Antarctic Expedition

Another photo journal from the archives: Winter 2008, Antarctica

Getting there: Go south. But seriously go with a reputable company. Lindblad partners with Nat Geo for these trips and it was as safe as it can get on the ice. A Russian ship that was chartered by some chinese started sinking after hitting sea ice during our trip. We were just outside of their mayday call range but luckily an Argentine icebreaker made it to them in time.

After a tour of the Patagonia region we made our way to Ushuaia – the southernmost city in the world.

 

I’ll have to come back someday to explore this place further.  But onto the last continent!

The Drake Passage is a 2 – 3 day journey on the roughest seas in the world.  These birds were along for the ride riding the wind whipped crests of our wake.

I didn’t take anymore photos on this part of the journey. I was the most seasick I have ever been in my life.  An average of 30 foot seas sent me tumbling out of my bunk while the view from the porthole went from pitch black to the white sky. I put two dramamine patches behind my ears – double the recommended dosage. That was enough to let me topside for air and able to navigate the chowhall (which was a maze of ropes so you could hold onto your tray as you bobbled around).  The seas calmed eventually and ice appeared more regularly.  I was itching to walk on something other than the deck.  The captain made an announcement for our parties first ice landing.  It wasn’t fancy. Skipper rammed the ships bow into the Ross Ice shelf and we all hopped out wearing life preservers…you know in case the ice broke through.  So here we are sitting on the ocean on top of frozen water while frozen water fell down on us hanging out with penguins.

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The National Geographic Endeavor is primarily a scientific vessel but has enough berthing for curious tourists as well as a full staff of scientists.  During the day we could watch live feed of the drysuit diver taking footage of the reefs, or accompany a biologist on a zodiac to search for whales feeding on the masses of krill in the nutrient rich water.

Some more cruising and the captain discovered currents and conditions would allow for a visit to a Ukrainian Antarctic station and push our itinerary further south for a continental landing.  I got my passport stamped for that.

I awoke to see the 7th continent from my porthole.

The Ukrainians were nice, weird, but nice, and very drunk. We were the first people they’ve seen in a while.  Salut!

The vodka made the trek to the top of this mount harder than it should have been but those of us who travel mountains know post-holing is lots of fun.

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We spent the day moored in safe waters so the kayaks were busted out.  The best fuel for this activity is hot chocolate and Bailey’s.

Bailey’s on ice.

I attempted the coldest Polarbear swim I have ever done. 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Off to my right is the doc in a drysuit with defib paddles charged just in case. I was ambitious and swan dived in.

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Being able to access the continent’s rocky ground we made our way to some penguin breeding grounds. Chicks were hatching for the summer.

Penguin mating pairs take turns watching the chicks so they don’t get pecked off by gulls and other predatory birds. One sits on the nest with the chicks while the other waddles down to the sea – braving the dangers of orcas and leopard seals to feed on krill and small fish.  During gestation of the eggs penguins do not feed and as a result they use their bodies stored fat for energy. Their guano will be green because of the bile.  As they start to feed on krill again their guano becomes pink.

These chinstraps were curious.

This one pecked at my boot.

The first explorers here left some stuff behind. Those early expeditions found penguins on land to be easy meals since they don’t have any predators on land they don’t take shit from no one.

We spent New Years on the boat watching the ice change colors and shapes. Pancake ice is a trip.

Colonies of elephant seals sprawled across the pebble beaches.

Catching some sun with good friends.

These females were molting their winter coats for lighter summer coats. The smell was…breathtaking

Everywhere we went the penguins seemed to be walking in these penguin superhighways they created with two way traffic.  They all waddled in step with each other and always seemed to be facing the same way when standing still (which I later learned was because they like their backs to the wind, duh).

What was the weather like? Cold. It was the peak of summer when we landed and it felt like a North American winter.

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