Holly’s HB update #19

The thin sea ice we were privileged to land on and walk on, with seals strewn across it

The icy foggy landscape is so beautiful. We are travelling very very slowly, and have gone back and forwards the last couple of days waiting for ice to shift which was blocking the passage to our next research station, Palmer Station which is a US base. Apparently a stable southerly wind flow blew for a few days and the ice filled in some unusual places. Usually the winds are westerly here. 

I love the slow, gentle pace of the voyage. It allows time for processing all the interactions and concepts we are taking in, for reflection and contemplation in a mind-expanding landscape. The scale of the sea and land here are hard to describe, hard to capture in images. The drone footage has done the best job thus far, and will add a very realistic element to the film. 

me, Nancy Auerbach and Greg Mortimer
 

Things are happening while we slide slowly past icebergs on a glassy sea. Women are collaborating.

watching albatrosses in the Drake Passage off Cape Horn

The return crossing of the Drake Passage saw moderate seas and only a few waves spraying across the deck. Crossing the Southern Convergence zone (60 Degrees South) we had sea birds everywhere and 30 knots of wind. The wind slowly eased til when we were abeam Cape Horn it was calm. We were delighted by a pair of adult Wandering Albatross and a smaller pair of Back-browed Albatross. Closer to the islands of Cape Horn National Park we saw dozens of smaller albatross – probably nesting on these remote islands. 

Wise and wonderful HB participant Fern Hames

I’d like to share some beautiful thoughts captured by Homeward Bound participant Fern Hames from rural Victoria in Australia, about the very special day we landed and walked on the thin sea ice.

“If you could choose one word to describe today, it might be ‘unexpected’.
I never expected that we would get to walk on fast ice in Antarctica. A slightly surreal experience, to land a zodiac directly at the edge of an expanse of flat white ice, connected to the coast, and step directly on to this. Apparently this sheet is a couple of metres thick; we can see the deep blue of the ice underneath the layer of fresh white snow on top. A pair of seals doze; a pair of penguins waddle.

We crunch our way across. We are totally thrilled.

I never expected to climb to the top of a tiny snowy-domed island (Danco Island) and be surrounded by sea, steep granite mountains, thick snow, and glaciers tumbling into the sea. There are ‘penguin highways’ leading to and from several rookeries; our path looks a little like one of those too; we climb up, but then slide down; slow at first but then scooting fast down the slope, looking directly out across a vista of mountains, ice, boulders and contorted ice in a calm sea.

We talk about how timing is everything and how, on any scale (hourly to geological), this place will be different at any other time. We have been hugely lucky with weather on this journey; today the sea is serenely calm again and the air incredibly clear. Penguins are nesting, the gin-clear shallows are thick with krill, and seals are resting on the sea ice. On another day, and another week, the weather and access will be different. In another season, the light will be different, the cycles of biodiversity action will be different. In another year or so, the glaciers will be different. In another lifetime, what will the impacts of climate change be here?

Today we also celebrated Christmas; we returned from walking on the fast ice to glasses of hot mulled wine, we exchanged Kris Kringle gifts, and dressed up in costumes for a bit of a party on board our little ship – marking half-way through the journey of a lifetime. It was a bit unexpected to see Hawaiian skirts in Antarctica. To see possum-skin boot innersoles reinvented as ears. To dance outside on the deck, at midnight, in ‘daylight’. All perhaps slightly unexpected, and all completely fabulous.” 

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