Antarctica Journal – Day Five

January 2, 2011

Noon location at anchor, Almirante Brown station
Position 64° 53.5′ S, 062° 52.1′ W
Air temperature 6º C/43° F
Sea state flat calm
Wind Speed/direction light air

6:00 am – Ship Time
Orcas Ahoy!
“Good morning,” announces Hannah over the PA system.  The warmth in her voice is so mild mannered that I wake up thinking Chuck Yeager’s been cloned into a British woman’s body.  Our expedition leader goes on to tell us that there’s a pod of Orcas, possibly as many as 30, a bit off the ship’s bow.  As she goes on in that warm and easy tone, I jump from my bunk, throw on last night’s clothes and scramble up to the bow where indeed there be whales. (In all my excitement, I forgot my borrowed camera so the following shots are from the expedition staff).

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A curious group — including a mom and her calf.  Their coloring was a bit more washed out than the Orcas usually seen in the northern hemisphere (Vancouver and dare I mention, SeaWorld), but still — it’s a stunning view.  These magnificent creatures are in their element.  This is their home, we’re the visitors, and that knowledge made me feel all the more grateful for them allowing us a peek of them in their element.

Sailing into the Errera Channel
As of this point, I learned to keep my borrowed camera on me at all times.  Our first sighting (and eventual landing) on the actual continent of Antarctica.  The penguins, the seals, even the whales have all been bonuses, my real reason to be here was to visit the actual Antarctica and I was not disappointed.  Blame it on my jaded ‘been to SeaWorld, been on whale sighting boats, been to the zoo’ self, but while I found the animals fascinating, it’s the icebergs I came to see… and the glacial cliffs.

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Wikipedia defines a GLACIER as a large persistent body of ice.

For me, the key word in that definition is PERSISTENT.  Remember, Antarctica is technically a desert.  There’s less than 10 inches of precipitation a year.  That means those glacial cliffs took centuries…most likely millennia… to form.   The compression deep inside a glacier, thanks to the intense weight of snow and ice, causes air trapped by falling snow to be forced out.   As this happens, the reflective surfaces can completely disappear.   Hence, the intense blues.

More importantly, those “blues” speak to a level of endurance.  Older than history. Nature at its most persistent.

Humbling yet inspirational — all wrapped up into an unforgettable view of untamed wilderness.

Alimante Brown Station
A now abandoned Argentine research station, Alimante Brown served as our first landing site, but before going ashore, I spent an 1 1/2 hours in a zodiac, touring the glacial cliffs, then on to the Antarctic Peninsula where I hiked up a small mountain!  Best part of all — I returned to the bottom in Shackleton-style, sliding down all the way.   (After 36 hours of trekking across the northern part of the continent, Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley slid down a mountain to reach the whaling station at Stromness).

You’ll see quite a few shots of icebergs and glaciers in this next round.  Mind you, this is just a fraction of the shots I actually took (and yes, I also put the camera down at times and just stared at the extraordinariness of it all.  FYI, the bluish streaks are caused by the the refreezing of meltwater which fills crevasses formed in the glacier (that creates the iceberg) as it creeps over land. In other cases, the crevasses or holes (full of air) turn a deep blue.

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I definitely overdressed for the time on shore, wearing an insulated turtleneck, a fleece pullover, and a fleece jacket.    While the multitude of layers served me well while sitting in the zodiac, I was sweltering hot by the time I reached the top of the mountain.  Snow bobbing down the hill cooled me down, though – especially my feet since my boots became packed with snow.  Cold toes, warm heart.

Lunch: Minestrone Soup and another round of the Cheese Board.  They offered a slew of pizzas which don’t work well for gluten-free folks, but believe me, the cheese board made me very happy.  A giant chunk of ripe, creamy Stilton, slices of fresh peaches and apples.   Again, a happy me.

Port Lockroy
64° 49’ N,  63° 29’  W

Home to the 1st British base in Antarctica — used during WWII as a secret base for Operation Tabarin.  A group of women from the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust run the place now – maintaining the historic buildings and serving as postmasters for the most southerly post office on the planet.

I bought a bunch of souvenirs – not feeling very guilty about it since the proceeds go to maintaining the historic sites where the early explorers lived out the winter months.  Amongst the items I bought was a book entitled “Fit for a “Fid” (FID is generally slang for a British Antarctic Worker – origins of the term unknown).  The book is a cookbook with recipes varying from Seal Roulades to Fried Breast of Penguin to the best dishes made soley from tinned meats.  Before the reader of this entry becomes alarmed, I have no intent on making anything from this cookbook.  It’s simply to give me an idea of how a character in my book can survive a trek across the SW side of the continent.  While I plan on having him find several of the Aurora Expedition’s food depots, those depots will be few and far between.   If there’s anything I’ve learned from my discussions with the scientists aboard the Polar Star, calories are critical to survival and of course, this particular character needs to survive his journey from the Antarctic Stargate so he can go on to be the thorn in SG-1’s side.

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18:30 – Back on the Polar Star
We’re now anchored off Port Lockery, home to Gentoo Penguin rookeries.  Got to see a leopard seal up close, some calving ice from a glacier, and am now drinking a bit of 18 yr-old Glenlivet with some of that ice from the glacier.  The bubbles in the ice are far larger than what we’d see in regular ice cubes.  There’s something wild about drinking 18 year old scoth with ice that’s thousands of years old.

The drinking turned hardcore amongst the passengers up in the observation lounge – my cue to leave.  At about 10:30, I headed down to my cabin and spent the next hour staring out the window toward the glacial ice cliffs.  Around midnight, I tightened up the blinds and forced myself to sleep for a few hours – no easy feat in the summertime when the sun barely sets, but to be honest, even if there was a “true” night, I’m not sure I could sleep.   Several of the other passengers suffer from the same challenge – the thrill of being down here is so intoxicating that it’s impossible to become “sober.”  It surprises me that others would want to numb this exhilaration with alcohol – I, on the other hand, would stay drunk on the profound “rightness” of nature if I could.

Funny how I haven’t missed Facebook for days.  I wouldn’t even check email if it wasn’t for the fact that I miss my family and wish they were here to share this with me.  If they were, I don’t think I could ever leave.  There’s a married couple joining our ship tonight from Lockroy – they’re carpenters and will be coming on with us to Vernadsky Station and more specifically Wordie House in order to do maintenance.  He’s Brit, she’s from Idaho.  I hope to talk to them more tomorrow.

Lastly, here’s some video of Gentoos squabbling over rocks.  Keep an eye below the penguin protecting its nest – the penguin got so upset that the egg almost rolled out.


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Gentoo penguins at Port Lockrey

Day One – December 29, 2010
Ushuia, The Beagle Channel

Day Two – December 30, 2010
The Drake Passage & Its Avian Escorts

Day Three – December 31, 2010
Arctowksi Station – Icebergs, Penguins, Seals

Day Four – January 1, 2011
Aitcho & Deception Island – Chinstrap Penguins and Volcanoes

Day Five – January 2, 2011
The Antarctic Peninsula: The Errera Channel, Alimante Brown Station, Port Lockroy
(Blue Bergs & Glaciers. Penguin Squabbles. Crabeater, Weddell & Leopard Seals.)

Day Six – January 3, 2011
Part I: LeMaire Channel, Vernadsky Research Base, Wordie House
(Breaking Ice, Ozone Research and Vodka!)

Part II: Adelie Penguins, Yalour & Pleneau Islands, Sunset over LeMaire Channel

Day Seven – January 4, 2011
Part I: Humpback Whales Ahoy!

Part II: We Almost Became Leopard Seal Bait

Day Eight – January 5, 2011

Part I: The Drake Passage Home


More to come…