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Bay of Whales

The ice conditions over the last bit have been seemingly paradox, but are actually quite normal: quite a stretch of open water between the sea ice further north and the Ross Ice Shelf, which is where we are now. So we could make good speed of about 11 knots, until the „great barrier“ came into view this morning, the foresaid ice shelf, an endless wall of ice of a height of 40-50 meters. The Ross Ice Shelf is one of the most remarkable places on Earth, it does not really compare to anything else, other than the other antarctic ice shelfs, but how often do you get to see them ..? I will leave it up to James Clark Ross to give a description of the Ross Ice Shelf, as he discovered it on 28th January 1841:

„As we approached the land (Ross Island) under all studding-sails, we perceived a low white line extending from its eastern extreme point as far as the eye could discern to the eastward. It presented an extraordinary appearance, gradually increasing in height, as we got nearer to it, and proving at length to be a perpendicular cliff of ice, between one hundred and fifty and two hundred feet above the level of the sea, perfectly flat and level at the top, and without any fissures or promontories on its even seaward face. What was beyond it we could not imagine; … Meeting with such an obstruction was a great disappointment to us all, for we had already, in expectation, passed far beyond the eightieth degree, and had even appointed a rendezvous there, in case of the ships accidentally separating. It was, however, an obstruction of such a character as to leave no doubt upon my mind as to our future proceedings, for we might with equal chance of success try to sail through the Cliffs of Dover, as penetrate such a mass.“


Carsten Borchgrevink was the second one to visit the Ross Ice Shelf after Ross. He landed on a lower part in early 1900, after his wintering at Cape Adare, and noticed that the ice cliff had shifted its position 30 miles to the south. A day’s hike took Borchgrevink to 78°50’S, which was a furthest south that lasted until December 1902.

In 1911, Amundsen landed on the Ice Shelf in the Bay of Whales, a wide embayment at 164°W, and put Framheim up, the wintering base. Framheim was at 78°30’S. We have now been at 78°32,5’S/164°54’W, which is 11 miles west of Amundsen’s Framheim, but, what is more interesting, 2.5 miles further south – and we were obviously still at sea, still a mile or so to the ice shelf. Today, Amundsen would have built Framheim several miles closer to the pole. He would certainly have liked that. This is not much of a retreat considering more than a century has gone since then. It is said that the part of the ice shelf where Framheim was standing broke off and drifted out into the ocean in 1928.

Snow showers were threatening to take the visibility, so a helicopter landing on the shelf ice as Don had planned was cancelled, so we are now sailing with a westerly course, towards Ross Island (Mount Erebus) and McMurdo Sound, eagerly awaiting what the next days may bring.

last modification: 2015-01-28 · copyright: Rolf Stange