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Antarctica

Living The Good Life: Parting Shots of Antarctica

Opportunity, Parting Shots and Going Around The Horn

sunny 21 °F

It’s hard to believe I went to Antarctica. Who does that? As we were winding up our last days on the continent, my travel companion and I compared notes on how much we’ve worked this year. I’ve worked five and a half months in 2012, and she worked six months. We both started laughing at our ridiculous good fortune. By the numbers, we should be living in poverty. But here we are, sitting in white robes on a comfortable bed, waiting for our next landing on the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s absurd.

My advice: When opportunity knocks on your door, answer it.

Parting Shots

Orca!
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I didn’t see many whales around the peninsula, except for one pod of Orca. The orcas were on the move in search of seals. The seals like to bask in the sun on top of ice floes. The whales will search among the icebergs; spyhopping out of the water to see if any seals are hiding on top. In this pod, there were two males, one female, and one juvenile whale.
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Endless Mountain Landscapes
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We had some outstanding weather on the trip. These shots are of the narrow passage that leads to Port Lockroy. The weather for the entire trip was amazing. There were several days in a row of brilliant sunshine with blue skies. Sunglasses and sunscreen were mandatory.
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I didn’t expect the peninsula to be as mountainous as it is. I love seeing high mountains peaking out from heavy cloud cover.
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Marching Penguins
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Penguins spend a lot of their day moving from one group to another, one place to another. Though wary, they tolerate humans so long as we do not get in their way. A penguin is busy this time of year, there are rocks to haul, nests to construct and mates to attract.
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A penguin highway is a great spot to watch them. The highway is obvious, as there is a ten-foot wide discoloration on the ice, and it usually has a couple of penguins ambling back and forth upon it. I like to sit down right near a highway at a strategic point where the penguins have to by closely in order to get where they want to go.
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For instance, one of their paths wound up a rock ramp between the ocean and the main colony. I sat down right next to bottom side of the ramp. The penguins didn’t care at all. They waddled right by and allowed me to watch them from less than three feet away.
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Penguin Flight

Brown Bluff sits at the extreme northerly end of the Antarctic Peninsula. Underneath this massive rock lies a large breeding colony of penguins. Like all life forms, a penguin must eat. To do this, they have to eventually get into the ocean and swim out to their feeding grounds. A leopard seal must also eat, and it knows the best place to catch penguins is between the colony and the feeding grounds.
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The leopard seal is very crafty, and uses all kinds of stealthy camouflage to catch the penguins off guard. He will hide behind bergs; wedging himself into a small crevice before launching himself at the passing penguins. He’s a menace to penguins.
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The penguins know this, and fight back with numbers. At a rocky point, the penguins gather in the hundreds. They wait there until the lead penguin closest to the water decides to go for it. Then it’s a game of follow the leader, and the hundred penguins that were standing behind him launch themselves into the sea in a mad rush. It’s impressive.

The penguin mob began swimming out to their grounds. When penguins swim, they “porpoise” through the water, jumping out like dolphins to catch a breath of air before diving back down. I watched the penguins get further away from shore. They looked like they were going to make it. Then, in an instant, they turned 90 degrees to their original direction and began to panic. The leopard seal struck again.
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The penguins raced back to shore. They began popping out of the water and recklessly landed on the rocks. They were scared. When the chaos ended, I could see the leopard seal thrashing the penguin against the water. It was somewhat sad, but that’s the way it goes.

Around The Horn
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We ended our explorations of the southern ocean by cruising through Drake’s Passage up to Cape Horn. This section of the world is unique. It’s where the Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic and Southern Oceans collide. Our passage wasn’t bad. We had a good roll to our ship, but the seas remained relatively calm.

It was strange to see Cape Horn. Though I have read about it, I never imagined that one day I would be looking at the tip of South America. I had made it around the horn. What a strange life I lead.

In the old days of sailing, it could take months to make it around the horn, and many mariners did not make it. Hundreds of ships litter this section of ocean. Many sailors were never seen again.

Fortunately, our ship was not one of them. We turned northeast before turning into the Beagle Channel before returning to Ushuaia.

So ends one hell of an amazing life journey. In time, I may have more to say about this voyage, but I’m still digesting it. As one adventure ends, another begins. “Adios, Antarctica. Hola, Argentina.”

Posted by Rhombus 08:42 Archived in Antarctica Tagged islands wildlife ice oceans photography penguins icebergs antarctica Comments (0)

The Elements of Antarctica

Blizzards, Ice Sculpture, The Slide and Penguins

semi-overcast 22 °F


After much thought, I’ve decided I’m a struggling as a writer. I don’t know what adjectives to use when trying to describe the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands. My thesaurus has run dry. It’s hard to find words that illustrate supreme beauty-except those very words. Antarctica IS supremely beautiful, and that is all I have to say about it.

The Antarctic Peninsula is essentially made of six elements. These are: ice, rock, water, atmosphere, snow, and wildlife (which includes humans). The interplay of these six simple elements makes Antarctic landscapes magnificent.

Here is my proof.

Blizzard on Deception Island
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There is nothing like walking around in a blizzard in Antarctica to make you feel alive. I landed on Deception Island in the midst of a fierce gale. The snow wasn’t really falling so much as it was whipping horizontally over the ground. It never really had a chance to hit the ice. The wind grabbed those flakes and used them to scour the land and the people who walked upon it. It was awesome.
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It was a great day for photography. The wind and driving snow obscured the details of the landscape. I shot these photos in sepia to give an “olde tyme” feel to them. They are some of my favorites of the trip.
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Neptune’s Window
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My compatriots and I took a hike to a high point called Neptune’s Window. I love how these lines of people look in the heavy wind and snow.

Slush
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I found a pond with interesting patterns made of slush.

Cuverville Island
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Natural Ice Sculpture
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A beautiful collection of natural ice art surrounds Cuverville Island. What I really love about these sculptures is not only are they completely natural, but they are only momentary. You have to appreciate them as they are in this moment, because a day from now they might be completely different. In the Antarctic, the flow of change is constant.
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Weddell Seal
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Seals spend much of their time sacked out on the ice floes.

Gentoo Penguin Colony
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Gentoo penguins have a colony on Cuverville Island. It’s interesting to watch gentoos during this time of year, because they are beginning their mating season. All over Cuverville, the penguins gather about in groups on the highest points of the land. They choose high ground because the snow will melt the quickest on top, and it is here where they will make their nests made of rocks.
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In the colony, the penguins consisted of two groups: those that are still looking for a mate, or those that have found one. The courting of penguins is quite elegant. After a good sit, the penguins will slowly walk in a circle. Together, they will bow down very low to the ground and open their beaks while looking at one another. Then the birds will return to a neutral pose and continue sitting around for a few hours.
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The penguins that haven’t found a mate yet spend their days wandering from one group to the next. Often they will stand in trios and call out in a loud “purr.” These calls are announcements of their availability and fine genetics.
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Penguin watching is a fascinating pastime.
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Neko Harbour Shenanigans
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I took my first footsteps on the Antarctic Continent on a cold beach at Neko Harbour. I started my afternoon off by hiking high up on a massive bluff. I passed the ever-present gentoo colonies as I sweated my way to the top. It overlooked the massive glacier that was just across the small cove from where we landed. The glacier had a huge piece of ice poised to fall into the sea below. It would have made a tremendous wave had it fallen. The glacier did sheave off some ice, but the giant piece stayed in place.

Since I was on top of a very steep hill, it only made sense to slide down to the bottom on my rain pants. I managed to talk two of my friends into joining me. At first, it didn’t look like we were going to have any luck. The snow was too soft; the slope not steep enough. We tried a few different techniques, before the snow and slope cooperated. We were soon sliding easily along the snow, laughing, giggling, and whooping with joy. We picked up speed. The joy turned into sheer terror as we reached the lip of the true slope. At this point, there was no way to slow down, and we went into a free fall down the side of the cliff.

I tried to dig my fingers, boots, and arms into the snow, but it was no use. I was at the mercy of gravity, speed, and friction. I finally managed to dig my feet into the slope, but that only caused me to summersault heels over head. I body slammed into the ground and lost all control of descent. Finally, I began to slow and gradually slid to a stop. I laughed. It was exhilarating. I looked over to see how Amy was doing and she was fine. Then we both watched to see the giggling Tiffany fly down the last slope to where we were sitting in the snow. We compared notes, laughed some more, and finally got up to collect our things.
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After the slide, I watched penguins for the rest of the afternoon. They were up to their usual antics: Waddling around, bowing to one another, making nests, and looking cute. I had several of them bob right up to where I was sitting in the snow. I had a good look at their fine lines and remarkable feet.
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Lemaire Channel and Booth Island
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Lemaire Channel is one of the most beautiful stretches of water I’ve passed through. It is bound on both sides by steep, snow-laden mountains. Icy fields descend the mountain and form tidal glaciers at the waterline. I ventured through a corridor of blue glaciers. I felt like I was in a hallway of the Gods.
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After passing through the channel, I rounded the south side of Booth Island. It is in this area that the big icebergs have gathered. There size is immense. Only about ten percent of an iceberg is above the waterline. Keep that in mind as you look at some of the photos of these icebergs.
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The Keyhole
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Leopard Seal
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This is a male leopard seal. The leopard seal is a fierce predator that eats penguins as its main source of food. Their lithe, sinewy bodies are ideal for slipping through narrow openings in the ice. Leopard seals are territorial, claiming a patch of water as their own.

Compressed Ice
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The heavy weight of the dense glacier compresses oxygen out of the ice, which is why it is so clear. The clearer the piece of ice is, the less oxygen is in it. You can see this same process for yourself if you take a small scoop of snow and begin working it and squeezing it with your fingers. As it melts, it becomes easier to form, try to keep it in the shape of a cube as you compress it. You will notice that it becomes clearer. Now you won’t be able to make it as clear as this piece, but the concept is still the same.

Pack Ice
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It was an odd experience to be moving through pack ice on a ship. I have read about pack ice in countless books about Polar exploration. In my mind, I always wondered what it was like to be bashing one’s way through an endless plain of moving ice. As with everything, it’s one thing to read about it; it’s quite another to actually experience it.
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First, some science. Essentially, pack ice forms when a large flat piece of new ice breaks up in smaller chunks and collects en masse by wind and currents. Most pack ice looks like a large collection of giant snow pancakes, with smaller chunks of ice in between.
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Our ship is an ice class vessel, which means it can push its way through pack ice with relative ease. After the days activities, with dinner firmly lodged in our stomachs, everyone on board went outside to enjoy this unique experience. I bundled up against the cold, grabbed my camera, and went out to the bow of the ship.
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The lighting was incredible. Photographers and painters dream about this light. It was low angled light from a golden sunset, diffused through bands of thin clouds. The sunset seemingly lasts forever in the Antarctic during the summer months, and this was no exception. In the background were heavily clouded mountains that contrasted beautifully in the sunlit foreground. The photographers on board were in ecstasy, shooting hundreds and hundreds of pictures in a couple of hours. They ran around singing Paul Simon’s “Kodakchrome.” They talked to the icebergs, complimenting them on their beauty as they snapped their shutters. It sounded like machine gun fire.
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I loved every part of it. The ice pancakes were beautiful. Hell, everything was beautiful. It was an amazing evening in a unique landscape.

Adelie Penguins
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This is the classic Antarctic scene: A small group of adelie penguins popped out of the water onto a flat sheet of ice right in front of me. They shook and rolled around on the floe, which helps them shed water from their dive. They were curious, yet cautious. They kept one eye on me as they rested. I halfway expected them to start tap dancing, but they didn’t.
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Then one of the penguins took the lead and readied itself to jump back in the water. The other penguins followed it, and they all lined up before diving back into the frigid water.
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Antarctica is supremely beautiful… Yep.
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Posted by Rhombus 10:49 Archived in Antarctica Tagged islands ice oceans ships photography penguins icebergs blizzards Comments (2)

Antarctic Dreams

Antarctica, Justification of Zen, Lucky Me, Oh, Yeah 2 Months in Argentina

semi-overcast 56 °F

Antarctic Dreams
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It was somewhere near ten in the morning when my friend busted into my dark man cave. She beat my leg and announced, “Thom! THOM! Wake up. WAKE UP! I got the email! I GOT MY TRIP! WE‘RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA!“ At this point, I sat up in bed, and mumbled, “Wha? Grgup deer. Diggumrifits johberglubs. Okeh okeh.. Greibits.”

My friend realized I probably wasn’t comprehending this information. She hurried out saying, “Sorry to wake you, now go back to and dream about Antarctica.“

My friend later told me that I didn’t say anything coherent during that conversation. I thought I was communicating clearly, but I guess I was wrong. I was very agreeable. I figured the faster I agreed, the sooner this person would go away. Before I passed out, I thought to myself. “You might be going to Antarctica.”

At one-thirty p.m. the same day, I woke up from my sleep and one word popped into my head. Antarctica. At that point, my head exploded.

When I say my head exploded, I mean that I immediately began to think of the things I was going to need for the trip. What did I have to do before November? I had to get tickets, maps, accommodations, and timetables. How long was I going for? There was no way I was going to sleep anymore that day. This was a problem, because I was working night shift that night, and I had only gotten a measly 5 hours of sleep.

With my mind aflutter, I still didn’t quite trust the fact that I was going to Antarctica. After all, I may have dreamed the whole thing. After an hour of laying in the dark, I flipped on my computer and began to make tentative lists of things that I needed to do. After another half hour, I went up stairs to get a cup of tea, with a muffin. I wanted to verify what I believed was true.

I walked into the galley where my friend was working, and asked her, “Is it true?” She jumped into my arms, and yelled, “WE’RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA! We got the 21 day trip, including South Georgia and Falklands!” I smiled. I’m from the Midwest. I don’t know how to show enthusiastic displays of excitement in public. I was very excited, but it had not really sunk in yet. I had my tea, and watched a movie, I tried to sleep, but it didn’t happen. I went to work, and somehow made it through a very long night.

Zen Flow = Antarctica and Argentina
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Since July, I’ve been running without a plan. I think I’ve talked of this before (see Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Nebraska July 2012). In short, I had such an enjoyable time driving through Nebraska without a map that I decided to apply this concept to my life. This is not easy. I’m a man of action, of plans, of adventure. It was hard; I even turned down an offer to go to Morocco, because it didn’t feel right. Many people have asked me, “What are you going to do after your contract?” My best answer was, “I don’t know. I’m just going to let the Zen flow and see what happens.”
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Well, the Zen has flowed.

This is happening fast. In three weeks, I’ll be in Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world). I have made many decisions already concerning this adventure, but there are many that I have yet to determine. The biggest decision I’ve had to make was, “how long are you going for?” I figured that since I’m going to be in Argentina, I might as well spend some time there. However, that still didn’t answer the original question. I looked at tickets, and decided that I would fly out of Buenos Aires two months after I got back from Antarctica. My mind exploded for the second time in a week.

How Did You Get So Lucky?
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The obvious question is “Why do you get to go to Antarctica?” I’ll tell you. I work for an expedition based touring company that runs small cruise ships all around the world. One benefit to working for this company, is that they offer some of their trips to crewmembers when there is space available on the ship. In order to qualify, one has to complete a four-month contract or work full time, and one has to sign up for a space on the waiting list for that trip. My friend heard there were cabins available on this Antarctic trip and put her name on the list. Three weeks before any trip departs, they fill any open cabins with crew applicants. For this Antarctic trip, my friend was at the top of the list. The cabins are double occupancy, so she can bring a guest if she chooses (for a price), and she chose me. We’ve signed the paperwork, bought our plane tickets, and paid our ship fees. It’s a done deal, at least on paper. We still have to get there.

I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Who takes a romantic getaway to Antarctica? This guy does.

A Two Headed Monster

It’s very hard to live in the moment right now. I still have three weeks to work on the ship, which includes a four-day positioning trip down to Los Angeles. Every other thought revolves around either Antarctica or Argentina. This is a huge two-headed monster of a trip. The first half is very structured for the most part. Our ship will visit the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica making stops at known locations. The second half is completely free forming as we speak. The only thing I know for sure is my flight out of Buenos Aires on the 31st of January (unless of course my plans change).

I have a few ideas, but my mind tends to wander. I’ve looked into taking Spanish classes in Ushuaia. I also plan on hiking in Patagonia. Maybe I’ll learn to Tango, who knows? The world is my oyster.

Amundsen, Shackleton, Ross, and now Miller. Holy shit, I’m going to Antarctica!

Posted by Rhombus 15:35 Archived in Antarctica Tagged friends ships argentina planning antarctica Comments (0)

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