Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Quick Trip to Antarctica

It may sound tongue-in-cheek, but after my 24-day journey Around the World on a private jet, a mere 13-day trip to Antarctica meant a lot less packing and unpacking and staying in the same cabin and bed every night. Yes, I flew all the way to Tierra del Fuego and back to Flagstaff without ever having to unpack in a single hotel room - my flight connections were that tight. This trip marked my 31st journey to 'The Ice' and it was one of my best! Have a look.

The city of Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego Island and the Beagle Channel - the jumping off point for Antarctic cruises

Sunrise on February 27, 2024 in the 600-mile-wide Drake Passage - we enjoyed a 'Drake Lake' on this one

Our ship was the 199-passenger Le Boreal belonging to the Ponant Cruise Line (French flagged) 

These are not large cruise ships and the pool is quite small

I had never before in memory witnessed water running from beneath an
Antarctic glacier! Things appear to be warming up on the globe.

View from the top of a hill at our first landing at Neko Harbor

Neko Harbor on the Antarctic mainland

These coarse-grained granite rocks are about 100 million years old and part of the subduction sequence exposed on
the Antarctic Peninsula. Reader and colleague John Warme pointed out the imbrication of the boulders resulting from
storm wash onto the beach!

Cuverville Island is a popular stop to see a Gentoo penguin colony. I first visited here in 1992 and dropped off three
women researchers who set up a seasonal camp among the penguins. They used artificial eggs with electronics that
measured the pulse and heart rate of the penguins as tourists approached the colony - these were baseline studies to
determine the impact of the increasing numbers of tourists on nesting penguins. The result was a 5-meter separation
between people and penguins, a distance in use today.

Gentoo penguins on Cuverville Island

Zodiac cruise around Cuverville Island

It was about this time on our trip that the clouds began to part as high pressure set in!

Amazing ice and crevasse while cruising in Paradise Bay

Antarctica likely has metal resources such as this copper stain
on the rocks in Paradise Bay, However, a 50-year moratorium
on all mineral and oil exploration was signed in 1991 and
finally ratified in 1998, meaning than no mining can occur
on the continent until 2048. Read more about this here.

A leopard seal (Hydrurgaleptronyx) sleeps on a bergy bit

Our "sunny luck" continued on March 2, 2024 when we woke up to brilliant sunshine at Port Charcot

The destination was the monument on top of the hill in the upper right, built by the 1st French Antarctic Expedition
in 1904

Stunning early morning light on Le Boreal with Booth Island in the distance

View from the monument

One of our passengers shared this image of me on top on the monument hill

The amazing part on this glorious morning - no wind! Look at that "glass" on the water!

On the way down the hill, a few humpback whales came to take a look at our ship

Whale and ship

They came right up to the landing deck and hung around - in fact scuba divers had time to dress and enter
the water with them

One of our passengers shared this image with me, taken from an the deck of the ship while I was in a Zodiac nearby

Sailing away from Port Charcot we passed some nice icebergs - in fact it is the icebergs that keep calling me back
to this unique and special destination

Zodiac cruising in perfect conditions near Petermann Island

Looking north into the Lemaire Channel where we encountered Le Boreal's sister ship, Le Lyrial

Sunset near 11 PM on March 2, 2024 from near the Lemaire Channel

In Foyn Harbor on Enterprise Island is the wreck of the whaling vessel, Gouvermoren

Whaling was quite active here from 1915 to 1930

I was lecturing on this trip in the services of Smithsonian Journeys, which I have been leading trips for since 1995.

One of our last stops was in Port Foster, an enclosed bay that sits inside a volcanic caldera

View to the southwest in Port Foster and Kroner Lake, an Antarctica Specially Protected Area

The British Antarctic Survey established a base here in the 1940s complete with an airstrip and hanger for Twin Otter 
aircraft. On my first few visits to this area in the early 1990s, an airplane still "lived" in the hanger.

Sailing back to the north past the South Shetland Islands, we still enjoyed sunshine

Livingston Island

I will be returning to Antarctica in 2025 for two more cruises - I never tire of the pristine landscape, fresh air, and icebergs. I'll be sailing for the first time on a larger vessel, the Regent Seven Seas Splendor. Thank you for reading!