The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter

The Northern California Chapter of The Explorers Club and the American Polar Society presents:

Bill Isherwood, FN-70

The Changing Arctic

The Perspective of a perpetual visitor

Camp visitor in NE Greenland, 1993. All photographs (except the one of Dana) were taken by Dana Isherwood

DINNER MEETING - Friday, April 25, 1997, St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco

(see map)

Click for Calendar of future events

  • 6:00 PM, Business meeting
  • 6:30 PM, Cocktails
  • 7:30 PM, Dinner
  • 8:30 PM, Speaker
  • $35.00 each


    American Polar Socitey

    Through the efforts of Brian Shoemaker, Jerry Athearn, John Roscoe, Bill Isherwood, and Mike Diggles, this meeting will be a joint gathering of the Northern California Chapter of The Explorers Club and the Bay-Area-region members of the American Polar Society.


    The Arctic has witnessed some significant physical, technological and political changes since the advent of "civilized" westerners to that area. This has resulted in major social and cultural changes. Bill Isherwood, FN-70, has visited the Arctic, including arctic Alaska, 15 times over the past 35 years. Sometimes he has gone as a scientist, other times for pure recreational pleasure. Bill will describe some of the changes and trends he has witnessed over this time, using photographs that span the entire period of his sojourns.

    Dana wrapped in a polar bear skin, traveling on the sea ice, NW Baffin, 1971


    Bill Isherwood's early training included degrees in Mathematics, Geophysics, and a doctorate in Geological Sciences. Subsequently, he has enjoyed a number of somewhat distinct careers. With an early interest in electronics, Bill had summer jobs throughout high school and college as an electronics technician, and learned to apply that skill to physics and to geophysics, particularly to the equipment used in those sciences.

    Because of an interest in mountaineering during his early career, he sought out a job where he spent the summer of 1962 working for the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska. While there he visited a great deal of the state, and worked with many Alaskan natives, as he learned field surveying techniques.

    The Explorers Club flag on the Kangeeak Headlands, Baffin Island, 1971

    On his first trip north, Bill was hooked. He became an expert in geophysical means of studying ice thickness and investigating the properties of the rock below. This led to several seasons on the Saint Elias Icefield, the Juneau Icefield, the Queen Maud Land Plateau, the Byrd Coast, and culminated in a 14 month stint at Byrd Station Antarctica.

    After returning for additional graduate work in 1970, Bill intended to apply geophysical techniques to Arctic issues. He spent the summer of 1971 making measurements on Baffin Island to understand the isostatic rebound of the region. He carried the Explorers Club Flag with him on that venture. On that trip he met the Eastern Arctic Inuit and formed a strong affinity for these people. Bill's wife, Dana, was his field assistant at that time, during which she also fell in love with the region. This then became her own thesis area. Bill returned to the area as Dana's field assistant a couple of years later.

    Mother fox (kits were nearby) near mouth of Lock Fine, NE Greenland, 1994

    Bill's career then took a slight turn, toward applying geophysical techniques in the search for geothermal activity and resources. He sought an understanding their nature and behavior under exploitation. However, other than one field season in 1976, in the Wrangell Mountains investigating their geothermal potential, this research did not take Bill back to the Polar regions.

    Recreation was the reason for his next several returns. He climbed peaks in Alaska in 1978 and 1988. He made sea-kayak trips to Greenland in 1993 and 1994, to Glacier Bay in 1995, and to North Baffin Island in 1996. These ventures have kept his love for the Arctic alive.

    In 1987, Bill's career took another turn, this time toward environmental cleanup. He was particularly of ground-water contamination, environmental monitoring and risk assessment, and industrial ecology. Putting his interests together with his experience, Bill became involved with the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, examining the health risks associated with sunken Russian nuclear submarines.

    Loading up for nighttime travel on sea ice, Broughton Island, NW Baffin

    Subsequent to this, Bill has instituted a new program which he calls "Sustainable Energy for the Arctic." This project has taken him back to the Arctic to work with the indigenous peoples. His efforts have focused on how local renewable resources might reduce energy expenditures and environmental damage, and increase local jobs and self-reliance.

    The design and implementation of sustainable energy systems has attracted the attention of the US Department of State, which led to Bill being a US delegate at the first meeting of the newly formed Arctic Council. The eight Arctic nations comprise this Council (can you name them?). Because of his interest in sustainable and renewable energy for this area, the Alaskan Congressional Delegation has urged Bill and his colleagues to put together a proposal for carrying out a major energy project for the benefit of rural Alaskan villages. He is now working on this project in conjunction with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

    Greenland Falcon (White phase of Gyr Falcon) at old hunting sit of Revet, NE Greenland, 1994


    Morton P. Beebe, FN-78, photographer extraordinaire and compiler of photographic essay publications, presented the essence of his latest publication, Cascadia: A Tale of Two Cities, to the Northern California Chapter membership at its March 28 meeting. He was assisted by Paula Paulin Dresden, who operated the multi-image projection set.

    Mort reported that his interest in the Northwest area known as Cascadia began many years ago when he visited the area immediately north of Vancouver, BC, on a photographic expedition. Since that time he has compiled a photographic story of the development of the area over time, which shows how the two major cities, Vancouver and Seattle, 200 miles apart, have progressed in similar, yet different ways.

    Whereas Seattle has become the cultural center of the Northwest, with its opera, ballet and museums, Vancouver has developed as the financial capital, as a result of a recent tremendous influx of affluent Hong Kong Chinese. Though both cities have elegant urban skylines, almost to the point of being indistinguishable in photographs, the enormous amount of new construction now going on in Vancouver greatly outdoes that of Seattle.

    Both cities, and indeed the entire area, share the Cascade Range, just at their eastern peripheries, which is at least partly responsible for their long winters. Because of their latitude difference, Vancouver is the colder in the winter, with Seattle receiving more precipitation in the form of rain. It is possible to travel all over the central city of Vancouver, by staying on the "ground" floors of buildings, without ever having to brave the elements in winter, owing to the extensive network of passages between the buildings.

    Beebe pointed out that the border between the US and Canada, surrounded by an international Peace Park and transited by travel through a Peaceful Arch, is the most free border in the world. This is in great contrast to the border to the south, between the US and Mexico. The Peace Park is greatly used, especially in summer, as a place for family gatherings and for picnics. The Arch itself is frequently the site of marriage ceremonies. Sometimes several occur in a single day during times of good weather. For those of us living in the metropolises to the south, Beebe described the Seattle-Vancouver corridor as a trip back in time. For almost any Californian, it has a nostalgic "feel" much like that of 20 years ago.

    For those who saw and coveted, but did not obtain, a copy of Beebe's opulent folio-type book of photos and essays, Cascadia: a Tale of Two Cities, copies may be obtained by direct contact with Morton P. Beebe, 150 Lombard St., San Francisco, CA, 94111-1131.


    The program for the May 30 meeting promises to be an exciting one, on a subject of which the Chapter has not heard much recently. David Howell, of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, will speak on China, Its Land, Resources, and Hazards. This promises to be a very informative presentation on modern-day China, its promise, and its problems. Watch for the announcement.


    At the February Northern California Chapter meeting, Alfred McLaren, FR-71, acknowledged the efforts that Mike Diggles, FN-92, has made to develop a World Wide Web Home Page for the Chapter. McLaren reported that, at least in part owing to Mike's urging, the New York Office has at last opened its own Web site. Thus it has joined that large but elite group of organizations world wide that now make information available to all. Any or all members who have not yet visited our Web site are invited to surf on over to:


    Raymond Aker, MN-79, reports that he has an article recently published in the winter, 1996-97 issue of the National Maritime Historical Society's Sea Quarterly, "Francis Drake at Cape Horn," in which he presents evidence that Sir Francis Drake was the discoverer of Cape Horn. In his log of the voyage, Drake reported that his party landed on (Horn) Island for firewood and water in October, 1578, and on departure sailed the Golden Hind around the Cape. Drake, and his chaplain, Francis Fletcher, give interesting details of their landing on the island, which Drake named Elizabetha. The party made landings in three places in four days, with Drake and Fletcher competing for the glory of having reached the most southerly point. Here is Drake's description, in his own words, of the incident: Drake ...going ashoare, carried a Compasse with him, and seeking out the Southernmost part of the Iland, cast himselfe downe upon the uttermost point groveling, and so reached out his body over it. Presently he imbarked, and then recounted unto his people, that he had beene upon the Southernost knowne Land in the World, and more further to the Southwards upon it, then any of them, yea, or any man yet knowne.

    Drake described this as "the uttermost cape or hedland of all these islands, stands neere in 56 deg., without which there is no maine nor Iland to be seene to the Southwards, but that the Atlantic Ocean and the South Sea meete in a most large and free scope." Had not Drake kept his discovery a state secret, the notorious and tempestuous Cape Horn would likely now be known as Cape Elizabeth. The Cape was not seen again until 1616, when the Dutch navigator, Willem Schouten, discovered LeMaire Strait and sailed through it from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
    Mort Beebe, FN-78, and Greg Miller, MN-96, were, to their best knowledge, the only members of the Northern California Chapter who were able to attend the ECAD this year. Both Mort and Greg both agreed that the meeting this year at least matched those of the past few years. The ECAD, preceded with the exotics encounter, began exactly one week prior to our Chapter meeting. The New York event culminated in the grand dinner meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria on Saturday evening, March 22. Once again, the exotic nature of the entire event was very heady.

    Mort, who represented the Northern California Chapter at the Chapter Presidents' meeting on Saturday morning, reported that the other Chapters were quite interested that we had been able to mount the effort it took to create and bring to fruition the Golden Gateaway. There did appear to be support for the concept of a regular, but less frequent, convocation in the West, However it was felt that the effort is so large for a volunteer group to make that it could not, and probably should not, be attempted as an annual event.

    Following Mort's comments, there was considerable discussion among the members present concerning whether there should be another Gateaway, how soon there should be one, who could put the necessary effort into its production, and so forth. As a result, Chairman Schmieder made it clear that there will be no Gateaway in 1997. Further consideration of the possibilities will have to await a later time this year after the Steering Committee has had more time to recover from the efforts of the 1996 venture.
    Steve Smith, FN-96, who is a diving expert, reminded the members that he had accompanied Bob Schmieder on his DXpedition to Easter Island, but for purposes of diving in choice areas around the Island. He is now planning a diving trip to the Galapagos Islands for October, 1997. He is presently beginning to coordinate plans with the Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos. Steve encourages anyone who may be interested in accompanying him on this trip to contact him for details at (510) 934-1051.
    Ron Reuther, FN-74, reported to the members at the March meeting that he is in the process of writing a book on the history of flight, and of aircraft development. He briefly described the departure of Linda Finch, the veteran pilot who left from Oakland Airport on March 22 to recreate, as closely as possible, the attempted round-the-world flight of Amelia Earhart. She is flying a rebuilt Lockheed Electra as similar to Earhart's plane as could be obtained. Finch found the plane, purchased, and fully restored it herself. She left exactly 60 years after the departure of Earhart. Accompanied by the only other Electra now in existence, she circled the field three times, then turned to the East, and was on her way.

    Her trip was planned to have her return on May 22, 1997, but already her return has been delayed to May 27. Problems similar to those of the Vimy flight across the middle-East have occurred. Most of the African nations which Finch was planning to overfly have refused passage, and she has re-routed herself across the Mediterranean, a somewhat more northerly route.

    Ron reported that Finch will have with her far more sophisticated instruments than did Earhart. At her right knee at all times, Finch has a GPS (Global Position System) unit and a computerized transponder to keep her and her supporters in full contact at all times. We all watch the continuing news of this historic flight.

    Thoughts for the Month (two of them)

    Well begun is half done (found in a fortune cookie)

    A body in motion stays in motion (a physics principle, found in a magazine for seniors)
    Click for Calendar of future events
    Reservations: MAIL BY Tuesday, April 15, 1997

    Please Return To:

    William F. Isherwood
    The Explorers Club
    Northern California Chapter.
    37 La Encinal
    Orinda, CA 94563
    Bill's Phone: (510) 254-0739

    Please reserve spaces for the Bill Isherwood talk, at St. Francis Yacht Club on Friday, April 25, 1997.

    $35/person... $40 if postmarked after Apr. 18. Business, 6:00 PM, Cocktails, 6:30 PM, Dinner, 7:30 PM, Speaker, 8:30 PM.

    Your Name: _______________________________________

    Your Address: _____________________________________


    Guests: ______________________________________

    Date created: 04/10/1997
    Last modified: 06/21/2015
    Content from Charlie (Chapter Secretary) and Louise Geraci. email to Charlie and Louise
    Web page by: Mike Diggles, Webmaster, Northern California Chapter of the Explorers Club. email Mike

    Back to The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter Home Page