Our last landing in Antarctica. An island covered in penguins – both gentoo and chinstrap. There is quite a bit of wind here, so the smell isn’t too bad. Either that, or I have gotten used to the smell of penguin poop… what a terrifying thought. There aren’t any glaciers around, so at least we can walk around with ease. The penguins are all molting, so there are feathers flying everywhere. Note to self: keep mouth closed so feathers don’t fly in when the next breeze comes along.
China in Antarctica! Arriving to King George Island was such an odd experience. For days and days, all we’ve seen when we peered out the ship’s deck was glaciers and icebergs. Vast nothingness. But this morning, looking out, there were buildings and cars! Barely a penguin in sight. Quickly boarded the zodiac and got dropped off. Navigated through a bunch of trash at the shoreline, but once Team China has assembled, we were ushered into a truck operated by Chilean company DAP. Extremely odd experience. Riding in a truck in Antarctica, it almost felt unnatural, but now, here we are! As soon as we saw signs in Chinese, we knew we had arrived.
Spent two hours traversing an icy field riddled with crevasses. I’m not going to lie – it was terrifying. Starting the walk up from the landing point was the most difficult part of the entire hike – there hadn’t been much snowfall, so we were pretty much trying to climb uphill with ice beneath our feet. As we got higher up, there was a layer of snow, making it easier to gain a foothold. IT was also around this point that we saw a lot of debris integrated into the snow/ice. This region is volcanic. Passed by our first meltwater stream, which, thankfully, was considered to be fairly shallow. Just before reaching the summit (or just the top of our hiking point) we had to walk over a crevasse. I was at the end of the rope, so I was the last to cross over. As I was nearly at the edge, my feet slipped a little bit, causing me to slide too close to the edge for my liking. The surface of the glacier is completely white, but as I got to that crevasse, I looked down and it was a deep blue. I don’t know how deep it was, but for me to see those colors meant that it was deep enough.
A curious gentoo penguin watching humans invade its space
We were out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but not before long we could see large icebergs floating in the water. Icebergs that should not have been there. This was the Iceberg Graveyard – bits of ice that had broken off the Larson B Ice Shelf in 2002. Somehow, they floated out all the way here, where they will remain until they finally melt away one day.
Standing on the edge, I wasn’t at all worried. Seeing people go before me and coming back relatively unscathed, it was calming knowing that we wouldn’t be completely frozen when we got out. Then, the countdown began – 3… 2… 1… and before I knew it, I had dove into the water – arms out in front of me with my head following closely after. The impact of the water was a little bit of a shock, but suddenly, all the cheering and clapping vanished. It was silent, and all I could hear were the bubbles I had created from jumping in. I opened my eyes and all I could see was a vast darkness below me. Above me, the glow of a cloudy Antarctic day beckoned. At least there wouldn’t be any confusion as to which way to swim, right? I swam back up to the surface, and it was only then that I felt how cold the water was. The whole thing probably took only a few seconds, but the memory of this experience will last me a lifetime.
Sighting of a pod of orcas! There’s just something about the mere mention of orcas that sends everyone flying out to the decks with cameras in hand. Forget jackets (okay, jackets are pretty important in this part of the world) – there is a thrill of seeing them that cannot be explained. The ship even stopped and turned around so that we could get a better view of the whales. They know what the people want to see!
What a sacred place. The view from the rocks gives us the perfect vantage point. You can hear the penguins calling out, but what captures me the most is the glaciers. Occasionally, you’ll hear fracturing of the ice. A large crack, and boom. And if you’re lucky enough, see the ice break off and crumble into the deep blue waters below, with such ease as well – like sand falling within an hourglass.
The sunlight is hitting the adjacent mountains, emphasizing its every peak. The thick clouds have given way to reveal an impossibly blue sky. There is no sense of time here – an ideal location for self-reflection. Continue reading →
Getting right to work setting up camp before the light fades
We’re camping out on the ice! Arrived on land before 7:00pm and were immediately put to work to set up camp – shovels were being passed out and slowly, groups of people got together to dig their homes for the night. We had to dig a hole, level the snow, and build a small wall in the direction of the wind to block it from freezing us in the night.
We’ve got lots of penguins near the shore, and a lone seal keeping us company. There is a chance that more seals may appear throughout the night, and we should be able to hear ice breaking off the glaciers and hitting the water, but what I’m most excited to hear is the sound of Antarctica. The silence.
It sounds too crazy to be real, but we did it. After camp was set up, we had the night to ourselves. Did a little bit of stargazing, and once all traces of the sun had disappeared from the sky, we just sat and enjoyed the moment. The number of stars visible was incredible. Continue reading →
Today, we went through Iceberg Alley – what a treat! These giant structures floating effortlessly in the water… magnificent. Wildlife were also abundant today, with the sighting of leopard seals, crabeater seals, gentoo penguins, minke whales, and all sorts of birds. It was truly a pleasure to be allowed to experience this habitat as it is.
Couldn’t decide on just a few photos, so here’s nine more of some of my favorite shots from the excursion. Continue reading →