Epic Antarctic Expedition

24 Feb

This last adventure has truly been one of my favorites! We wrapped up our journey a couple days ago when we woke up at 5 AM and made our way, bright and early to an Antarctic-Chilean military base, near the south Shetland Islands. We walked down the long gravel runway, no terminal of any sort, exposed to the elements, as we watched our planes land before us. There was no TSA pat-down, no 3 ounce liquid limit, and no x-ray machines… But I’m sure that some nearby penguin had a close eye on our curious behavior. One of our planes was actually painted to resemble a penguin! 

We made our way back to Punta Arenas and ended the day with a wonderful dinner on land with our newfound friends and fellow adventurers. 

Prior to this, I had left off talking about our plans to sail into the caldera of an active volcano. The volcano at Deception Island is still considered active, last erupting back around 1969. The caldera from the initial blast opens into the Antarctic seas. The ocean water funnels in through what’s known as Neptune’s Bellows. It was here that we passed, moving this massive ship right in to the center of this active volcano. Fortunately and obviously this did not involve any lava flows. Actually, the water itself is just as cold as the surrounding polar sea. However, along the shoreline you can see temperature variants creating a steamy backdrop emerging from the pumice lines beach. It used to be common practice to arrive on shore, and dig just deep enough to create a natural hot spring. Environmental regulations now prevent this. However, that didn’t stop us from taking a dip! 

After a steep climb up a black pumice wall to the site of the last eruption, we made our way to the shore, stripped down to our skivvies, and made a mad dash for the ice cold water in true polar plunge style. I would’ve much rather preferred a spontaneous jump into deep waters, too quick to be able to change my mind halfway into the plunge. However, in good spirit, I over-rode that part of our brains meant to protect us, that part of your brain that says “this is a bad idea”, and made my way… leading the pack, first one into the icy waters! Yes, it was cold! Being from Minnesota though, we are champs at this sort of thing.

Later that afternoon, we made one last zodiac run to shore at Half Moon Bay. Several Penguins here were in the process of molting, and sadly off to the side we sat an injured penguin, we assume victim to the leopard seal. He sat with part of his guts hanging out of his side, shivering on a rock. It’s expected he’ll likely die of hypothermia overnight. Stuff like that just breaks my heart. On a lighter note, this island was also filled with several rare nesting birds, and dozens of fur seals that were quite entertaining.

Later that night, back on the ship we had a captain’s farewell dinner. We reconvened in the lounge and debriefed our expedition. Truly, this experience has been absolutely amazing! Not only have I had the opportunity to meet so many like-minded individuals, but I have had the honor and pleasure of experiencing parts of the world so remote, so pristine, and so preserved from human impact. The sights and sounds of this journey will linger with me for a lifetime. I can only hope I will one day return to experience this beauty once again. I will share a more comprehensive selection of photos when I get the chance. Till then, adventure on!

#JitterbugsAdventures #OneOceanExpeditions #PolarPlunge #DeceptionIsland


Camping in Antarctica, Whales, Penguins, & Seals

20 Feb

It’s been a busy couple of days, we came back from a very exciting overnight camping in Antarctica. We literally had to dig a shallow hole to provide ourselves with a small wind block, and with NO tents, we simply set up our bivy sacks, sleeping bags and pads and nestled ourselves away. We were camping on a slope that overlooked what must have been one of the most gorgeous views in the world… sun setting around 10pm here casting a gorgeous glow on the snow covered peaks. Along to the side, we discovered we were sharing this spot with a couple of fur seals as well that had a lot to say, barking and grunting away when we came upon them. As I curled up in my sack, and overlooked the mountain, I listened to the beautiful silence mixed with intermittent sounds of glacers caving in the distance. I then continued the audible narration of Shackleton’s expedition… listening how these men were sleeping in slimy wet and rotting sleeping bags and exposed to the inhospitable environment with no shelter, or boat to come and pick them up in the morning when they had decided they’d had enough. Gratitude for this opportunity and this trip fell upon me.

Over the last couple days, we had a few very interesting stops, we stopped into an old Chilean and Argentinean base which are preserved just the way they were left several decades ago. We visited a colony of Chinstrap penguins, did some trekking through the region, had an outdoor BBQ on the deck, and marveled at the size, shape and colors of the various icebergs that surrounded us. At one point, while out on the zodiaks, we were surrounded by so many whales that we couldn’t even decide which direction to aim the camera. They were all doing this bubble feeding thing, where they blow bubbles to bring the krills to the surface and then explode through the surface of the water gulping massive amounts of sea water which they will then strain through a sort of filter. Seals were pla ying, penguins were porpousing themselves through the air, and a large part of an ice shelf calved off and into the sea right before our eyes. At one point, one of the older women in our group reported to the others upon our return, “We just about got murdered by a leopard seal, and it was amazing!” It’s true, the wildlife and conditions here may need to be approached somewhat with caution, but its so easy to simply get lost marveling in the beauty and excitement of it all. At one point, on a continental mainland landing, I even whipped out the American Flag and staked a claim on the land. I’m still working out the details on how to make this official, lol.

Anyhow, I simply can’t wait until I can get back and update you all properly with good resolution and sized photos from this amazing experience. Not only has nature provided us with quite a show, but we have been amongst a master class of experts in the field of glacierolgy, volcanology, marine biolo gy, photography, history, and climate specialists. We have learned a wealth of information about this region of the world and I feel honored and humbled to be along with them on this expedition.

Tomorrow, the plan is to start moving back North. At this point, we are planning on going into an active Antarctic volcano, in the middle of the ocean. We are hoping to sail right into its cauldera where we might do a little true Antarctic polar plunge. Look forward to providing you with some more updates then.

#JitterbugsAdventures #AntarcticExpedition #OneOceanExpeditions #DeceptionIsland

Abandoned Antarctic Research Station, Penguin Colonies & Camping in Antarctica

18 Feb

What a beautiful day we had today here in Antarctica! It was blue skies all day and relatively warm temperatures considering where we are. We went to the Ukranian research based called Vernansky where researchers and scientists are living year round conducting various studies. Nearby is what used to be one of the UK’s old research bases which is now abandoned. This of course was right up my alley!

We made it to another penguin colony and did a big hike up to the peak of the mountain it was located on. From here, we could see this part of the world in its full beauty. Magestic doesn’t even begin to describe this winter wonderland. All day long, iceburgs up to 200 feet high and city blocks long, floated past us as we moved towards the Lemierre Channel. We just finished a warm meal and we are about to jump in our zodiacs and taken to land where we will be camping! No tents, just a shovel to dig our own resting hole (hopefully not our finally resting hole, lol) and we w ill crawl into our little bivy sacks and enjoy the night under the stars, hearing glaciers crack and hopefully the whales sing. Sorry, no pics tonight, I’ve got to go jump in the zodiak and head out. Hopefully can get you some pictures from our latest adventures sometime tomorrow.

#JitterbugsAdventures #OneOceanExpeditions #AntarcticaCamping #WinterCamping #VernanskyStation

66-Degrees South: Crossing Into the Antarctic Circle

17 Feb

Shortly after waking this morning, we were informed that we had made good progress overnight in our push further south. We were informed that the Antarctic Circle was quickly approaching. Everyone gathered on the ship’s bow and as the coordinates drew closer, we counted down outloud. As we passed this invisible line into extreme latitude at 66 degrees South and 33 minutes, the ship’s horn sounded and we celebrated. A push to the Antarctic Circle is not always a possibility, as the thick ice flow can for most of the year cause too much of a dangerous obstruction for passage.

While we were successful in reaching the circle, high swells ended up preventing our shore landing to Detaile Island. Here there is an old abandoned research base that I would have been very excited to have explored. We did, however, have that loss come with the tradeoff of being perfectly positioned when several Killer (Orca) Whales came out to play. From a distance our resident photographer even managed to catch one of them tossing a penguin into the air. It is a great shot!

Speaking of whales, part of the research we are doing involves particularly the whales. Each “fluke” (tail) has a special “fingerprint” that is unique to each animal. These markings serve to identify and track the whales and their migration patterns. We are attempting to shoot as many flukes as possible and all of this data is shared and processed accordingly. Furthermore, this ship continues daily research including monitoring of water temperatures, salinity of the water and other crucial measurements for guaging the health of these polar waters.

That’s about it for now, and again, I appologize for the low resolution and small size of the photos I have added, being that I’m thousands of miles from home and nearly at the end of the globe, it’s amazing I can send or upload anything at all. From the Antarctic Circle… Carpe Diem!

Antarctica… We Have Arrived!

16 Feb

Today was amazing! After 1 week of traveling for me, 5 of those days on the ship, we have finally come face to face with this beautiful continent known as Antarctica. Waking up at 5am, and onto the decks, the sun was beginning to rise and we were greated with a spectacle of what must have been a dozen humpback whales, gently rising and sinking from around the ship, playfully taunting us. The whooshing sound of blow holes, echoed off the ships steel frame. A few hours later, we were cruising through Wilhemina Bay on zodiacs watching these enormous mammals engage in a feeding frenzy in front of us. They create a pool of bubbles that pushes the krill to the surface, attracting birds as well, and then gulp their way from the base of the bubble pool to the top, then straining the pool of water through their seive like mouth plate. Absolutely spectacular. Along the way, we encountered a few seals and penguins as well.

After lunch, we visited the largest colon y of Gentoo Penguins in the world. Here, we watched the molting process unfold, early chicks being fed by their mother in a strange regurgitation act, and other penguins simply enjoying their afternoon swimming in the cold arctic waters. What a special place to linger. There was a large graveyard of iceburgs along the shore in which we were able to cruise around on the zodiacs, discovering more crab and fur seals.

Back on the ship we went through a narrow channel with mighty cliffs of glacer and mountain met the sea where several smaller iceburgs floated on past us. This, with the sun setting over the bow of the ship, laughter, smiles, and everyone reeling about what a wonderful beautiful day this was here in Antarctica.

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere. The dew is never dry all at once, a shower is forever falling. Vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and glowing, on sea and continent s and islands, each in its turn as the earth rolls. And for this I am forever grateful to be alive.” John Muir

#JitterbugsAdventures #Antarctica #HumpbackWhales #GentooPenguins #OneWorldExpeditions

Elephant Island & First Glimpse of Antarctica

15 Feb

By yesterday evening, we had reached Elephant Island. However, a thick fog had rolled over the ocean, completely obstructing our view. Mid dinner, somone looked out the port hole and enthusiastically announced that this famous island had emerged from the fog. The sun was setting simultateously and with plates filled of freshly served food, we all jumped up and started running outside the ship to get a view. This Elephant Island is where Shackleton’s men spent 4 and a half grueling winter months waiting for rescue. They had only arrived onto Elephant Island after several months of floating on an ice drift becuase their ship had been literally crushed between the ice and had sunk. The day of the crew’s arrival to Elephant Island in the midst of a harrowing survival experience is best described from one of the men’s journals, “Some of the men were reeling about the beach as if they had found an unlimited supply of alcoholic liquor on the desolate shore. They were laughing uproariously, picking up stones and letting handfuls of pebbles trickle between their fingers like misers gloating over hoarded gold. The smiles and laughter, which caused cracked lips to bleed afresh and the gleeful exclamations at the sight of two live seas on the beach made me think for a moment of that glittering hour of childhood when the door is open at last and the Christmas tree in all its wonder bursts upon the vision.” What looks like an island with a certain death sentence for ourselves had become the promised land for them.

Early this morning we were scheduled to go out in the Zodiac’s for a shore landing where we would be able to survey several species of Antarctica animals. On the horizon, we saw our first tabular iceburg, massive in size like several city blocks. This is also where we gained our first glint of the actual continent mainland of Antarctica itself. It’s hard to believe that it has taken us 4 days just to get this far. Truly this is remote ter ritory. Our planned zodiac landing became unfortunately cancelled due to increased wind and wave action with a snow storm that followed. We spent the afternoon instead studying sea lions, penguins, and seals from the experts aboard. As we continued cruising through the channels, we did come upon several whale spottings, none of them truly breaching yet. However, several times through the day we have seen their blow holes in action and the dark black dorsal side of humpback whales break the surface. We were also followed briefly by a group of swimming penuins.

Overnight, we will continue pressing further down the Antarctic peninsula. At some point, we will merge into the Gerlache Straight and make our way into Wilhemina Bay (also referred to as Whala-mina bay). We will be getting out on the zodiacs and I anticipate a landing as well. The interesting thing down here is that the weather can never really be predicted. This land is so remote that there are only scattered weather sta tions at random research bases around the continent which by no means provide comprehensive data.

With that, I’m headed off to bed. We are getting up early in the morning to hopefully see the sun rise. Below is a picture of Elephant Island as the sun is setting in the distance.

Passing Through the Antarctic Convergence

13 Feb

Overnight sometime, we passed through what’s known as the Antarctic Convergence. This is a boundary in the ocean where the cold waters of Antarctica meet with the slightly warmer waters of the southern ocean. You really only know when you have passed when the water temperature guages suddenly drop several degrees. As we move further south, we are now seeing fewer giant Albatross and preparing to start seeing the whales. Just before noon here, we crossed another very important line, the official geo-political line of Antarctica. While there is still no land in sight and no iceburgs yet to be seen, we are officially in Antarctica. Within the next 2 hours, we should be passing alongside Elephant Island where Shackleton and his men hunkered down for several months waiting to be rescued.

Earlier in the day, we started preparing for our land expedition by increasing our biosecurity for this remote land. We exercise caution for introducing invasive species, seeds or biodiv ersity by vaccuming out all of our gear and scrubbing our boots in a pathogen killing solution.

Later this afternoon, we will be doing some research on glacierology. We have a find team of scientiests and research experts on board and we very much look forward to what we will learn about this isolated continent and the glaciers that surround it.