increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. That sensitivity is manifest as large and persistent physical and biological shifts relative to previous observations and suggests a new normal for the Arctic environmental system.
For all the evidence of system-wide environmental change, the Arctic remains a data-sparse region. Observations are far from comprehensive; the infrastructure required to make them—for instance, weather stations, stream gauges, and snow courses—is often threatened with diminishment or outright shutdown, and open data access has yet to be universally adopted. As a result, opportunities to detect change will remain limited, as will our understanding of the processes behind it and our ability to forecast the future. Those are all problems that frustrate public and private planners, managers, and policymakers who must make decisions based on the Arctic’s new normal environmental state.
For example, it’s been known for years that the observed rate of sea-ice retreat exceeds the rate simulated using climate models. And despite a great deal of effort that has gone into improving the models in preparation for the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the spread among the current generation of models remains large,12 as shown in figure 6.
Figure

Fig 6.

Figure 6. Sea-ice extent is declining faster than models predict.The large spread of ±1 standard deviation (SD; gray) in 84 predictions of ice extent from 36 different current models underscores the uncertainty about the future state of the ice cover and the need to improve our understanding of air-ice-ocean processes and their representation in the models. These and similar results form the basis for the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The black curve plots observational data dating back to 1953 from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The yellow and blue curves are the mean and median of the model results, respectively. (Adapted from ref. 13.)
Indeed, an extrapolation of the trend in sea-ice volume estimates suggests that nearly ice-free Arctic summers could become the norm as soon as a decade or so.13 By contrast, models that form the basis for AR5 predict that won’t happen until mid century (roughly 2060, according to the median line in figure 6). The gap is relevant for policymakers: The observation-based estimate lends an urgency to the issue of responding to climate change; the model-projected estimates do not. Many Arctic scientists consider that although the models provide qualitative support for Arctic amplification and future sea-ice loss, they have limited value for quantitative projections. Model deficiencies in ocean circulation, cloud physics, atmospheric dynamics, and albedo parameterization—details that go beyond sea-ice physics per se—all contribute to the spread among model predictions.
Therefore, improving observations, understanding, and models of sea-ice, ocean and atmospheric processes, interactions, and feedbacks are among the numerous goals identified for immediate action in the US Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) research plan.14 Released in February 2013, the five-year plan focuses on seven broad research themes most likely to benefit from better communication and coordination among federal agencies and from partnerships with the State of Alaska, local communities, indigenous organizations, nongovernmental groups, and the academic community. The IARPC plan has grown in significance with the release by the Obama administration in May 2013 of its National Strategy for the Arctic Region, which stresses the need to increase understanding of the Arctic through research that will support decision making informed by the best available scientific information.
The IARPC plan and the National Strategy also emphasize the need for the US to work with international partners. Such cooperation is exemplified by the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO), which consists of six biological “hot spots” that extend from the northern Bering Sea through the Chukchi Sea to the western Beaufort Sea. The DBO sites are maintained by the Pacific Arctic Group of six countries—Canada, China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and the US—all of which have agreed to make and share a standard set of biophysical measurements whenever one of their research vessels enters a hot spot. Another consortium, International Arctic Systems for Observing the Atmosphere (IASOA), which promotes data access and coordinated atmospheric observations of, among other things, greenhouse gases, clouds, energy fluxes, pollutants, and aerosols, also exemplifies good observing practice and data policy.
The DBO and IASOA contribute to Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON), a joint activity of the Arctic Council (the representatives of eight Arctic countries and indigenous peoples) and the nongovernmental International Arctic Science Committee of 21 national member organizations. The goal of SAON is to encourage partnerships and synergies among observation and data networks and to promote the sharing and synthesis of data and information.
In 1980 much Arctic science was motivated by Cold War confrontation as the US and the Soviet Union faced each other across the Arctic Ocean. Then, even at the end of the summer, the Arctic Ocean remained a largely ice-covered barrier. Today the motivation for Arctic science and the geopolitical situation have changed. The retreat of the sea ice and opening of the Arctic Ocean, their role in Arctic amplification of global warming and its impact on lower latitudes, and the socioeconomic and geopolitical ramifications of the new normal in the Arctic are feeding the need for international collaboration in policy as much as in science.

Box. Arctic amplification and lower-latitude weather

Due to positive feedback, a modest rise in temperature at Earth’s midlatitudes leads to a greater temperature rise in the Arctic. But such amplification in the Arctic can, in turn, affect the weather at lower latitudes. For instance, record winter snowfalls and low temperatures recently experienced in Earth’s midlatitudes are thought to arise in part from the heating in autumn and early winter of the Arctic troposphere—the lower roughly 10 km of its atmosphere. The weather extremes are driven by changes in wind patterns caused by the warming temperatures over areas of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice. The winds enhance the southerly transfer of relatively colder Arctic air masses.15 Some researchers argue that such Arctic forcing, while controversial, increases the north–south amplitude of the polar jet stream and reduces its wind speed.16
The result is slower-moving weather systems in midlatitude regions and a higher probability of extreme events, such as cold spells and heat waves, flooding and drought, and Greenland ice-sheet melting.16 The eastern US, northern Europe, and far-eastern Asia seem particularly prone to such Arctic influences. Although the increased forcing from the Arctic is well documented, the processes that link Arctic forcing to the more chaotic atmospheric flow in midlatitudes are more speculative. Mechanisms for Arctic amplification and potential weather effects in lower latitudes have been documented in recent scientific articles, and they remain a major area of Arctic climate research.
Martin Jeffries is an Arctic science advisor at the US Arctic Research Commission in Arlington, Virginia, and a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. James Overland is a research oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, and an adjunct professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. Don Perovich is a geophysicist at the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and an adjunct professor of engineering at Dartmouth College, both in Hanover, New Hampshire.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office of Naval Research, NASA, and NSF for their continuing support. Jim Maslanik and Mark Tschudi provided the sea-ice age data. Lori Bruhwiler provided the September 2012 atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration value for Barrow, Alaska.
This article first appeared in:
http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v66/i10/p35_s1?bypassSSO=1&goback=%2Egde_2878181_member_278003718

References

  1. S. Manabe, R. J. Stouffer, J. Geophys. Res. 85, 5529 (1980).
  2. M. C. Serreze, R. G. Barry, Global Planet. Change 77, 85 (2011).
  3. M. O. Jeffries, J. Richter-Menge, J. E. Overland, eds., Arctic Report Card: Update for 2012, http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/report12.
  4. J. C. Stroeve et al., Climatic Change 110, 1005 (2012).
  5. K. R. Arrigo, G. van Dijken, J. Geophys. Res. [Oceans] 116, C09011 (2011).
  6. K. R. Arrigo et al., Science 336, 1408 (2012).
  7. M. O. Jeffries, J. Richter-Menge, eds., Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, S111 (2013).
  8. J. Grebmeier et al., Science 311, 1461 (2006).
  9. M. G. Flanner et al., Nat. Geosci. 4, 151 (2011).
  10. C. Derksen, R. Brown, Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19504 (2012).
  11. E. Dlugokencky, L. Bruhwiler, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, S130 (2012).
  12. R. Knutti, J. Sedláček, Nat. Climate Change 3, 369 (2012).
  13. J. Overland, M. Wang, Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2097 (2013).
  14. National Science and Technology Council, Arctic Research Plan FY2013–2017, NSTC, Washington, DC (2013).
  15. J. E. Overland, K. R. Wood, M. Wang, Polar Res. 30, 15787 (2011).
  16. J. A. Francis, S. J. Vavrus, Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L06801 (2012).
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Want to Fly Like the Wright Brothers?

Posted on Oct 4, 2013 | Comments Off on Want to Fly Like the Wright Brothers?

Orville, Wilbur and Me

You too can fly a Wright aircraft.

  • By Phil Scott
replicaA replica is now available for flying just a few miles from where the Wrights experimented. Above: Our writer enjoys a few moments of stable flight.
It’s offered by www.wrightexperience.com

The Wright brothers never trudged up these dunes barefoot.Bruce Weaver, Andy Torrington, and I are struggling to carry a glider up a sandy winding trail in Nags Head, North Carolina. A near-exact reproduction of a 1902 Wright aircraft, the glider rests on a four-wheel dolly with balloon tires. Andy is pulling and steering, Bruce is pushing, and I’m trying to keep tree branches from snagging the flexing wings while tip-toeing on hot sand spiked with underbrush. Barefoot is the best way to get up a hill of sand, but as the sun torches the tops of my feet, I start to appreciate the Wrights’ formality. When they conducted their flying experiments a fewmiles north, they wore shoes (not to mention wool suits and ties).

The glider weighs around 120 pounds, but it feels heavier, and it’s bulky—302 square feet of yellowing cotton wings built just like the original: the same ash and spruce frame and weather-beaten, cross-stitched fabric. Constructed in 2003 by The Wright Experience, a group run by renowned Wright scholar/replica builder Ken Hyde, it’s the closest the team could get to the original. Sure, they used multiple twisted wires because the original single-strand hard wire breaks too quickly, and they added a harness rigged to hold you in when you hit the sand. You’re going to hit a lot of sand.

Complete accuracy is impossible: Of the original, only a wingtip bow exists. The brothers famously never left plans, only the patent drawings. (It was the glider, not the powered 1903 Flyer, that first achieved the three-axis control that the brothers patented.) “There are some sketches and notes in their papers, in their notebooks,” Hyde says, adding: “Luckily, the brothers took a lot of good photos.”

Hyde and The Wright Experience built this glider for the Discovery of Flight Foundation, which used it to train pilots for a flight planned in a replica Flyer for December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of powered flight. (That attempt failed.) Once the glider had served its mission, the foundation, like the Wright brothers, stashed the craft in a hangar.

Last year Paul Glenshaw, the executive director of the foundation, and his son visited Kitty Hawk Kites Flight School, which offers instruction in a variety of hang-gliders. Glenshaw sat down with the school’s manager, and along with The Wright Experience, they worked out an agreement in which the school would use the replica to teach gliding on the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Glenshaw says he wanted people to connect with the Wright brothers’ accomplishment, and Hyde says Kitty Hawk Kites was the right group to show what the glider can do: “They know the winds and they know the weather.”

For $349, Kitty Hawk Kites offers a four-hour flight lesson in the glider, with up to five students per lesson. The company has started with one lesson a week. So far, 35 pilots have flown the Wright glider. (“Pilots” may be a misnomer: No experience in airplanes or gliders is necessary.)

When I first arrived at Jockey’s Ridge, Bruce, the clean-cut recreation manager, and assistant recreation manager Andy took me to the school’s hangar. The glider was up on a rack. “It looks fragile but it takes a beating,” Bruce said. “It flexes, it creaks, but it bounces back into shape. It’s tougher than it looks.”

“How safe is it?” I asked.

“I think it’s very safe,” said Bruce.

Well, no one died in the Wrights’ glider, I thought.

Bruce, Andy, and I made the long haul up Jockey’s Ridge. Andy, a happy guy with long, thinning red hair, was wearing the Kitty Hawk Kites uniform: bare feet, shorts, and a T-shirt.

Up on the Jockey’s Ridge peak, the wheat-color biplane got curious looks from nearby students in starter hang gliders. Bruce and Andy lifted the glider off the dolly and set to work connecting control wires to control surfaces. I put on the helmet that the two give fliers.

Bruce explained the canard—the forward elevator. It’s operated by twisting a one-by-four bar of ash that is mounted horizontally between the two skids, at about the pilot’s chest level. Its ends are wrapped in wax string, the duct tape of the day, to keep the wood from splintering. The bar is linked to the elevator with window sash chains that are routed around wooden pulleys bolted inside the frame. Bruce said it was my job to control pitch: “When flying it, try to make small movements. The canard may flutter—the springs dampen it. Don’t over-control it.”

To lift off, he said, “hop until your foot doesn’t touch the ground, then get it across the bar. On landing, just belly in and keep your feet up. The glider is built so when it comes in to land, it doesn’t want to nose up and stall. It wants to belly-land instead of dive into the ground—which is handy.”

In the open space in the lower wing, I got on my knees. Andy hooked my harness to the glider, had me lie prone in the cradle, and told me to hook the top part of one foot over a rectangular chunk of wood near the trailing edge. We were pointed directly in what little wind there was.

At Bruce’s signal we lifted the glider off the dune. In a 10- to 15-mph wind gust, it does weigh less, but not much. I gripped each end of the swiveling bar and held the elevator level, grinding my naked elbows onto the sandy skids.

The next gust lifted the glider; Bruce asked if I was ready.

I took a deep breath and said yes.

Bruce and Andy started hauling ass down the slope, holding the tow-lines that were attached to the ends of the wing. The glider tried to lift off, and it looked like we had enough speed to let me pull my other leg up and hook my toes over the bar.

It’s flying…. I’m flying…on my stomach behind that famous football-shaped elevator…

Without much altitude or warning, it nosed down. I rolled the ash bar back, which didn’t help the airspeed at all. The glider sort of slammed into the dune.

“Are you okay?” Bruce asked. He was sprawled out on the sand just beyond the wingtip.

“Yeah. Are you okay?” I said.

He leapt to his feet and showered me with positive reinforcement, then told me I’d violated the over-control rule. He and Andy lifted the glider, and Bruce told me to hold the elevator up to get the wings to sail us to the dune top.

Waiting for another weak gust, we sat in the wing’s shadow and guzzled the bottled water we’d packed. Bruce recounted that they’d gotten in some 300-foot glides. “The beauty of it is, if it rains, you get 25 percent more distance because that fabric shrinks up and it’s not nearly as porous. There’s a point where it gets too much, but rain is your friend with that glider.”

We launched again.

I’m flying…. I’m flying…. The left wing dipped, and reflexively I shoved my hip left. The tip stabbed the sand and the glider spiraled. The Wrights called it “well-digging.”

The wind changed direction and picked up to a steady 20 mph, so we hauled the glider from the dune’s relatively shallow east side to the south face’s deeper, wider sand valley. Bruce pointed to a weathered yellow house on the next ridge and told me to point the elevator there. We three lifted the glider—really, we just stopped holding it down—and I got situated: I slid my hips onto the cradle, using my bare feet to push against that aft horizontal bar, elbows clenching my ribcage and holding up my upper body in a sort of yoga pose, both hands gripping the ends of the elevator control bar. I felt like Orville, in the glass-plate photos I’ve seen of him in the glider.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

They ran forward and played out a few feet of line while the glider instantly gripped the wind. I held the glider level, and the ground dropped away. I’m flying…I’m flying…I’m really flying this #*%& glider…

I held the elevator steady, kept the wings level, and glanced down. We were still flying straight and they were running down the white dune backward, maybe 20 feet below. While the Wrights had no altimeter on board, that was likely their average altitude as well—though their pal George Spratt estimated that on one glide, they reached 60 feet. While the glider soared, I tried to spot the yellow house. Mostly I allowed the glider to do what it wanted to do. Don’t over-control.

It plunged, spraying sand and jarring my teeth a little.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.”

The next flight started out as a repeat of the first, but this time, once I was airborne, the glider dipped left and I got busy sliding the cradle right, but over-corrected; now the right wing dipped, and I slid just a little to the left, all while concentrating on holding the elevator level. We were in no danger of well-digging—then, well, the remaining few seconds played out same as before, though the landing went smoother. We didn’t measure the distance, but I may have flown as far as 200 feet. The Wrights made it farther—between September and October 1902, they made between 700 and 1,000 glides, flying from 200 and 400 feet, though their longest flight was 622.5 feet.

On October 23, 1902, Orville Wright wrote to his sister Katharine: “Day before yesterday we had a wind of 16 meters per second or about 30 miles per hour, and glided in it without any trouble. That was the highest wind a gliding machine was ever in, so that we now hold all the records! The largest machine we handled in any kind [of weather, made the longest dis]tance glide (American), the longest time in the air, the smallest angle of descent, and the highest wind!!!”

One hundred and ten years later, strapped to an identical aircraft on the same breezy dunes, I started feeling the excitement Orville had. “The sense of connection with the Wright brothers is the overriding sensation I get while flying the glider,” Andy said. “Knowing that the Wright brothers at one point felt exactly what I felt while flying the glider is pretty amazing.” I knew what he meant. After each landing I was torn between wanting to run to my backpack for a quick swig of water, and run back to prepare for the quickest takeoff possible. Each time I realized that my tongue was sticking to the top of my mouth, I thought: There will always be time for water later, when the wind dies down.

 

article originally appeared in:

http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/Orville-Wilburand-Me-162924306.html?c=y&story=fullstory

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Kruger NP Goes Flat Screen

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Kruger NP Goes Flat Screen

kruger map sm

The Kruger National Park has installed flat screen television screens to enhance information dissemination to tourists in the park.

The screens have been installed and are already in use at the gate and camp receptions. Making use of text, images, audio and video, the screens will present visitors with content such as updates on the developments of the park, park rules and regulations, emergencies like road closures, park events and campaigns, scientific research and other projects, rare animal sightings and more.

“The expectations from the public are changing, they want the speed on access to information; they want prompt delivery of the answer, rather than guidance or instruction. We were looking at introducing the kind of communication and marketing tool which would afford us a chance to communicate in an interactive way with our tourists, when Anglo American responded positively,” indicated Mabasa.

The screens were donated by Anglo American and Phillip Fourie, Head of Safety and Sustainable Development, for Anglo American’s thermal coal business at Paul Kruger Gate, presented them to the park.

“Anglo American believes that the impact of mining should be positive and to the benefit of South Africa, its people and the environment. We look forward to a successful partnership with Kruger National Park,” he said.

“Like broadcast media, these TV screens will allow us to disseminate information on time; allowing tourists to respond by either making follow-ups with our front office staff or contacting the relevant park officials for more information,” concluded Mabasa.

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Bob Geldof Space Tourist – I don’t like Moondays?

Posted on Sep 16, 2013 | Comments Off on Bob Geldof Space Tourist – I don’t like Moondays?

Sir Bob Geldof as the first rock astronaut

Space Expedition Corporation has confirmed the news that singer, philanthropist and Nobel Price nominee Sir Bob Geldof has secured a seat in one of their upcoming space flights, officially becoming an astronaut. He follows in the space steps of  Guy Laliberté, Canadian co-founder and the current CEO of Cirque du Soleil who went into space in September 2009.

Geldof said, “Being the first Irishman in space is not only a fantastic honor but pretty mind-blowing. The first rock astronaut space rat! Elvis may have left the building but Bob Geldof will have left the Planet! Wild! Who would have thought it would be possible in my lifetime.”

SXC Founder Michiel Mol added, “We are so proud to have Mr. Geldof aboard. He is an icon of social responsibility and in projects like Live Aid, he proved that entertainment and meaningfulness can be a great combination. We share that vision by offering our astronauts a life changing experience, while at the same time, we are changing the concept of sustainable airline transportation all together; namely outside the earth’s atmosphere.”

Mr. Geldof will be undertaking his first step of training in the space flight simulator based in the Netherlands on September 26th 2013.

From 2014 on, Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) will perform daily commercial flights into space. SXC offers participants a life-changing experience in viewing our planet Earth from 100 kilometers high. Plus, having been at that altitude, they can rightly be called astronauts. XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, California, USA, designed and built the Lynx spacecraft, which will perform the space flights. SXC is proud to be the launching customer of the Lynx, which comfortably takes off and lands like a normal airplane, from regular airports. The flexibility of the Lynx spacecraft enables operation from almost any commercial airport. The operation has sold over 250 tickets so far.

However, Geldorf hasn’t taken the opportunity provided by a rival space voyage company that is promising the dark side of the moon – then perhaps we have either a Pink Floyd cover or a new Boomtown Rats song that, in fact, he does like Moondays.

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Are these the world’s best walks?

Posted on Sep 6, 2013 | Comments Off on Are these the world’s best walks?

trail towards Everest Nepal sm

The trail to Mt Everest, Nepal

 

Wanderlust Magazine says these are the best wanders the Earth has to offer. What do you think?

Article by Sarah Baxter, 4th September 2013

http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/planatrip/inspire-me/lists/the-worlds-best-walking-routes?page=all

 

Latin America & Caribbean

 

1. Inca Trail

Where? KM82-Machu Picchu, southern Peru

Length: 45km

Days: 4

Difficulty: *** Moderate-tough; some high passes; camping only

Independent? No – a guide is mandatory

The walk: This iconic tramp through the Andes is not all about arriving – though reaching the stone gate of Intipunku to see a misty sunrise over mountain-perched Machu Picchu is a fine finale. The journey there is testing but manageable, weaving via old Inca pathways, orchid-filled cloud-forest and some lung-busting passes, including 4,200m ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. There are also fascinating ruins en route, such as the clifftop guard-post at Sayacmarca and the sweeping terraces of Huinay Huayna.

Numbers on the trail are limited to 500 a day, including guides and porters, but camp stops (and their insalubrious loos) still get busy.

Like that? Try this… Choquequirao – a tough eight-day hike from Cachora to these lesser-known ruins, then on to Machu Picchu via a different path, is the offbeat Inca option.

 

2. El Circuito

Where? Torres del Paine, Chile

Length: 130km

Days: 7-10

Difficulty: *** Moderate-to-tough; wilderness conditions; refugios or camping; pricey supplies available

Independent? Possible

The walk: It can be icy cold. It can be dripping wet. Winds can blast at over 100km an hour. But a circuit of Torres del Paine – taking in the Patagonian park’s gorgeous granite spires, creaking glaciers, mirror lakes and, possibly, pumas – is worth a bit of weather. The hiking isn’t too tough, and never exceeds 1,200m. The challenge is being out in this wilderness for so long – if you’re trekking independently, that’s a lot of stuff to carry, though supported options ease the burden, leaving you freer to look out for llama-like guanaco, calving ice and those classic Cuernos del Paine views. Or try the W (60km; 5-7 days), a shorter, only marginally less impressive version.

Like that? Try this… Mt Fitz Roy, Los Glaciares, Argentina – hop over the border for a four-day, 40km loop amid more dramatic Patagonian landscapes.

 

3. Inca Trail to Ingapirca

Where? Achupallas-Ingapirca, Ecuador

Length: 40km

Days: 3

Difficulty: ** Moderate; up to 4,800m; wild camping

Independent? Possible

The walk: Peru doesn’t have a monopoly on Inca trails – this trek follows part of the Latin civilisation’s Royal Road, which once linked Cusco and Quito; it ends at Ecuador’s own version of Machu Picchu: the castle-complex of Ingapirca. The trail leads over the Andean páramo, with high-altitude views across glaciated mountains and shimmering lagoons. There are a few Inca ruins en route, but little else – just you, your muleteer (a recommended extra) and the history-soaked highlands.

Like that? Try this… Around Cotopaxi – spend five days walking in the shadow of this perfectly conical 5,897m volcano.

 

4. Patí Valley

Where? Capão-Guiné, Chapada Diamantina, Brazil

Length: 15km

Days: 1

Difficulty: * Easy, with some steep sections; no facilities en route

Independent? Possible

The walk: A contender for world’s best day walk? The route from Vale do Capão – a hip hangout for alternativos – to the village of Guiné packs in the best of the lush Chapada Diamantina. Here, Jurassic-style tabletop mountains loom like those in a Conan Doyle novel. The vegetation is rampant, the waterfalls plentiful, the high-plateau views sweeping and other people scarce. There are some tests – Bumbreaker Hill is a bit of a slog – but there are also cold beers waiting at the end.

Like that? Try this… Roraima, Venezuela – for more Lost World landscapes, a five-day trip up Venezuela’s iconic tepui is the ultimate challenge.

 

5. Waitukubuli National Trail

Where? Scotts Head-Cabrits NP, Dominica

Length: 184km

Days: 9-14

Difficulty: ** Moderate; some easy sections; guesthouses/homestays

Independent? Possible

The walk: The native Carib-Kalinago called Dominica ‘Waitukubuli’ (‘tall is her body’) after the island’s mountainous spine. Apt, then, that this coast-to-coast hike – the Caribbean’s first long-distance trail – bears that name, as it snakes across Dominica’s profusely green and volcanically craggy land. Split into 14 accessible sections, ranging from 7km to 15km, you can thru-walk or pick stages: maybe the hike up Morne Crabier (section 1), jaunts around high peaks and sulphurous pools (4), or the beach traverse to Fort Shirley (14). Expect sea breezes, mango trees and encounters with local Carib communities.

Like that? Try this… Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic – mount a three-day expedition up the highest peak in the Caribbean (3,087m).

 

6. Nebaj-Todos Santos

Where? Cuchamatanes Mountains, north-west Guatemala

Length: 55km

Days: 4

Difficulty: ** Moderate; some tough climbs; remote; homestays en route

Independent? Not recommended

The walk: Guatemala has many volcanoes to climb and lakes to amble around, but this hike across the remote Cuchamatanes is the top offbeat choice. Only four days long, it crosses three Mayan-language zones and reaches nearly 4,000m. You’ll traverse flower-covered plains, pine forest and barren plateaus, while viewpoints might afford glimpses of peaks erupting in the distance. Staying in homestays offers insight into local culture, too.

 

7. Silver Trail

Where? Carachic-Batopilas, Copper Canyon, Mexico

Length: 160km

Days: 9

Difficulty: **** Moderate-to-tough; some scree sections; hot; camping

Independent? Not recommended

The walk: In the 18th century, the Spanish forged a trail to access their silver mines, located deep in the Batopilas Canyon. Today that remote path is used only by local Tarahumara Indians (famed for their long-distance running prowess), a few plucky trekkers and their load-bearing burros. This is frontier territory, hiking via scree slopes, forested passes, cool pools and caves; there’s also the possibility of meeting Tarahumara farmers en route.

Like that? Try this… Pueblos Mancomunados, Oaxaca – explore the 100km of dramatic trails that weave between a clutch of Zapotec villages.

 

Africa

 

8. Tsitsikamma Trail

Where? Eastern Cape, South Africa

Length: 60km

Days: 6

Difficulty: *** Moderate; some tough bits; huts with flush loos and showers

Independent? Yes, though huts must be pre-booked

The walk: South Africa’s first official hiking trail is a treat. The route, through gorges, fynbos and the Tsitsikamma mountains, is testing, but each night ends in an equipped hut, while a porterage service can lighten your load. Highlights include ocean views from Nature’s Valley, gazing into Bloukrans River Gorge and wildlife from bulbuls and goshawks to even leopards.

Like that? Try this… Otter Trail – tracing the East Cape coast, only 12 people are allowed  on each section of this tough 42km hike each day.

 

9. Kilimanjaro

Where? Northern Tanzania

Length: from 45km

Days: 6-9

Difficulty: **** Tough, due to high altitude; camping; huts on one route

Independent? No – a guide is compulsory

The walk: Stand on the roof of Africa! As the continent’s highest peak (5,895m), and the world’s highest trekking summit, it’s a magnet for challenge-seekers. There are six  routes: Machame (49km) is tough but dramatic; quieter Rongai (65km) allows for more acclimatisation and has a high success rate. Whichever you pick, altitude is the biggest concern, and sweat, tears, carbs and camaraderie are guaranteed.

Like that? Try this… Mount Kenya, Kenya – Africa’s second-highest (5,199m) is an easier, less-crowded and more wildlife-filled climb.

 

10. Toubkal Circuit

Where? Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Length: 72km

Days: 4-6

Difficulty: ** Moderate; some tough sections; camping; gîtes in villages

Independent? Possible, though guide highly recommended

The walk: The summit of North Africa’s highest peak is a relatively simple hike up from the Neltner Refuge. But much better to spend several days circuiting 4,167m Jebel Toubkal than to rush it. The surrounding High Atlas terrain is a mix of verdant valleys, Berber villages and stark mountainsides; some days include testing passes, but frequent stops to sip mint tea in the shade relieves the strain.

Like that? Try this… M’goun Massif – a five-day expedition around Morocco’s lesser-hiked but still lofty mountain is an offbeat alternative.

 

11. Simien Mountains Traverse

Where? Ethiopia

Length: various
Days: 6-9

Difficulty: *** Moderate-to-tough; camping

Independent? No – trails are not clearly marked

The walk: Trekking in Ethiopia’s World Heritage-listed highlands might yield sightings of gelada baboons, walia ibex, possibly even a rare Simien fox – but few other trekkers. This is offbeat African hiking, across rugged volcanic escarpments seemingly untouched by time. Routes vary, but often include a summit attempt on Ras Dashen (4,620m), the country’s highest peak, and stops at village mud-huts to drink coffee like a local.

Like that? Try this… Mountains of the Moon, Uganda – try a challenging hut-to-hut hike in the oft-overlooked Rwenzoris.

 

Europe

 

12. Sentiero degli Dei

Where? Bomerano-Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Length: 8km

Days: 1

Difficulty: * Mostly easy; short

Independent? Yes

The walk: The Path of the Gods traces one of the Amalfi Coast’s most handsome  sections. Following old mule trails, it skirts vineyards and rolls over valleysides cloaked in holm oak and heather, offering views down the cliffs to the Med beyond. The ‘alto’ route has most drama; a lower route can be shortened at tiny Nocelle (perched 440m-up) by catching the bus to pretty Positano below.

Like that? Try this… Sentiero Azzurro, Cinque Terre – the Blue Trail between Liguria’s five coastal villages is a compact Italian classic.

 

13. Tour du Mont Blanc

Where? France/Switzerland/Italy

Length: 170km

Days: 9-12

Difficulty: *** Moderate-tough; plentiful refuges; villages accessible from several points

Independent? Yes; many guided trips available

The walk: No need to haul yourself up 4,810m Mont Blanc – arguably, the best way to experience Western Europe’s highest peak is to walk in its shadow on this classic trail that nips into three nations and brims with Alpine charm and history. It’s also high on  creature comforts, dotted with refuges (providing hot, homecooked meals) so you don’t have to carry camping kit. There are stiff climbs, some steep ladders and snow is always possible, but plentiful accommodation choices mean you can tackle it at your own pace.

Like that? Try this… Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route – a tough two-week, 180km  adventure that showcases the best of the high Alps.

 

14. Camino de Santiago

Where? St Jean Pied de Port-Santiago de Compostella, France/Spain

Length: about 800km

Days: 30

Difficulty: *** Long but moderate if paced; albergues; villages

Independent? Yes

The walk: The Camino isn’t a walk, it’s a state of mind. Some see it as a spiritual undertaking, others as a physical test; for some it’s all about the camaraderie at the albergues (pilgrim hostels). Whether you’re there for the highlights of northern Spain – León’s cathedral, delicious grilled octopus – or some higher goal, there’s nothing else quite like it.

Like that? Try this… Portuguese Road – there are many ways to Santiago; try the 230km camino from Porto.

 

15. Laugavegur

Where? Landmannalaugar-Thórsmörk, Iceland

Length: 55km

Days: 4

Difficulty: ** Moderate, though very weather dependent; six huts en route, with dorms, tent pitches, toilets, showers but no food

Independent? Possible, but guide recommended

The walk: Iceland’s most iconic walk is a rainbow-coloured romp through some of the country’s best bits. Peaks come in reds, yellows, greens and purples; blinding-white glaciers creak, hot springs burble, lakes and rivers glitter. The trekking season is short (mid-June to early September), so the trail can get busy, but the wonderful weirdness of Iceland’s geothermal geography is more than compensation.

Like that? Try this… Borgarfjörður Eystri – this inlet in eastern Iceland is riddled with walking trails and elvish legends.

 

16. Lycian Way

Where? Fethiye-Antalya, Turkey

Length: 509km

Days: 25

Difficulty: **** Moderate-tough; some easy sections; camping, village houses and pensions en route

Independent? Yes; many guided trips available

The walk: The Lycian Way, Turkey’s first long-distance trail, flanks the hilly coast of the Tekke Peninsula. It’s rich in history – dotted with Byzantine monasteries, Greek temples and Roman ruins; it’s riddled with coves, caves and brilliant beaches; and it’s infused with the scent of wild strawberries, juniper and pine. Camping is possible, but best is to stay in guesthouses, to meet the locals who call this handsome coastline home.

Like that? Try this… St Paul Trail – Follow in the saint’s footsteps for 500km, from Perge, near Antalya, to Yalvac, close to Lake Egirdir.

 

17. Faulhornweg

Where? Schynige Platte-First, Switzerland

Length: 16km

Days: 1

Difficulty: ** Moderate but short; huts en route; train/cablecar at ends.

Independent? Yes

The walk: This well-marked route is potted Swiss perfection. Accessed by 19th-century cog railway from Wilderswil, it offers views over blue-turquoise lakes Thun and Brienz to one side, the amassed peaks of the Bernese Oberland on the other. Green, curving valleys, dramatic ridge walking, a 2,680m-high mountain lodge (a good refreshment  stop) and mirror lakes are added extras. A scenic cablecar from First to Grindelwald even saves the walk back down to the valley floor.

Like that? Try this… Matterhorn Circuit – for a longer Swiss stroll, try the tough but magnificent 145km route around the iconic mountain.

 

18. West Highland Way

Where? Milngavie-Fort William, Scotland

Length: 154km

Days: 6-7

Difficulty: ** Moderate, though it’s weather dependent; camping, bothies, hostels and
B&Bs en route

Independent? Yes; many guided trips available

The walk: From just outside Glasgow to the UK’s highest peak, the West Highland Way is the perfect Scottish primer. Utilising many old pathways – from drovers’ roads to  disused railway lines – it crosses pastoral lowlands, skirts Loch Lomond and negotiates bleakly beautiful Rannoch Moor before delving into great glens and finishing beneath 1,344m Ben Nevis – a summit of which provides the ultimate finale.

Like that? Try this… East Highland Way – extend your Scottish soiree by picking up this 132km trail, which links Fort William to Aviemore.

 

North America

 

19. West Coast Trail

Where? Pachena Bay-Gordon River, Vancouver Island, Canada

Length: 75km

Days: 5-7

Difficulty: **** Tough; tidal/river crossings; wild camping; no shelters or facilities

Independent? Yes – but permits/booking essential

The walk: Don’t underestimate the WCT: it might be in lovely, well-developed Canada, but it’s a wild prospect. Along its glorious Pacific-battered route, there are no settlements, ferry ports, shelters or shops – you must be entirely self-sufficient. There are also rivers to ford, gullies to cross, ladders to climb, bears to avoid and inclement weather to contend with. But the rewards are many: this is North America at its most pristine, where the trail runs via old-growth forest, untouched beaches, caves, coves, cliffs and incredible sunsets. Watch out for whales, sea lions and wolves, too.

Like that? Try this… Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Vancouver Island – this 47km WCT alternative is still spectacular, but easier, more accessible and permit-free.

 

20. Appalachian Trail

Where? Springer Mountain, GA-Mt Katahdin, ME, USA

Length: 3,500km
Days: 180

Difficulty: ***** Varied – challenging thru-hike, but some easy sections; long; camping; basic shelters en route;intermittent access to hotels

Independent? Yes

The walk: First, some stats: the Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states; its total elevation gain equals 16 Mt Everests; around 2,000 people try to thru-hike the whole lot each year – one in four succeeds. Luckily, it’s easy to simply sample this back-country behemoth – appalachiantrail.org offers suggestions, from easy two-milers to multi-day trips. In general, Maryland and West Virginia offer the gentlest hikes; New Hampshire and Maine the toughest.

Like that? Try this… Florida Trail – trace sections of this 2,250km path, which spans the state from Gulf Islands National Seashore to Big Cypress NP.

 

21. John Muir Trail

Where? Yosemite Valley-Mt Whitney, California, USA

Length: 340km

Days: 20-30

Difficulty: **** Moderate-tough; camping; self-sufficiency required; long

Independent? Possible, but advance booking and permits are required

The walk: It’s fitting that the man who spearheaded the national parks movement should have such a world-class wilderness-traversing trail named after him. Muir loved Yosemite, where this backcountry adventure starts; the route then wends further into the Sierra Nevada, where highlights include meadows strewn with wildflowers, remote Evolution Lake and the pretty pools at Rae. En route there are a few re-supply stops (including the hot springs at Red’s Meadows Resort), but mostly it’s just you, the mountains and the bears.

Like that? Try this… Pacific Crest Trail, USA – the John Muir forms just part of this massive 4,240km journey from the Mexican to the Canadian border.

 

22. Virgin Narrows

Where? Chamberlain’s Ranch-Temple of Sinawava, Zion NP, Utah, USA

Length: 26km

Days: 1-2

Difficulty: *** Moderate but short; camping; all waste must be packed out

Independent? Possible, but guide recommended and permits required

The walk: Breathe in for this squeeze down one of southwest USA’s most dramatic slot canyons. This is Indiana Jones-style stuff: sheer, twisting sandstone walls tufted by hanging gardens soar up from the boulder-strewn riverbed – which forms your wet-n-wild walking trail through Zion’s canyons. Good water-shoes and neoprene socks are essential; you may need to swim short sections. But keep an eye on the weather before you start as flash floods are lethal here. Go with a guide for the safest trip.

Like that? Try this… Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Utah-Arizona) our cover star this issue. Set off from Wire Pass trailhead to check out the weird and wonderful rock formations such as The Wave.

 

23. Berg Lake Trail

Where? Mount Robson, British Columbia, Canada

Length: 23km

Days: 1-2

Difficulty: ** Moderate but short; campsites with bear lockers and pit toilets

Independent? Yes

The walk: This out-and-back hike towards the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak (3,954m Mt Robson) is a stunner: gaining nearly 800m in 23km, it traverses the Valley of a Thousand Falls – via reflective pools, suspension bridges and squeaking marmots – to Berg Lake, where ice-chunks from massive Berg Glacier calve into the aquamarine water. Doable as a long day-hike, there are campgrounds en route for those who want to linger; for even better hiking, use the camp at the lake as a base for forays into the surrounding wilds.

Like that? Try this… Mount Assiniboine, British Columbia/ Alberta – spend six days hiking around ‘Canada’s Matterhorn’.

 

Middle East

 

24. Dana-Petra

Where? Southern Jordan
Length: 45km

Days: 3-5 days

Difficulty: *** Moderate-tough; camping; wild

Independent? No – a guide is compulsory

The walk: The ‘Inca Trail of the Middle East’ wends from the wildlife-filled forests of Dana Nature Reserve to the rock-hewn ‘lost’ city of Petra, with some truly intoxicating desert in between. It’s not waymarked – this is a directional route along a range of old mule tracks, rather than a set path, hence the need for a guide. But it’s full of atmosphere and drama: rolling hills, scorching wadis, rich sandstone mountains, Bedouin-style camping and access to Petra via its little-known back door.

Like that? Try this… Wadi Rum – follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia with spectral overnight hikes in the Jordanian desert.

 

25. Mount Sinai

Where? Egypt

Length: various

Days: 1-4

Difficulty: ** Moderate; camps; guesthouses

Independent? No – many trails are not clearly marked

The walk: Many a traveller hauls themselves up 2,285m Mount Sinai for sunrise, a two- to three-hour hike in the dark from St Catherine’s Monastery. However, the entire peninsula is scored with old pilgrim paths and mule tracks that could occupy several days. You can summit Mount Saint Catherine (2,641m), Sinai’s highest peak; hike into El Shegg Gorge to bathe in nearby pools; or climb to the ruined Ottoman castle on Mount Abbas Pasha. Throughout, the desert terrain is wild, and rich in biblical and Bedouin intrigue.

Like that? Try this… White Desert – camp and hike out amid the weird chalk formations of Egypt’s Western Desert, on the fringes of the Sahara.

 

Australasia

 

26. Milford Track

Where? Lake Te Anau-Milford Sound, South Island, NZ

Length: 53.5km

Days: 4

Difficulty: ** Moderate; huts with bunks, cookers and flush loos

Independent? Yes, but reservations required

The walk: Awesome and oh-so popular – the toughest thing about this four-day Fiordland tramp (aside from scaling 1,154m Mackinnon Pass) is booking a place on it. Only 40 independent walkers a day are permitted to hit the trail, which passes mossy rainforest, tumbling falls and high peaks en route to marvellous Milford Sound. Book ahead, pack all your supplies and prepare to be rained on and blown away.

Like that? Try this… Kepler Track – this easy, accessible and less-crowded 60km loop takes a different route from Te Anau.

 

27. Overland Track

Where? Ronny Creek-Lake St Clair, Tasmania, Australia


Length: 65km

Days: 6

Difficulty: ** Moderate; basic huts, tent platforms

Independent? Yes; guided options are available (including a ‘posh’ version using private huts)

The walk: Starting from Cradle Mountain and passing wizened rainforest, glacier-gouged valleys, towering eucalypts and golden moorland, this classic sums up the Tassie wilderness. As well as the standard 65km, there are side-trips to waterfalls and lookouts. At Lake Sinclair, finish with a ferry ride, or extend your trip by walking an extra 17.5km around its shore.

Like that? Try this… Maria Island – saunter in style on a luxurious four-day guided hike across Tassie’s pristine east-coast isle.

 

28. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Where? Tongariro NP, North Island, NZ

Length: 19km

Days: 1

Difficulty: * Easy-medium; steep sections; short; no facilities

Independent? Yes

The walk: Often touted as the world’s best day walk, this yomp across eerie Tongariro is a magical mix of sulphurous pools, red craters, totara trees, Maori legend and – since the Lord of the Rings movies – Mount Doom. There are some significant ups, but it’s a straightforward undertaking (unless the weather comes in). To add extra interest – and lose the crowds – spend three days completing the 34km hut-to-hut Northern Circuit: the Crossing, supersized.

Like that? Try this… Lake Waikaremoana Track – this 46km Great Walk explores North Island’s lesser-visited Te Urewera NP, rich in Maori history.

 

29. Larapinta Trail

Where? Alice Springs-Mt Sonder, NT, Australia

Length: 223km

Days: 11-16

Difficulty: **** Tough; some stages easier; camping; self-sufficiency required

Independent? Yes; guided options available (including a ‘posh’ version using  semipermanent camps)

The walk: Australia has many trails but this is perhaps the most quintessentially ‘Oz’: starting from the Red Centre capital of Alice, it goes bush along the spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges, incorporating red rocks and desert, deep gorges, cooling creeks, termite mounds and star-filled skies; the climax is Alamy a climb of 1,380m Mt Sonder for a panoramic overview. It’s broken into 12 sections, and each trailhead is vehicle-accessible making short forays easy to arrange. Only the fit and well-prepared should attempt the lot alone.

Like that? Try this… Bibbulmun Track, WA – nearly 1,000km of brilliant bushwalking, from Kalamunda to Albany.

 

30. Kokoda Track

Where? Owers Corner-Kokoda, Papua New Guinea

Length: 96km

Days: 6-10

Difficulty: **** Tough; humid; jungle camps, homestays, villages en route

Independent? No – guide and permit required

The walk: In 1942, this jungle trail was the site of fierce fighting between Japanese and Australian troops; today it’s filled with hikers battling humidity, bugs and torrential rain. This isn’t a comfortable undertaking, involving steep, slippery ascents, raging rivers and sticky conditions, but pay-offs include fascinating Second World War history, tribal encounters and Technicolor birds of paradise.

Like that? Try this… Black Cat Track, Morobe Province – launched in 2003 as the ‘new’ Kokoda, this five-day trail from Wau is said to be even tougher!

 

Asia

 

31. Great Himalaya Trail

Where? Near Kanchenjunga Base Camp-Hilsa, Tibetan border, Nepal

Length: 1,700km

Days: 150

Difficulty: ***** Challenging, long!; camping

Independent? No – hire a guide

The walk: First thing first: don’t panic! This mammoth hike across the Nepalese Himalaya is formed of ten connecting sections (two/three weeks each), so the less gung-ho can still have a go at a bit of it. Also, there’s a ‘cultural’ version (1,500km), which uses gentler, lower altitude trails, and where small guesthouses offer a warm namaste each night.

Like that? Try this… Mustang – with access restricted to only a handful of groups each season, treks here are special indeed.

32. Great Wall of China

Where? North of Beijing, China

Length: 5,000km in total; various short sections possible

Days: 1-12 (a section)

Difficulty: ** Easy-moderate; steep, uneven sections; homestays

Independent? Yes; many guided options available

The walk: It’s tough to walk the entire Great Wall – not just because it’s a really long way but, in places, its route is ill-defined. However, stringing together a series of day-hikes in the Beijing region – around the less touristy areas of Jiankou, Mutianyu, Gubeikou and Jinshanling – is a good alternative, combining watchtowers, vertiginous steps and mountain views.

Like that? Try this… Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan – From Lijiang, spend three-four days hiking this dramatic canyon.

 

33. Chomolhari Trek

Where? Paro-Dodena, Bhutan

Length: 133km

Days: 10-13

Difficulty: **** Fairly tough; high altitudes; camping, no facilities

Independent? No – guide mandatory

The walk: This exclusive yet manageable Himalayan adventure is a Bhutanese classic. Join yak herders – but few hikers – walking in the shadow of 7,326m Chomolhari (Jomolhari). The trail leads past colourful dzongs (monasteries) and thick forest, over lofty passes (topping out at 4,900m Nyile La) and maybe even past the footprints of rare snow leopards.

Like that? Try this… Merak Sakten – spend five/six days looping around the culturally distinct villages of eastern Bhutan.

 

34. Mount Kailash Circuit

Where? Tibet

Length: 52km

Days: 3-5

Difficulty: *** Moderate-tough;remote; monasteries and camping

Independent? No – permits/guides required

The walk: A circumambulation of Kailash won’t just test your legs, it will sort your karma: Buddhists, Böns, Hindus and Jains all believe that a lifetime’s sins can be expunged by completing a circuit (kora) of the unmistakable 6,714m mountain. Kailash is in a remote spot – just getting there (via sacred Lake Manasarovar) is an adventure. On trek, you’ll crest a 5,600m pass, visit monasteries and meet the Tibetan pilgrims who are walking for their souls.

Like that? Try this… Everest’s Kangshung Face – a tough trek to view the mightiest Himalaya peak’s little-visited Tibetan side.

 

35. Lantau Trail

Where? Hong Kong

Length: 70km

Days: 3-12

Difficulty: * Mostly easy; some tougher sections; good facilities

Independent? Yes

The walk: Only a short train or ferry hop from the hubbub of Hong Kong Island, this  circular trail on nearby Lantau is a breath of bucolic air. Starting/finishing at Mui Wo, the route feels far from the metropolis, taking in temples, beaches, fishing villages and gardens. Divided into 12 sections, it’s easy to pick and chose a suitable section.

Like that? Try this… MacLehose Trail – this 100km trek traverses Hong Kong’s New Territories for more alternative city views.

 

36. Singalila Ridge

Where? Manebhanjan-Rimbik, Sikkim, India

Length: 85km

Days: 6-7

Difficulty: ** Moderate; teahouses
Independent? Possible, but guide recommended

The walk: From Sandakphu, the 3,636m zenith of this route near the tea terraces of Darjeeling, you can look out over the world’s highest peaks: Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Everest. As you trek between teahouses, you’ll stop en route to admire Hindu temples, prayer wheels and red pandas. Each night, curries, Sikkimese beers and warm welcomes await.

Like that? Try this… Markha Valley, Ladakh – tale a seven-day hike in ‘little Tibet’, for views of the Karakoram and Himalaya.

 

37. Annapurna Circuit

Where? Besisahar-Naya Pul, Nepal

Length: 300km

Days: 17-24

Difficulty: *** Moderate-tough; teahouses

Independent? Possible, but local guides/sherpas recommended

The walk: Although it weaves amid remote, spectacular mountains, this is no wilderness adventure. Dubbed the ‘teahouse trek’, you’ll interact and stay with the varied ethnic groups that live here. As well as high passes (peaking at 5,416m Thorong La), lonely stupas, lush paddies and barren moonscapes, there are yak herders, reviving hot springs and guesthouses serving curry and cake. Options abound too: cut the trek in half by flying into/out of midway Jomsom. Or take alternative side trails to avoid walking by the new road.

Like that? Try this… Everest Base Camp – Nepal’s other classic, a 14-day out-and-back from Lukla.

 

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iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

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On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.

Marstrand-Island-in-Bohuslan-Photo-Lisa-Nestorson

I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.

Galleria

* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?

Paro

  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.

Lunar

Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?

castlebuilding

In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?

MONA

© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.

Dubai

Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.

Oasis

*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario

Cipriani

  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.

&Beyond

There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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Adventure Travel Worth US $263 billion – Report

Posted on Aug 23, 2013 | Comments Off on Adventure Travel Worth US $263 billion – Report

Ioffe & kayaks

Aug 22, 2013

Growth in the adventure travel market has accelerated at a 65 percent yearly rate since 2009 according to the newly released Adventure Tourism Market Study – a consumer report by The George Washington University (GW) conducted in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

The 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study uses the same methodology and approach as the 2010 study allowing for direct comparison between the studies and growth trend analysis. It included three key outbound regions: Europe, North America and South America. These regions account for nearly 70 percent of overall international departures, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The study estimates the value of the global outbound adventure travel sector to be US$263 billion, excluding airfare, up from US$89 billion first reported in the benchmark consumer study. When this US$263 billion is combined with the estimated $82 billion spent for related gear, apparel and accessories, adventure travelers spent more than $345 billion in 2012 for travel related to adventure.

“Adventure tourism’s steep climb is attributed to growth in the global tourism industry, a significant increase in the percentage of adventure travelers, and an increase in the average amount spent per adventure travel trip,” said ATTA President Mr. Shannon Stowell. “This comes as positive news, of course, and reinforces the ATTA community’s rising commitment to safety, education, training and development of innovative and culturally and environmentally sound travel options. As we watch adventure travel tourism grow it is imperative that we continue to provide travelers with transformative experiences, all while helping to protect and respect the very people and places visited.”

The GW/ATTA’s market value results reflect the growth in the international tourism market which reached an all-time record of more than one billion international tourism arrivals in 2012, as reported by the UNWTO. As UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said at the 2012 Adventure Travel World Summit, “Adventure tourism is what tourism should be today and definitely what tourism will be tomorrow.” Also viewed as a key contributor to this significant growth pattern is the increase in the percentage of European and South American travelers classified as adventure travelers, an increase in the average spending by adventure travelers globally ($593 per trip in 2009 to $947 in 2012), recovery from the global financial crisis, and the emergence of new source markets.

adventure_travel_market082610

The ATTA defines a trip as “adventure travel” if it involves two of the following three elements, with the core of an adventure trip involving all three:
■connection with nature

■interaction with culture

■a physical activity

In the 2013 Market Study respondents were asked specifically if they had participated in an adventure activity on their last trip. Example activities included soft adventure options such as hiking, kayaking, rafting, snorkeling, volunteer tourism and archaeological expeditions and hard adventure options such as caving, climbing, heli-skiing, kite surfing, trekking and paragliding. Further highlights from the Adventure Tourism Market Study include:

■Adventure travelers are younger than non-adventure travelers, with an average age of 36;

■In 2012 nearly 42 percent of travelers from these three regions reported an adventure activity as the main activity of their last trip (the activity would have been one of those identified in the survey as hard or soft adventure options);

■The average length of a soft adventure trip was ten days in 2012 compared to eight days in 2009;

■Adventure travelers read publications such as National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler and Men’s Health, which cover traditional adventure and recreation topics, as well as unrelated but popular publications such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue;

■Nearly 54 percent of travelers plan to participate in an adventure activity on their next trip, compared to the 42 percent of travelers currently participating in adventure activities. The increase in interest comes largely from soft adventure activities;

■73 percent of adventure travelers plan to participate in an adventure activity on their next trip. Only 22 percent of adventure travelers plan on doing the same adventure activity as their last trip;

■45 percent of adventure travelers plan on using a tour operator on their next trip, compared to only 31 percent of non-adventure travelers;

■The percentage of adventure travelers using Facebook (78 percent) has more than doubled since 2009.

The Adventure Tourism Market Study is a barometer for the size and characteristics of the adventure tourism market. Adventure travel is a sector of tourism increasingly recognized for attracting environmentally and culturally aware consumers and for its focus on responsible and sustainable development, a model designed to create economic opportunities for local people in rural and remote communities worldwide.

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CNN’s view of 10 of the world’s best motorcycle rides

Posted on Aug 14, 2013 | Comments Off on CNN’s view of 10 of the world’s best motorcycle rides

An interesting post by CNN. Do you agree – or have other rides to add?

The original article is at: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/12/travel/motorcycle-rides/index.html

By Christopher Baker, for CNN
August 13, 2013 — Updated 2325 GMT (0725 HKT)
Few activities offer the feeling of freedom, speed and adventure than a long trip on a motorcycle. Here are some of the top views to be had while biking the world.
Few activities offer the feeling of freedom, speed and adventure than a long trip on a motorcycle. Here are some of the top views to be had while biking the world.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Taking in France and Spain, the Pyrenees Loop is a favorite with European bikers
  • Dales and Moors in north England offer nonstop bends, fast straights, wild scenery
  • California’s Pacific Coast Highway takes in redwood forests, ocean cliffs

(CNN) — Nature’s beauty seems so much closer from the seat of a saddle.

Bikes offer a more intimate connection with the people of the places you pass through.

No wonder adventure motorcycling has grown massively in the last decade.

The 2004 “Long Way Round” and 2007’s “Long Way Down” TV documentary series (both featured Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s round the world rides) helped spark the trend.

In 2011, the Motorcycle Industry Council reported that sales of adventure touring bikes were up 14.2% across 12 major brands.

There are hundreds of scenic roads worldwide, but the greatest rides are spiced by the thrill of twisties and smooth hardtop where motorcyclists can crank open the throttle.

Here are 10 of the best rides worldwide, whether for a day out or a longer adventure.

All are in places where motorcycles can be rented or where tours are organized.

1. Ceuta to Marrakesh loop, Morocco

2,570 kilometers (1,600 miles)

Bikers on this route journey through an exotic realm of ancient kasbahs (citadels), souks (bazaars) and desert cultures.

After rolling off the ferry at Ceuta, riders switchback through the wild Rif Mountains to Fez, then traverse the Atlas Mountains (snow-capped in winter) to hit the Sahara at Erfoud.

More on CNN: 10 thing to know before visiting Morocco

Snaking west through the Todra Gorge, the route passes palm groves of Ouarzazate and the imperial city of Marrakesh.

Beyond, the Tizi n’Test Pass runs down to the Atlantic coast at Agadir.

It’s two days from here along blacktop to Casablanca, then the final 321 kilometers (200 miles) via Tangiers to Ceuta.

Edelweiss Bike Travel, +43 5264 5690

2. Pyrenees Loop, France and Spain

2,410 kilometers (1,500 miles), Bilbao to Biarritz

A head turner for its sensational scenery and mind-bending hairpins, this route is a favorite among European bikers.

From Bilbao you spin east on the N260 (a legendary biking road worming into the Pyrenees), hit La Seu d’Urgell, then wind north to Andorra, dropping back to Spain at Bourg-Madame for 48 kilometers (30 miles) of twisties coiling down to Ripoli.

At Figueres you can stop at the Dalí museum before rolling along the Mediterranean coast to France.

The D117 from Perpignan threads through narrow mountain passes to Col d’Aspin, with grin-inducing bends all the way to Biarritz.

Pyrenees Motorcycle Tours, +33 (0)5 62 45 08 11

3. The Great Ocean Road, Australia

Blue sky, white sand, red hot wheels.
Blue sky, white sand, red hot wheels.

290 kilometers (180 miles)

This one-day ride from Melbourne to Petersbrough winds through shoreline rainforest, skirts sensational surfing beaches and unfurls along the rugged Shipwreck Coast, renowned for limestone pinnacles piercing the sea like witch’s fingers.

More on CNN: World’s 10 ultimate drives

It’s a perfect northern winter ride.

Big Boyz Toyz, +61 (0)8 9244 4293

4. California and the American West

5,630 kilometers (3,500 miles), Los Angeles to San Francisco (the long way)

This undisputed champion of road trips weaves together many of the West’s iconic national parks.

From Los Angeles, Route 66 traces back in time to Arizona, the Grand Canyon and mesmerizing formations of Monument Valley.

More on CNN: 10 easy ways to experience Navajo Nation

Heading north, the road takes in Natural Bridges National Park, then arcing west takes in Bryce and Zion national parks.

You can twist the throttle across the Mojave Desert to Death Valley then skirt the snow-capped Sierra Nevada northbound to Lee Vining and Yosemite National Park — unrivaled in grandeur.

EagleRider Motorcycle Rental & Tours, +1 310 536 6777

5. Cape Town Circuit, South Africa

1,690 kilometers (1,050 miles)

Fantastic roads, amazing scenery and excellent climate — South Africa is perfect for a one- or two-week fly-ride vacation.

From Cape Town the wild coast heads east then the road turns north over the Olifantskip Pass to Addo National Park — a good chance to shoot big game with your camera.

A throttle-open ride across the Great Karoo to Oudtshoorn heralds dizzying switchbacks — via Route 62 — over the Little Karoo Mountains to sample the wines around Robertson before closing your loop in Cape Town.

Motorcycle Tours South Africa, +27 12 804 3805

6. Pacific Coast Highway, California

Tempting to stop at every turn.
Tempting to stop at every turn.

320 kilometers (200 miles), San Luis Obispo to San Francisco

No top 10 would be complete without this stellar ride.

Civilization disappears quickly as you dance a thrilling two-lane tango past seal-strewn beaches, redwood forests, plunging cliffs and the crashing surf of Big Sur.

Also en route — the fishing town of Monterey, the surfing capital of Santa Cruz, and everyone’s favorite city with a famous bridge, San Francisco.

EagleRider Motorcycle Rental & Tours, +1 415 647 9898

7. Dales and Moors, Yorkshire, England

440 kilometers (270 miles) from Kendal to Whitby

This one-day ride across North Yorkshire offers nonstop bends, fast straights, wild scenery and gentle vales dotted with market towns.

The A684 launches you over the Pennines to Hawes, gateway to the Yorkshire Dales National Park via Aysgarth to Leyburn.

Turn south here to Masham for Ripon and Thirsk, then over the heather-clad moors via Pickering to drop down to the peaceful fishing village of Whitby, where you can celebrate an exhilarating ride with fresh fish ‘n’ chips and a pint of ale.

White Rose Tours, +44 01423 770 103

8. Fjordland, Norway

450 kilometers (280 miles) Bergen to Andalsnes

The land of the Vikings is biking Nirvana. The road network takes in terrific switchbacks and awesome fjords — some crossed by ferries.

You begin in Bergen and head for Gudvangern where a ferry takes you through Naerlandsford, the world’s longest and deepest fjord.

Beyond Belstrand, you’ll need to drop gears as you climb over Gaularfjell to Moskog, then Stryn and Eidsdal, where a ferry links to the Trollstigen road, zigzagging crazily to deliver you exhilarated to Andalsness.

Edelweiss Bike Tours, +43 5264 5690

9. Istanbul to Anatolia, Turkey

Modern and ancient tech meet.
Modern and ancient tech meet.

2,980 kilometers (1,850 miles) Istanbul to Anatolia

Istanbul provides a superb starting point for an exotic circuit, taking in Cappadocia’s troglodyte houses, ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins and the beauty of the Black Sea and Taurus Mountains.

More on CNN: Best of Istanbul

A ferry across the Sea of Masmara links you to Bursa, then Safranbolu, and the eerie volcanic landscapes of Cappadocia, riddled with Christian churches.

A ride west via Konya to hit the Aegean coast — taking in the Greco-Roman town of Ephesus — closes the loop.

MotoDiscovery, +90 830 438 7744

10. Chasing Che, Cuba

2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles)

Chasing Che Guevara’s ghost down the highway of an enigmatic Communist island nation that resembles a Hollywood stage set is a thrill in itself.

Classic American cars and creaky ox carts are companions on your clockwise loop from Havana to Baracoa, with plenty of time for salsa, cigars and rum.

More on CNN: What to do in Havana

For five decades forbidden fruit, Cuba recently opened to U.S. citizens on licensed group motorcycle tours offered by Texas-based MotoDiscovery.

MotoDiscovery, +53 830 438 7744

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