Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula
by Greg Walker
In December I explored the Antarctic Peninsula for five days. It was the trip of a lifetime. When you think about Antarctica you tend to think in superlatives: most remote, coldest, uninhabited and uninhabitable. Once you are there you realize that even those words cannot do it justice.
It is not easy to travel to Antarctica. I boarded the Akademic Sergey Vavilov in Ushuaia,Argentina, which bills itself as "El Fin del Mundo," the End of the World. The first sight of it huddled between the shore and the jagged peaks of Tierra del Fuego behind will convince you that the name fits.
The voyage takes you out the Beagle Channel and into a two-day crossing of the Drake Passage. The Drake has a well-earned reputation as the stormiest stretch of ocean on the planet and luck will decide what you get: the Drake Lake or the Drake Shake. On my trip over we got the Shake. It was a loooong two days.
As I walked into the dining room for lunch on the first day, the ship took a large lurch. The glass and china slid off the tables and smashed to the floor at my feet. I was thrown off my feet and was fortunate to land in a chair that was chained to the floor. Otherwise I would have ended up on the floor in the midst of the rubble!
Once inside the channels of the Antarctic Peninsula all the misery is forgotten and forgiven. Around us was a landscape that was, by turns awesome, beautiful and forbidding. Sheer pillars of rock towered hundreds of feet above us. The valleys between were filled with rivers of glacier ice cascading into the ocean, the motion too slow to perceive except for occasional ice falls that announced themselves with a boom like a cannon.
The first day we sailed into the Lemaire Channel. In the narrowest part of the Lemaire the rocks towered thousands of feet over us . As we approached, I had to wonder: could our ship actually fit through the gap? Not to worry, the captain carefully threaded the Vavilov through the icebergs that littered the water.
Once we reached the bay on the other side of the of the Lemaire Channel, the ice was too thick to safely lower the Zodiacs, so all shore and kayak excursions for the day were canceled. Luck was with us for the next four days. We were able to launch the zodiacs for shore and kayak excursions, two excursions each day.
In this short article I can only show a few impressions of the many sights and adventures over the next four days.The Chinese tourists were eager to "show the flag" for their friends back home.
The shore excursions often required some effort to get the really good views. Can you find the ship in the next photo?
Then again, the way down can be a lot quicker and easier!
The kayak excursions took a flatter trajectory.
And if you are REALLY brave, you can try a stand-up board!
The magnificent scenery should not distract us from one of the main reasons to visit Antarctica: to see the incredible wildlife, whether they are penguins, whales or seals.
I have many more photos, videos and stories from this memorable trip. Let me know if you want to know more...but be careful what you ask for!
|The author, Greg Walker