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Yearly Archives: 2017 − Travelblog


Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la – March 21-25, 2017

A gre­at trip to round the sea­son off, with a lot of acti­vi­ties all the way down south to the polar cir­cle. We had groups on board spe­cia­li­zing in kaya­king and diving, and their sto­ries and pho­tos were very impres­si­ve – yes, diving, that would be some­thing, one day …
The wea­ther was pret­ty much on our side, we had some very nice ant­arc­tic late sum­mer days and no extre­me wea­ther. Yes­ter­day we were sun­bat­hing on deck in the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge, can you belie­ve it? Ok, we got blown out of Wha­lers Bay in Decep­ti­on Island the other day, but that’s part of the game down here. We could not land on Detail­le Island, the kom­bi­na­ti­on of poor visi­bi­li­ty, drif­ting ice near all pos­si­ble lan­ding sites and wind was just too much. But the Zodiac crui­se around the island was good stuff!

Ple­nty of hump­back wha­les, as one might wish for in the late sea­son, and may­be not as many pen­gu­ins as might have been some weeks ear­lier, but still qui­te a lot of them on shore, more than enough for heart and soul, eye and came­ra.

Gal­le­ry – Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la – March 21-25, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Let the pic­tures do the tal­king. Ant­arc­ti­ca, it was gre­at – see you again next year!

South Shet­land Islands – March 20, 2017

After a rather calm cros­sing of the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge, our first expo­sure to Ant­arc­ti­ca was to hap­pen in the South Shet­land Islands. And qui­te likely our only chan­ce to see Chin­strap pen­gu­ins.

And a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to get an impres­si­on of Antarctica’s wild wea­ther. From zero to more than 40 knots wit­hin half an hour. Our after­noon lan­ding in Decep­ti­on Island was quick­ly tur­ned into a ship crui­se.

Gal­le­ry – South Shet­land Islands – March 20, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

South Shet­land Islands to Ushua­ia – March 15-18, 2017

Even 32 days in Ant­arc­ti­ca will final­ly come to an end. The South Shet­land Islands are the last stop of our Ant­arc­tic Odys­sey, befo­re we set cour­se nor­thwards, to more civi­li­zed lati­tu­des. We do not have too much time left, but enough for an ear­ly morning lan­ding. The wea­ther is on our side, which is good for a visit to a small island on the edge of the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge.

At least in com­pa­ri­son, it seems to be a tro­pi­cal rain forest. Well, almost. The­re are some green patches, some­thing we have not seen in a while. With the Chin­strap pen­gu­ins, we can add yet ano­t­her spe­ci­es to our spe­ci­es list, which is alrea­dy qui­te impres­si­ve.

Then back to the open sea. A good two days across the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge until we have reached sou­thern­most South Ame­ri­ca. We pass Cape Hoorn in distance and darkness without taking too much noti­ce of it, befo­re we approach the Bea­gle-Chan­nel in the com­pa­ny of dol­phins. Then it is time to say good­bye to our good heli­co­p­ter crew, pilots and mecha­nics, six of them in total, who take off in their birds and quick­ly disap­pe­ar in the distance, not without a fine fare­well to Orte­li­us.

Gal­le­ry – South Shet­land Islands to Ushua­ia – March 15-18, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

And while we are at it, we keep say­ing good­bye to many good peop­le the next day in the morning. The very last day of a voya­ge is never a high­light, and port days are always very busy. But on the other side … if it is hard to lea­ve a trip and asso­cia­ted peop­le behind, then I guess it must have been pret­ty good 🙂

Too few short hours later, we are on our way again. Has­ta la vis­ta, Ant­ark­tis!

Erre­ra Chan­nel – March 13, 2017

It is nice, for the dif­fe­rence, not to cover a lar­ge distance from one day to the next one. To wake up whe­re we fell asleep. To calm down a bit, geo­gra­phi­cal­ly, in a way.

We are in the Erre­ra Chan­nel as we wake up, just around the cor­ner from Andvord Bay. And soon we are stan­ding in a litt­le ant­arc­tic pen­gu­in para­di­se. Gen­too pen­gu­ins, gen­too pen­gu­ins, gen­too pen­gu­ins. Not in thousands any­mo­re, but in hund­reds, as they are stan­ding on snow and rocks, loo­king a bit scruffy. They are moul­ting, pro­bab­ly annoy­ed by the itching of the fea­thers that are about to fall off and to be repla­ced by nice, new ones. Some are very curious and come clo­se to have a look at the­se fun­ny, colour­ful visi­tors.

Gal­le­ry – Erre­ra Chan­nel – March 13, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Also the hump­back wha­les in the Erre­ra Chan­nel and neigh­bou­ring waters are now in late sum­mer mood. They have been fee­ding for weeks and mon­ths in pro­duc­ti­ve ant­arc­tic waters. Now they are merely moving, snoo­zing and slee­ping at the sur­face without doing much at all. Soon it is time to move nor­thwards to war­mer waters, also for them.

Andvord Bay – March 12, 2017

See­ing Ant­arc­ti­ca from a bird’s per­spec­ti­ve is a dream that we wan­ted to rea­li­ze today. That was easier said than done. We had to abort the first attempt in the rather ear­ly morning and we spent good part of the day sear­ching for a place whe­re the wind was not how­ling with 30-40 knots. Not easy.

Gal­le­ry – Andvord Bay – March 12, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

But then it worked. Con­di­ti­ons were ide­al and ever­y­bo­dy could once again board the heli­co­p­ters to enjoy grand vis­tas of Andvord Bay and Para­di­se Har­bour. The pho­tos (the­re will be more and hig­her res pics after the trip) will tell the sto­ry!

Argen­ti­ne Islands – March 11, 2017

The Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la! We had final­ly reached it, and I think that ever­y­bo­dy here will agree when I say that we were real­ly loo­king for­ward to see­ing and step­ping on land again.

The Argen­ti­ne Islands were the per­fect first stop for us, con­ve­ni­en­t­ly loca­ted, the first place we natu­ral­ly reached, calm seas, litt­le wind – the­re was no time to lose, and we went out as soon as we could in the after­noon. Ice­bergs were drif­ting ever­y­whe­re in lar­ge num­bers, both bet­ween the islands and in the more open waters sur­roun­ding them. Some steps up a snow field are enough to yield an ama­zing view over this icy sce­ne­ry, and a Zodiac crui­se bet­ween the islands pro­vi­des all sorts of sce­nic insight.

Ever­y­bo­dy could cho­se bet­ween eit­her visi­t­ing the Ukra­ni­an Ver­nadsky Base, which is kee­ping some of the lon­gest meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal records of Ant­arc­ti­ca, or Wor­die House, the for­mer Bri­tish Base F, used from 1947 to 1954 and now part of Antarctica’s his­to­ri­cal heri­ta­ge.

Gal­le­ry – Peno­la Strait – March 11, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

The evening light in Peno­la Strait, south of the Lemai­re Chan­nel, was a true high­light. The sce­nic back­ground unbea­t­a­ble, the ice­bergs count­less, the light gol­den and warm. I guess the only peop­le who did not like it so much were the guys in the gal­ley, as it was exact­ly din­ner­ti­me 😉

Peter I Island – March 7, 2017

We had been wai­t­ing for this day with gre­at curiou­si­ty, when the famous island of Peter I would rise abo­ve the hori­zon. Well, the first thing that was to be seen today was not the hori­zon, not to men­ti­on any island, but low clouds and snow. Any hope to make a lan­ding today on Peter I Island was redu­ced by strong wind and poor visi­bi­li­ty. But as always, hope the best and be pre­pa­red for the worst!

Then we saw it, it took a while, but then we saw the island through the clouds. A rather hos­ti­le impres­si­on, the­se inhos­pi­ta­ble, steep cliffs of rocks and ice. Strong winds gus­ting up to for­ce 8 and 9 were the wel­co­me that the island had for us. Com­bi­ned with most­ly poor visi­bi­li­ty, it was clear that we would not be able to make any kind of lan­ding or flight here. Well, that is life in the wild Sou­thern Oce­an, deep in the screa­ming six­ties.

Gal­le­ry – Peter I Island – March 7, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

The moun­tai­ne­ous island actual­ly crea­ted a hole in the clouds on its lee­ward side, so the sun – a sight that we had been mis­sing for some time! – was shi­ning on the ice cap, whe­re it was reflec­ted like on a mir­ror. We even found a calm spot in the shel­ter of the island and quick­ly the zodiacs were orde­red to be made ready.A lan­ding was not an opti­on on this steep coast on the sou­the­as­tern side of the island, but a clo­ser look would be gre­at, wouldn’t it? But alas, as soon as the zodiacs were on the water and ever­y­bo­dy rea­dy on deck, sno­wy gusts and white caps came from both sides, so we made sure we got back on board again quick­ly … not today, that was the clear mes­sa­ge, and not tomor­row eit­her, that was the clear mes­sa­ge of the wea­ther fore­cast.

So we went and set cour­se for the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la.

The gre­at cros­sing – March 4, 2017

Ele­ven days. Ima­gi­ne ele­ven days. That is the time that went without us going on shore any­whe­re. And that was not­hing unusu­al!

We had visi­ted McMur­do Base on Febru­a­ry 28 and reached the Argen­ti­ne Islands, just off the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, on March 11. Coun­ting the 28th twice becau­se of the date line. And we have not been able to set foot on the Ross Ice Shelf or Peter I Island. Not due to a lack of good will – we were more than moti­va­ted to go, or rather, to fly to the­se pla­ces! But the­se extre­me pla­ces are hard to reach. Lan­dings the­re will only be pos­si­ble on real­ly good days, and tho­se are the excep­ti­on rather than the rule. So left the ship only once during the cros­sing, for the nice zodiac crui­se in the ice (see last blog ent­ry.). So con­si­de­ring the likel­y­hood of actual­ly lan­ding on the Ross Ice Shelf of Peter I Island, 11 full days at sea is pret­ty much sim­ply what you have to expect and not at all a sur­pri­se. You have to know that befo­re you come on such a trip! Know­ledge that is, by the way, also avail­ab­le from the publis­hed iti­nera­ry, with a slight­ly dif­fe­rent wor­d­ing.

Why am I empha­si­zing so much on this? Becau­se it is hard to ima­gi­ne what it means to be at sea for 11 days. Some are per­fect­ly hap­py with that, they will always find some­thing to keep them­sel­ves busy with, they enjoy watching the waves, the hori­zon or the fog, the occa­sio­nal ice­berg, wai­t­ing for the back of a wha­le to break through the waves for a short moment. Rea­ding, lec­tures, mee­ting all the peop­le on the ship. Others do not enjoy it so much, and for them, the­se days can be qui­te long. It is easy to escape into the idea that the cros­sing will be done in 3 or 4 days, with more or less regu­lar lan­dings. Some­whe­re. No land any­whe­re near? So what! Who cares?

But then you are get­ting bey­ond day 5, 6, 7 … the icy coast of wes­tern Ant­arc­ti­ca will never come in sight, it is as far as the moon. Of cour­se it would be exi­t­ing to go the­re, to see it, even to make a lan­ding, but you would need time and good charts. Time is limi­ted, and good charts do not exist. Well, and once days 3 and 4 have gone by and we have just made a third of the distance, and that is just becau­se the­re is no ice on our cour­se or serious­ly bad wea­ther to slow us down. Some­thing that you can not take for gran­ted in the­se lati­tu­des.

The „ant­arc­tic Odys­sey“, that is how I think of this voya­ge, bears this tit­le with pri­de. It is, over long stret­ches, a very pela­gic expe­di­ti­on.

Gal­le­ry: The gre­at cros­sing – March 4, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

So, let’s enjoy the ice­bergs, the wea­ther, the sea and Victoria’s gre­at histo­ry lec­tures and all the other ones that this time has to offer – and that is qui­te a lot! Let’s enjoy the rather sur­re­al fee­ling when the fog makes our litt­le world here shrink to a bub­ble for days, in the midd­le of this end­less oce­an. Two thousand miles. With the speed of a very rela­xed bicy­c­list.

Ice – March 2nd, 2017

It was, by the way, not a spel­ling mista­ke that Febru­a­ry 28 came twice in this blog. The date line.

We have now left McMur­do Sound and the Ross Ice Shelf behind us and we have begun the long, long voya­ge to Peter I Island and the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la. Ear­ly March is late sum­mer in Ant­arc­ti­ca, the time when most of the sea ice has disap­peared. It is inde­ed a strong con­trast to pre­vious trips in this area. My expe­ri­ence in this regi­on is not unli­mi­ted, and I am not sure if it is an excep­tio­nal ice year or just the sea­son or a bit of both. Any­way, we do not see a lot of ice at all.

But then we get into some ice. Young pan­ca­ke ice to start with, sur­roun­ding the ship on all sides. Very young, soft ice, fresh ice crys­tals, recent­ly fro­zen sea water. But strong enough to sup­port some pen­gu­ins that are some­whe­re on this ice.

The­re are also some older ice floes. On one of them, we find what might be descri­bed as an ant­arc­tic zoo with no less than five typi­cal ani­mal spe­ci­es: Emperor pen­gu­ins, Ade­lie pen­gu­ins, giant petrels, snow petrels and cra­bea­ter seals. Unbe­liev­a­ble! The lar­ge num­ber of Snow petrels alo­ne would be stun­ning, if not­hing else. I have never seen some many befo­re in one place. You are so hap­py if you hap­pen to see a lonely one in the distance on a trip to the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, and here they are almost the who­le time fly­ing around the ship. Now we have more than a hund­red on this ice floes, tog­e­ther with all this other fan­tastic wild­life.

Gal­le­ry – Ice – March 2nd, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Later, the ice is more open again. The sun is shi­ning, no wind, so it is not a ques­ti­on that we launch the Zodiacs and just enjoy get­ting clo­se to the ice. The crui­se is stun­nin­gly beau­ti­ful, all the ice, all the­se colours and shapes. Not to men­ti­on the wild­life that we are see­ing, as various seals, Ade­lie- and Emperor pen­gu­ins. Some descri­be this zodiac crui­se later as one of the true high­lights of the trip.

Ross Ice Shelf – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

We went around Ross Island during the night to arri­ve ear­ly morning at Cape Cro­zier, whe­re Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf meet. The­se steep vol­ca­nic slo­pes are the place whe­re Aps­ley Cher­ry-Gar­r­ards famous „Worst jour­ney in the world“ took place, that adven­tur­ous and dra­ma­tic search for Emperor pen­gu­in eggs that were then igno­red by sci­en­tists for a who­le cen­tu­ry.

The ice shelf begins at the very same place just ahead of us to disap­pe­ar behind the hori­zon to the east. You could fol­low it for qui­te some time to always see the same pic­tu­re, with „the gre­at bar­ri­er“ get­ting lost in infi­ni­ty. A very impres­si­ve image! But hard to pho­to­graph.

Gal­le­ry – Ross Ice Shelf – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

And even har­der to get near to. Our plan to land by heli­co­p­ter on the ice shelf or at least to make a flight along the ice cliff does not mate­ria­li­ze. We are faced with 35 knot (for­ce 8) wind, which is far too much. Icy cold it is inde­ed out­side, com­bi­ned with an air tem­pe­ra­tu­re of -10°C!

McMur­do Base – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

It is such a thing with ant­arc­tic sta­ti­ons. They are inte­res­ting, they pro­vi­de the world with signi­fi­cant know­ledge. They are poli­ti­cal, a dis­play of power wit­hin the Ant­arc­tic Trea­ty Sys­tem, always the flagg up in the wind. They are curious, from his­to­ri­cal to futu­ris­tic. If you hap­pen to visit Ant­arc­ti­ca, then it is qui­te likely you will want to see one of them.

The­se sta­ti­ons are usual­ly not pla­ces of gre­at natu­ral beau­ty and anything but pris­ti­ne. If anyo­ne has left their long-lived traces in Ant­arc­ti­ca, las­ting signs of human pre­sence and acti­vi­ty, inclu­ding signs of dest­ruc­tion, then it is the­se sta­ti­ons (and not tou­rists, by the way).

Any­way, the­se sta­ti­ons are the kind of place of which many say befo­re visi­t­ing that they want to see it and after visi­t­ing, it could have been nicer rather to go to a more natu­re kind of place.

The famous US-ame­ri­can McMur­do Base is in many ways a magni­ficent spe­ci­men, regar­ding size, visu­al impres­si­on and poli­ti­cal power. It is the hub for the Amund­sen-Scott-Base on the South Pole, for logisti­cal­ly chal­len­ging pro­jects in deep field such as ice core dril­lings in very remo­te loca­ti­ons and the more or less con­stant field acti­vi­ties in the com­pa­ra­tively near sur­roun­dings: Dry Val­leys, Ross Ice Shelf, Mount Ere­bus. The­re are about 1000 peop­le working in McMur­do during the busy sum­mer sea­son.

Call it coin­ci­dence or the urge to find a loca­ti­on as far south as pos­si­ble by ship com­mon to both expe­di­ti­ons: this was also the place whe­re Scott win­te­red during his first ant­arc­tic expe­di­ti­on, with Dis­co­very. His hut, the second-oldest one in Ant­arc­ti­ca after Borchgrevink’s Cape Ada­re buil­dings, is at Hut Point, a few minu­tes wal­king distance from Mac­Mur­do Base (click here for some 360 degree impres­si­ons of Dis­co­very hut). They actual­ly lived on their ship, the Dis­co­very, which was fro­zen in the ice next to Hut Point, so the hut is not as big and comfy as the Ter­ra Nova Hut at Cape Evans.

And that is altog­e­ther the pro­gram­me for today. The wea­ther loo­ks gre­at and it is sup­po­sed to remain sta­ble during the day, a chan­ge being pre­dic­ted for the evening only, and it is said that the Ame­ri­cans are well in con­troll of their local wea­ther. We will get back to that later. The­re was, any­way, not­hing in the way for the heli­co­p­ter flight over the fast ice to McMur­do Base. The sun was even shi­ning from the blue sky. Lovely!

During our visit four years ago, the Ame­ri­cans did live up to all cli­chés: The­re was not much more than the fre­quent­ly repeated advice that we should quick­ly move through the sta­ti­on to Hut Point, pre­fer­a­b­ly without even tou­ch­ing the road and without loo­king left or right. Ques­ti­ons for anything left or right of the road were ans­we­red very effi­ci­ent­ly: „that is not aut­ho­ri­zed, and I am not aut­ho­ri­zed to aut­ho­ri­ze this.“ Today is in a stron con­trast to this: our hosts are very friend­ly, they have actual­ly orga­ni­zed a group of gui­des to show us around. The tour takes us in small groups through some important faci­li­ties, inclu­ding the sci­ence buil­ding, the main com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons buil­ding, the cha­pel, the cof­fee house whe­re we have our lunch (which we brought with us from the ship), and the­re is, of cour­se, a sou­ve­nir shop.

Gal­le­ry – McMur­do Base – Febru­a­ry 28th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

You can spend a lot of time at Hut Point, loo­king over the sta­ti­on, the near-by fast ice, and of cour­se visi­t­ing the hut. Ano­t­her holy grail in the histo­ry of Ant­arc­tic explo­ra­ti­on.

And then the­re is Obser­va­ti­on Hill on the other side of the sta­ti­on. A steep hill of vol­ca­nic rocks, as ever­ything here, with a path lea­ding up to the top, which is about 230 m high. It is a stun­ning view from the cross that was erec­ted the­re as a memo­ri­al to Scott and his men who died in 1912 on their return trip from the South Pole. You can almost see or at least ima­gi­ne to see the place whe­re they had their last camp out on the Ross Shelf Ice. They were never retrie­ved, they are still out the­re, deeply buried in the ice the­se days.

Our retrie­val is still to come, the heli­co­p­ters are alrea­dy fly­ing again, and then things are get­ting a bit more inte­res­ting than we want them to be. The wea­ther chan­ge pre­dic­ted for tonight has deci­ded to come a bit ear­lier than ori­gi­nal­ly pre­dic­ted, some clouds and wind are com­ing up. The lovely warm­th of the sun gives way to a bit­ing cold. We do not have to wait out­side, nobo­dy is going to free­ze or to star­ve to death here, but the visi­bi­li­ty which our pilots depend on is cer­tain­ly not impro­ving. The num­bers of tho­se wai­t­ing is redu­ced by four or five heli­co­p­ter after heli­co­p­ter, a pro­ce­du­re that takes its time. Final­ly, all pas­sen­gers are back on board, only two last heli­co­p­ters for us gui­des, but I almost doubt that we will make it … the next heli­co­p­ter lea­ves, I am stan­ding at the heli pad with two col­leagues and we are anxious to hear the sound of the engi­nes again soon. Obser­va­ti­on Hill is a mere sil­hou­et­te in the thin fog now, I won­der if that will be good enough? If not, we may well be for­ced to enjoy ame­ri­can hos­pi­ta­li­ty for some time, and I do not want to ima­gi­ne the trou­bles that would come with that. And I don’t have to, soon we here the noi­se of the heli­co­p­ter, which is on the ground moments later. Julio, the oldest of the three pilots, is keen on get­ting out, that beco­mes pret­ty clear as he takes off and pushes the thrott­le. Thank God, the fog is just han­ging around McMur­do Base and Ross Island, and it is clear again as soon as we get out over the sea ice. Soon we are all back on board. Hal­le­lu­jah!

Cape Evans – Febru­a­ry 27th, 2017

During the night, we repo­si­ti­on across the McMur­do Sound to Ross Island, aiming for Cape Evans on the foot of Mount Ere­bus. This is whe­re Cap­tain Scott had his hut built during his final expe­di­ti­on, with the famous ship Ter­ra Nova.

The­re is not much to be seen of Mount Ere­bus today, its migh­ty sil­hou­et­te remains hid­den in the clouds today. The stiff sou­ther­ly bree­ze brings some­what mixed fee­lings, but at least the lan­ding site is on the nort­hern side of Cape Evans. Off­shore winds are always good for Zodiac lan­dings, or rather, at least not as bad as onshore winds.

It was a bit of an ope­ra­ti­on to get the Zodiacs rea­dy. We, the gui­de team, board the first boat with some scep­ti­cism, to have a look at ever­ything from water­le­vel. The beach as such is fine, the pen­in­su­la gives nice shel­ter from wind and waves from this direc­tion. Well, the beach is not the pro­blem. And we are cer­tain­ly wil­ling to accept the Zodiac ride, which is long, wet and very, very cold. But the tran­si­ti­on from the ship to the Zodiac is chal­len­ging in the­se con­di­ti­ons.

I obser­ve it for a while, and as the Cap­tain pro­mi­ses to use the ship to crea­te a shel­te­red posi­ti­on at the gang­way, I make a decisi­on: let’s go. Keep a good eye on wind and wea­ther and on the situa­ti­on at the gang­way, be rea­dy to abort the ope­ra­ti­on at any time, and not too many peop­le on shore at any one time, in case we need to get ever­y­bo­dy back to the ship in a hur­ry. All the­se thoughts and some more go through my head in such a moment.

Soon, the­re are things to be done. The magi­cal moment to open the door to Scott’s hut and enter the hal­lo­wed halls, whe­re every board in the wall, every cup on the cup­board and every glass on the labo­ra­to­ry table still brea­the the spi­rit of 1911.

Ice-encrus­ted yetis step out of the Zodiacs one by one. At the ent­ran­ce to the hut, ice and snow are remo­ved from clothes and sand and gra­vel from boots, and we have small groups ent­e­ring the hut, while others take a litt­le walk to the cross on Wind Vane Hill. The cross is a memo­ri­al for the three men of Shackleton’s Ross Sea par­ty who were lost during the 1914-17 expe­di­ti­on with Auro­ra. Then we have Zodiacs cir­cu­la­ting again, taking peop­le back to the ship, most of them pro­bab­ly rea­dy for a hot sho­wer and a hot cho­co­la­te, and brin­ging others here who are keen to make the pil­grimage to this famous place.

Mean­while, the ship is clo­ser to the shore, making the Zodiac ride con­si­der­ab­ly shor­ter, and the wind has lost some strength. Things are get­ting a bit more rela­xed, ever­ything is working well. Final­ly, we can lock the door again and lea­ve it all behind. After Tay­lor Val­ley yes­ter­day, with Cape Evans we have been suc­cess­ful with ano­t­her one of the big pla­ces in McMur­do Sound. (Click here for a vir­tu­al visit to Scott’s Ter­ra Nova hut at Cape Evans).

Gal­le­ry – Cape Evans – Febru­a­ry 27th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Cape Royds is just some miles north of Cape Evans, but I watch con­di­ti­ons during the short cros­sing the­re with mixed fee­lings. The lan­ding area is expo­sed to the south, into the wind. And as we are to see soon, the lan­ding bay is full with ice. The low clouds pre­vent any tought of using heli­co­p­ters to get us ashore. Today is not a day for Cape Royds, so we have to make do with a distant look at Shackleton’s Nim­rod-hut. (Click here for a 360 degree pan­ora­ma visit to Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds).

But lea­ving from Cape Royds rela­tively ear­ly was to give us one of the most beau­ti­ful evenings of the who­le voya­ge. After a few hours we have reached the ice edge in the inner McMur­do Sound. The air is icy cold, but calm and clear. The evening light brings warm colours into the cold atmo­s­phe­re. The ice edge is stret­ching miles and miles towards the hori­zon, which is crow­ned by the migh­ty sil­hou­et­te of Mount Dis­co­very and, a bit to the right, the end­less chain of the Tran­s­ant­arc­tic Moun­tains. And in the water: orcas, orcas, orcas. Ever­y­whe­re near the ice edge lows, sus­pi­cious­ly wat­ched by small groups of Emperor and Ade­lie pen­gu­ins every here and the­re. And we are in the midd­le of this ama­zing sce­ne­ry. The evening will remain in our memo­ries as one of the true high­lights of this trip, as the who­le day.

The Dry Val­leys – Febru­a­ry 26th, 2017

Today is final­ly the days that sees us arri­ving in McMur­do Sound, a key area for our voya­ge. This is pro­bab­ly what most peop­le think of when they ima­gi­ne the Ross Sea.

We hope to start with a place that is cer­tain­ly very high on the wish­list of most, if not ever­y­bo­dy here: Tay­lor Val­ley, one of the famous McMur­do Dry Val­leys. This moon­like, hyper-arid area wit­hin the Tran­s­ant­arc­tic Moun­tains which has been too dry even for the gla­ciers sin­ce mil­li­ons of years. The moun­tains keep the inland ice away, only some smal­ler side gla­ciers reach down to the val­ley bot­tom. A fasci­na­ting part of our pla­net! (click here for some 360 degree impres­si­ons of the Dry Val­leys)

But hard to get to. The first ear­ly morning look out of the win­dow is not too pro­mi­sing: grey, grey, grey. Ice floes and whir­ling snow. Not good, as our birds need to see some­thing in order to fly.

Pati­ence is the one and only thing that hel­ps. Fre­quent­ly, I meet with the pilots and the Cap­tain to assess the wea­ther deve­lo­p­ment. Slow­ly, slow­ly the visi­bi­li­ty is impro­ving and we can see the Tran­s­ant­arc­tic Moun­tains just a few miles away, but the clouds are still han­ging low.

Gal­le­ry – The Dry Val­leys – Febru­a­ry 26th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

In the late morning, chief pilot Feli­pe sug­gests to make a recon­nois­sance flight to check the con­di­ti­ons on loca­ti­on. Feli­pe makes some loo­ps over the Cana­da Gla­cier and hovers a few metres abo­ve the pro­jec­ted lan­ding area, che­cking the clouds abo­ve and the tur­bu­len­ces near the ground. Final­ly he gives his thumbs-up. Back on bord, anxious eager­ness gives quick­ly way to joy­ful anti­ci­pa­ti­on after I have made my announ­ce­ment. Some final pre­pa­ra­ti­ons are quick­ly made, a bana­na has to be enough for lunch, the first heli­co­p­ter for the field team is soon rea­dy for depar­tu­re, the­re is no time to lose. Who knows how long the wea­ther is going to last!

It is a flight of 19 miles over bro­ken sea ice, bar­ren land deco­ra­ted by ice wedge poly­gons, the Com­mon­wealth Gla­cier and then Lake Fry­xell befo­re we reach our area near the Cana­da Gla­cier. We unload the man­da­to­ry safe­ty equip­ment and then we are rea­dy. Mean­while, heli­co­p­ters num­ber two and three are pre­pa­red on board, and soon the machine­ry is run­ning. Ever­y­bo­dy is com­ing out in small groups, heli­co­p­ter by heli­co­p­ter, one by one. It is a long ope­ra­ti­on, taking qui­te some time. Peop­le come fly­ing in, get off and remain in awe for a litt­le while.

We have to redu­ce time on the ground to a mini­mum for safe­ty rea­sons, we have no idea how long our wea­ther win­dow will last and we don’t want to have too many peop­le out here in case we need to get out of here quick­ly. This is real­ly not a place to get stuck in bad wea­ther. But the wea­ther remains sta­ble, it even impro­ves, the sky is clea­ring up a bit, expo­sing some lovely blue spots, with sun­beams illu­mi­na­ting the sce­ne­ry as with spot­lights.

Final­ly we can hap­pi­ly finish a long, gre­at after­noon. Ever­y­bo­dy has had the rare chan­ce to fly into Tay­lor Val­ley. We were very likely the first peop­le after our own last visit two years ago, the­re is no other ship car­ry­ing heli­co­p­ters (and on the pre­vious trip, just a few weeks ago, Orte­li­us did not have a chan­ce to get any­whe­re near this area, as the who­le McMur­do Sound was still full with solid fast ice).

Fran­k­lin Island – Febru­a­ry 25th, 2017

A wide belt of den­se drift ice is stret­ching out into the Ross Sea from the coast south of the Ter­ra Nova Bay. Much fur­ther than indi­ca­ted by the satel­li­te images. So we spent much more time navi­ga­ting around the ice than expec­ted. That is actual­ly good news: what would the Ross Sea be without ice?

The time loss does not bother us too much so far, we can afford it after the fast cros­sing from New Zea­land. We take it as it comes, and what comes is an com­ple­te­ly unex­pec­ted visit to Fran­k­lin Island. The island lies total­ly exp­lo­sed far out in the Ross Sea, which today is flat and peace­ful, allowing us to go ashore without any pro­blems, alt­hough it is a long zodiac ride from the ship across the unchar­ted waters.

Gal­le­ry – Fran­k­lin Island – Febru­a­ry 25th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Most of what should have been more than 100,000 Ade­lie pen­gu­ins have alrea­dy left the colo­ny, but a sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge num­ber of them is still at home. Some­whe­re an Emperor pen­gu­in tried to hide amongst them, but he is quick­ly spot­ted thanks to his signi­fi­cant­ly lar­ger size and the attrac­ti­ve colou­ring.

It is hard to tell what is most impres­si­ve: the pen­gu­ins, the Wed­del seals which crowd the shore in lar­ge num­bers of the stun­ning coast­li­nes with its rug­ged cliffs and sea stacks of vol­ca­nic rocks. But we don’t have to deci­de, we just enjoy the who­le thing 🙂

Ter­ra Nova Bay – Febru­a­ry 24th, 2017

The distan­ces are lar­ge also wit­hin in the Ross Sea, so we can dedi­ca­te the morning to some hours of rest. Not­hing wrong about that. But then our hopes and expec­ta­ti­ons are rising, as we approach the wes­tern coast of the Ross Sea again, the Tran­s­ant­arc­tic Moun­tains around Ter­ra Nova Bay. We sail past the migh­ty Cape Washing­ton, home to an Emperor pen­gu­in colo­ny in win­ter. Mount Mel­bourne is towe­ring in the same sec­tion of the pan­ora­ma, a lar­ge, vol­ca­nic cone of beau­ti­ful sym­me­try.

Ter­ra Nova Bay is some­thing like the King Geor­ge Island of the Ross Sea. The­re is a lar­ge num­ber of sta­ti­ons on King Geor­ge Island in the South Shet­lands, ever­y­bo­dy has to have his flagg fly­ing the­re. Over here, the­re are three sta­ti­ons wit­hin a few kilo­me­tres. Ger­mans and Core­ans can visit each other with just a short walk, whe­re­as Karl and Lee will need a boat for an Ita­li­an din­ner. But Karl and Lui­gi have alrea­dy left and clo­sed their respec­ti­ve pla­ces down for the win­ter, they will only be here during the sum­mer.

After a lot of back­ground com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with aut­ho­ri­ties and sta­ti­on lea­ders, we deci­ded to have a clo­ser look at the Ita­li­an Mario Zuc­chel­li Base. Just the pro­spect to step on good, solid ant­arc­tic gra­ni­te was a good one, not to men­ti­on tho­se on board who have an Ita­li­an con­nec­tion. Some of them felt immedia­te­ly at home!

Gal­le­ry – Ter­ra Nova Bay – Febru­a­ry 24th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Mario Zuc­chel­li Base may not be the most sce­nic place in Ant­arc­ti­ca, some­thing it has in com­mon with most sta­ti­ons except some of the older ones, which blend nice­ly into the land­s­cape. The modern ones are usual­ly collec­tions of con­tai­ner buil­dings crow­ned with satel­li­te dis­hes and sur­roun­ded by hea­vy vehi­cles and other tech­no­lo­gy. So we don’t spend too many hours in litt­le Ita­ly, in order to have time for ano­t­her litt­le lan­ding, name­ly at the Ger­man Gond­wa­na-sta­ti­on. Gond­wa­na is ano­t­her sum­mer-only based, they have only done main­tai­nan­ce work this sum­mer, but no sci­ence. As at Mario Zuc­chel­li base, the­re is nobo­dy here any­mo­re and the sta­ti­on is rea­dy to face the ant­arc­tic win­ter. The Gond­wa­na is much smal­ler and the ter­rain allows lovely views over the sur­roun­ding sce­ne­ry. Some Wed­dell-seals are hau­led out on land near the beach. We enjoy the who­le set­ting for a while, and then it is time to set cour­se for McMur­do Sound.

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