The morning began with a hearty breakfast and then a zodiac tour of the area around Brown Bluff. Steve Wilkins, our zodiac driver (and Australian naturalist), did an excellent job showing us the adorable Adelie Penguins lounging and frolicking on the sea ice among the crystal blue icebergs. The sea was like glass and the sky a sparkling blue. The weather was so lovely that the crew made an announcement to warn us against over-dressing for our trip to shore; the warm sun and calm wind made for a toasty Antarctic day. Even I was able to spend much of my shore time without gloves.
Steve dropped us off on the beach of Brown Bluff around 11:00 a.m. and we took our first steps on the White Continent. The Adelie Penguins waddled, hopped, and curiously (but not especially cautiously) observed us as we crossed the beach for a short hike up a glacier. Conor informed us that this glacier moves about 2 meters per year and is one of the most stable glaciers in Antarctica. It is the only glacier we will visit that is safe enough to climb due to the danger of crevasses. While hiking up the glacier, we saw a small (though in reality it was probably quite large) avalanche as a piece of ice broke free from the Brown Bluff (a tall tower of volcanic deposits). The crack of the ice was like rifle shots and piles of ice rushed down the side of the bluff. We were well out of harm’s way and enjoyed yet another brilliant Antarctic show.
Yes, this place is fierce and beautiful. Everything you have seen or heard about it is true, and yet doesn’t begin to describe the majesty. It has inspired me, thrilled me, enlightened me and challenged me like nothing else – and we are still at the beginning of our exploration.
Sue, our expedition leader, extended our shore time since the day was especially lovely. According to our naturalists, the weather near Brown Bluff is often windy and cold with poor visibility so we were especially blessed on our visit today. From there we headed back to the boat for lunch and some cruising into the Weddell Sea.
Most of the Weddell Sea is covered in sea ice, even at the height of summer, so our Captain took us into the sea just a bit to give us an idea of the beauty of the ice floes. It was a rainbow of blue and white. The sea is brimming with wildlife. Here we saw a number of Weddell Seals lounging on the ice floes, more penguins frolicking in the icy water and tobogganing along the ice floes, and the grand prize: a pod of Type B Orcas (Killer Whales). The ship cracked through several large ice floes along the way, giving us a glimpse of her ice breaking power. As she plowed through the floes, we shook with the force while the ice cracked below – a cacophony of water, metal and power. Along the way our naturalists spotted the Orcas and our Captain gently followed their path with the hope of getting a better look. For most of our journey the pod was in the distance, so we were only able to glimpse a dorsal fin on occasion, but as they were seemingly waving goodbye to the Explorer, they passed right in front of the bow and along the side, giving us a full view.
The days in Antarctica are long and full and I think the staff of the Explorer intend to send us all home exhausted – happy, but exhausted. Since the day was so lovely and since we were all celebrating the adventurous start of 2017 our galley crew threw us a tea time barbeque on the Aft Deck. The Captain parked the ship in a large ice floe and we all headed Aft for some tailgating. We had Argentinian chorizo BBQ on the Aft deck in the sun!
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the ship’s Library, watching the icebergs and ice floes of the Weddell Sea as we headed back to the Antarctic Sound. We enjoyed a brief recap session where Paul North, our onboard undersea specialist, taught us about the cloning creatures and various other tiny underwater organisms that live in these frigid waters and his dive partner, Peter Webster, shared his experiences diving year round in Antarctica. BRRR! For those of you who are interested, there is a shortage of cold water divers…
Paul also joined Jeanna, Sara, and me for dinner this evening to discuss his duties as an undersea specialist as well as his podcast, Meet the Ocean. I learned so much from him and hope to keep in touch for future projects.
As the day wound down (though it never really winds down since the sun is still shining brightly out my porthole even though it is 10:30 p.m.) we cruised back through the Antarctic sound, where there is a plethora of spectacular tabular icebergs. At one point the Captain parked us right in front of the most magnificent, and enormous, piece of ice. Its size and beauty were beyond comprehension. Three days in Antarctica and I am fresh out of adjectives. There really are not enough words to accurately describe this place. It has stolen a piece of my soul.
Alas, it is time for bed. Tomorrow’s schedule is bursting with even more of this magnificent place. Must rest – plankton drag with Paul at 8:00 a.m. and then perhaps kayaking!
*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!