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Cape Ada­re

Cape Ada­re is the point whe­re the Ross Sea coast beco­mes the coast of East Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. A high rocky pen­in­su­la sti­cking out into the Sou­thern Oce­an. You will expect that such an obs­ta­cle will catch any winds, clouds and drift ice fields in the area, and the­re is a lot of all of this.

Accor­din­gly, you have to be rea­dy for ever­y­thing when you are get­ting near Cape Ada­re. Hope the best, be pre­pared for the worst, this has always been the way of thin­king for polar tra­vel­lers, at least tho­se who knew some­thing about the envi­ron­ment they were about to visit, and this has not chan­ged until today.

Admit­ted­ly, I had nevert­hel­ess high hopes for a suc­cessful landing at Cape Ada­re when it beca­me visi­ble on the hori­zon. One of the big, his­to­ri­cal­ly well-known pla­cen­a­mes in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, the geo­gra­phi­cal guard wat­ching over this ent­ry into the Ross Sea, dis­co­ver­ed Janu­ary 11, 1841, and even this old rep­ti­le, one of the finest mari­ners of his times, did not get ashore: „ … the wind being on the shore, and a high sea bea­ting hea­vi­ly along the pack edge, we found it quite imprac­ti­ca­ble.“ But he did cer­tain­ly like the sce­n­ery: „It is a remar­kab­le pro­jec­tion of high, dark, pro­ba­b­ly vol­ca­nic, cliffs, and forms a strong con­trast to the rest of the snow-cover­ed coast. … It was a beau­tiful­ly clear evening, and we had a most enchan­ting view of the two magni­fi­cent ran­ges of moun­ta­ins, who­se lof­ty peaks, per­fect­ly cover­ed with eter­nal snow, rose to ele­va­tions vary­ing from seven to ten thousand feet abo­ve the level of the oce­an. The gla­ciers that fil­led their inter­vening val­leys, and which des­cen­ded from near the moun­tain sum­mits, pro­jec­ted in many places seve­ral miles into the sea, and ter­mi­na­ted in lof­ty per­pen­di­cu­lar cliffs. In a few places the rocks bro­ke through their icy cove­ring, by which alo­ne we could be assu­red that land for­med the nucleus of this, to appearance, enorm­ous ice­berg.“

Cape Adare

How incre­di­ble it was for us when even the morning’s gent­le bree­ze cal­med down while we were approa­ching the famous head­land – under a bril­li­ant­ly blue sky. None of tho­se few whom I know and who have been the­re will ever belie­ve that. Just a den­se belt of drift ice bet­ween Ort­eli­us and the dark cliffs, so we’ll get the heli­c­op­ters out. If good old Ross had seen that!

The shore of Cape Ada­re con­sists of inac­ces­si­ble steep cliffs, and the actu­al landing site is a litt­le, flat pen­in­su­la on its wes­tern side. A tri­ang­le of dark gra­vel, of vol­ca­nic ori­gin and piled up to a series of beach rid­ges by the ever­las­ting surf, with some small, long lagoons bet­ween them. The white-blue ice­bergs and den­se­ly packed ice floes, all swim­ming in dark­blue, calm water, are a view of unearth­ly beau­ty from the air, from whe­re we could also alre­a­dy see the immense num­ber of pen­gu­ins crow­ding most parts of the pen­in­su­la. Rid­ley Beach, as it is cal­led, is home to one of Antarctica’s lar­gest colo­nies of Adé­lie pen­gu­ins, if not the lar­gest one. 250,000 bree­ding pairs are men­tio­ned in the lite­ra­tu­re, good for well bey­ond half a mil­li­on indi­vi­du­als. Con­side­ring this, we are soon fin­ding sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge are­as with few or no nests at all, may­be the­re is too much snow the­re in the begin­ning of the bree­ding sea­son. On the other hand, many o f the Adé­lies are clim­bing up high onto the adja­cent cliffs, rea­ching up to 300 m with their nes­t­ing sites. First class views, but the wea­ther pro­tec­tion lea­ves a bit to be desi­red, and I don’t even want to ima­gi­ne the strugg­le they have to go through to pro­vi­de their chicks with every sin­gle meal.

Peo­p­le deve­lo­pe weird habits when the­re are too many of them in litt­le space, and so do pen­gu­ins. In 1911, when of Scott’s bio­lo­gists spend a while at Cape Ada­re, making some remar­kab­le obser­va­tions. His paper about the „sexu­al habits of the Adé­lie pen­gu­in“ was dee­med too bizar­re for publi­ca­ti­on. It has been dug out again a cen­tu­ry later, belie­ved to be accu­ra­te and published only in 2012 in Polar Record. An inte­res­t­ing read.

Adélie penguins, Cape Adare

Not only wild­life is tee­ming at Cape Ada­re, peo­p­le have also lived here once for a year. This was Cars­ten Borchgrevink’s win­tering in 1899, crow­ded tog­e­ther with 10 men in a far too small hut with far too litt­le to keep them busy, lea­ving far too much time to make life hell for each other. But they were the first ones ever who win­tered on the con­ti­nent of Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. The hut is still the­re, it is the very oldest one in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, an icon of polar histo­ry, and the only buil­ding on this pla­net that can cla­im to be the very first one on its con­ti­nent ever.

Hundred thou­sands of pen­gu­ins and other assor­ted wild­life, ant­ar­c­tic sce­n­ery on the hig­hest level, the oldest hut of the con­ti­nent – it is safe to assu­me spi­rits were high as we retur­ned back to the ship after a long after­noon out the­re. The wel­co­me gree­ting by our gre­at hotel team is ice­cream and hot wine on the top deck to cele­bra­te the day. Ice in your hand, ice around the ship, ice ever­y­whe­re shi­ning under a still bright evening sun. It is our last day near the ant­ar­c­tic coast. Once again, Ant­ar­c­ti­ca has shown us how beau­tiful she can be, and pul­led on all strings to do so.

Borchgrevink's hut, Cape Adare
last modification: 2015-02-18 · copyright: Rolf Stange