Friday, March 25, 2016

An epic day in Antarctica

It feels like we have traveled to the end of the earth. In fact, we have. Antarctica is so far away from any populated land that traveling on the continent requires a frontier spirit. As explained earlier, we opted to fly across the Drake Passage rather than experience the roughest stretch of water in the world. This journey completed our travels to all seven continents—but I would have gone to the white continent even if it hadn’t been last on our list.
Icebergs are constantly moving and changing size, shape, and color.
Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent. Coastal areas where we traveled are milder than parts close to the South Pole and the eastern section of Antarctica. The two sections of the continent are divided by a mountain range which boosts the average elevation on the continent to 7,546 feet.

Most people don’t realize that that Antarctica is also the world’s largest desert (a place that receives less than 10 inches of precipitation a year). Very little rain or snow falls, and what does remains since there is little evaporation.  So it piles up year after year and freezes; now 98 percent of Antarctica is covered in ice. With such a harsh environment it’s not surprising that there are no trees or bushes; vegetation is limited to lichens, mosses, and algae.
Graceful swirls of ice cover the landscape onshore.
Despite what seems like a grim description, Antarctica is a land where colors, textures, and shapes create a beautiful tapestry.  The scenes we witnessed are simply indescribable. The ever-changing landscape is incomparable—and more outstanding the further south you go.  Crossing the Antarctic Circle was a special privilege that very few tourists accomplish (I'll write more about this later).

Previously I wrote about our continental landing at Portal Point on our first morning excursion. The warm, sunny weather of this epic day continued as we sailed through Wilhelmina Bay around lunch time and then to Enterprise Island, which was named for enterprising whalers who used its sheltered bays as anchorage for their ships in the early 1900s.
Penguins are plentiful in Antarctica.
For two hours in the afternoon we cruised in the Zodiac around Enterprise and nearby Nansen Island (named for a Norwegian explorer) taking in the sights—both wildlife and scenery. Weddell seals, penguins (gentoos and chinstraps), terns, nesting cormorants, and humpback whales (mother and baby) were among our wildlife sightings.  How exciting to watch these animals in their natural habitat.

Seals have their moments, too.
 Glorious glaciers filled the bay, creating a visual contrast of white snow and ice with dark black-brown patches of rock. There are more mountains in Antarctica than we realized.
We watched a mother whale and baby cavorting in the water.
Interspersed in the ice were streaks of bright blue glacial, ice, which is eight times denser than regular ice, so it reflects more of the sun’s blue rays. We maneuvered around these huge ice masses, dressed in every imaginable shade of white, and marveled at the splendor and serenity of this remote land.
Birds find a home among the rocky shores of Antarctica.
Our guide was astounded that a film crew was climbing on one of the glaciers and dragging a canoe uphill, too.  Glaciers can break apart without warning, so he thought those activities were risky and potentially dangerous. But apparently they filmed their commercial, documentary, or whatever without incident.
Would you walk around on this iceberg
knowing it could calve any moment.
In addition to amazing scenery and wildlife, the area is full of history. Still in the water was the hull of the burned ship Grouvemoren, which was deliberately sunk in 1915 to extinguish a fire onboard. Fortunately, no one died, and the seamen were rescued by other whaling ships in the region. Today it’s a landmark and a reminder of a time when whaling ships sailed in abundance through Antarctic waters.
The only way to put out the fire on this whaling ship
was to sink it into the water--where it remains a century later.
 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Duke Stewart said...

Antarctica looks like a dreamland and just because it's technically a desert, I'm not turned away by the prospect of visiting:) Your pictures are just as lovely as the descriptions here, Beverly, and I do appreciate you sharing all of this. Thanks and happy to find your blog here.

Beverly Burmeier said...

Thanks, Duke. Come back often!