Yesterday morning we woke up and went to a fun location, a relatively high lookout point from which we watched a glacier slowly drop parts of itself into the sea. I even captured on video a large iceberg imploding from my high vantage point. The hike up was moderate compared to yesterday. When the hike was complete, we had the opportunity to take a cruise on the zodiacs around the harbor to see some fantastic icebergs, orca whales, leopard seals, Weddell seals, crab eater seals, Gentoo penguins, and a solitary chin strap penguin sitting on a small berg. The weather was perfect.
For our second stop of the day we went to another island off the mainland where we saw some Adele and Gentoo penguins. The best part of this island trek was the hike up to the top. I know you are saying “what vacation and hiking twice in one day”, I know! It is hard to describe the views of the channel, harbor and glaciers. At the top of this trek there were penguins nested. Activities were many and ranged from snowball fights to making snowmen. I did take part in the snowball fights, but not as a participant, as I wanted to continue to just lie down on the snow and stare at the crisp deeply moving and heavenly painted sky . So I declared myself the “Antarctic Arms Company” and made snowballs for one of the combatants. When that was done (a few hours on the island) the walk down began. It was slow going because we had to stay five meters from all wildlife, unless they came to us, and there were major penguin highways as they rushed up to bring their chicks food. It was sad to leave but it was time to head back to the ship at 18:00.
We had a conversation with the crew in which we discussed two types of “Crazy”; Ordinary Crazy and Certifiable Crazy. We had this discussion as we were waiting for the zodiacs to pick us up at 21:20 PM. So our ship board definition of crazy was going through the Drake and coming to a frozen planet by choice, whereas certifiable crazy was to do the same and then choose to go sleep overnight on the ice when you had a perfectly good ship. So as we stood there, waiting for the zodiacs, many of our fellow travelers, not camping, stood outside the observation deck and wished us a good and safe night!
Upon landing on the shore we stepped out of the zodiacs into the water of the rocky beach. We were told the rules of the campsite and then headed to go pick our spot for camping. There were two types of campsites being set up, those with tents and those without. I am sure you can picture the tents and maybe we need to further define a sub class to the crazy definition, “Certifiable Crazy-Really”. Those were the ones that did not use a tent; I was included in this sub class. We took our sleeping bags and gear and picked our spot. There were about 23 of us in the “Really” sub class and four shovels.
We picked our camping spots and began to dig out our site. Many of us that decided to not wait for one of the four available shovels and simply dug our holes by hand. The holes were about 6.5 feet long, 1.5 feet in depth and about three feet wide. As we dug out the holes, we added the snow along the outside barrier to build a wind-stopping wall even higher for added comfort. We each came up with some unique variants to the holes and some would later come to regret six-inch deep holes with no walls.
I dug two holes one for myself and one for a friend from the UK who had never before shoveled snow, and I could not let him go it alone. Our holes were duplicates and that makes sense as I dug them out. The dimensions of the holes were about two feet in depth with wind facing walls that went up another foot. I exceeded the previous stated dimensions, as I wanted to stay warm. I also added shelves in my walls to place my gear, for both holes. Others built shelves, some did not meet the minimal dimensions and some did not seem to dig a hole at all. There was one hole that stood out. One happy camper solved the problem of the depth of the hole and the fact that whenever you stepped in the snow your legs could potentially go deep in the snow, he dug a walkway that had a slight decline that led to a set of stairs that descended down into his hole, brilliant! I do not want to leave the people out that chose to use tents, as one was exceptional. A couple from Australia, where the husband originally hailed from Bavaria, built a protective wall around their tent with what appeared to be a mote. When the wall was complete they invited us all to stop by in the morning to tear down the wall!
After the site and tent setup was complete a group of us walked down along the stone beach to get a close-up look at a couple of Weddell seals that were lounging around sunning themselves after a long day of eating krill I suppose. We snapped a few close pictures and headed back to the campsite to lay down our mats and sleeping bags. It was now declared quiet timeas it was 11:30PM. While the sky was dimmed a bit it was still light out as it does not get dark in Antarctica at this time of year.
OK happy campers – onto the weather and more details for this camping adventure; Winds Calm, One Degree Celsius and it felt like the visibility was about 10 kilometers. Inside the bag was so warm that one could only sleep in their base layer, and that is the proper thing to do as well. I fell asleep at 12:30am. I did not totally close my bag and at about 3:30 I felt snow hitting my face and it was notably colder. I decided at this point to bring all my clothes inside the bag with me so that they would be toasty warm when I woke up. The next time I poked my head out of my campsite I noticed more snow and that someone had turned on the wind. By 5:45 am the wind was howling and the calm water was replaced with whitecaps. It is amazing how fast one can get dressed when camping in the snow and cold! Dressed and packed up, it was time to abandon the campsite and head down to the beach to put on a life vest and wait for the zodiacs to come and return us to the ship.
The ride back was rough but yesterday was perfect. The 27 of us crazies now have an adventure that almost necessarily had an Antarctic end. The weather is now maybe three meters visibility with moderate seas as we are all back aboard and headed to our next stop, but that is today and that will require a new blog post.
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