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Iceberg Alley
Antarctica - Into the Icebox

Whaler's Bay, the Biscoe house - Not open for business.Whaler's Bay, the Biscoe house - Not open for business. (Rene VanPelt)
An early wake-up, 6 a.m., is rewarded with magnificent views of enormous Tabular Icebergs in the Antarctic Sound, the size of . . . I don’t even know how big. They appear as big as skyscrapers laid on their sides. Upon a closer look you can see the blue and white stripe appearance, as though it were ribbon candy. Absolutely stunning. Some of these gigantic cubes of ice had little crystal blue ice caves. There were many of these behemoths in this iceberg field. Their tabular shape reveals that they are new icebergs, recently broken off of their ice shelf on which they formed. As they are exposed to the sea water and elements for periods of time, they begin to change shape, melt away, break apart . . . but for these big guys, it will be some time before they are small enough for my Pepsi glass.

First landing on the real Antarctica Continent this morning at Brown Bluff, located on the Trinity Peninsula’s east side. It is so named for the yellow-brown bluff that towers above the sea. Thousands and thousands of penguins were either nesting or, or I really don’t know what—just walking around looking like they were busy!! This is the first Adelie penguins we have seen. More flying penguins are spotted in the water playing around a small "icebergette". There are a few Gentoo nesting in the area. It is the starting of hatching time, so a few of the penguins have babies, but many are still sitting on eggs in their “nests” made out of small rock pebbles. Yes, it is correct – Rock Nests!!! This is also the first time I see a mama with twins. There are baby penguins from freshly hatched little wet guys to fluffy older ones about 5” tall. They are so amazing.

In the big Adelie colony I stop to just watch the busy guys. I’ve read that the males try to impress their female by bringing them pretty pebbles for their nests. The most industrious males find their own pretty stones on the beach, you can easily tell the lazy guys because they are the ones trying to steal stones from someone else’s nest! Which sometimes that works, and other times small, noisy brawls break out as the mama chases the would-be thief away . . . it would just be easier to get your own stone from the beach!

A couple of pure white Snow Petrels flew by a couple of time. Their contrast against the dark brown cliffs is stunning.

This is so fantastically wonderful that there are no words to describe it. There are so many penguins that if you stand still, they will walk within inches of you and just take a long gaze up as they wonder by. To describe the sound, it is like a barnyard of a thousand donkeys all braying at the same time. In fact, I think I have heard the penguin “noise” called a bray. You would never guess that that kind of a sound could come from a little penguin. Thank goodness for video, I can share some clips when we get back home. Now, the smell, well that is a different story. It is pretty smelly, but it is worth it for the views. But think of it this way also, look at the views the Penguins have a whole field of tabular icebergs constantly reflecting different colors from the sky and sea. I bet they never get tired of this view.

As we were finished our visit here, I spotted some Adelie maximizing what the cold and gravity had afforded them . . . a flat piece of ice several meters long had broken off and was laying downhill. To expedite their travel to the water, they hopped onto the top of it, laid on their tummy, and slid down, just like they were on a sled. How cute and how clever! I wish we never had to leave here, as there is so much to see. Oh, wait, it gets really cold. Never mind – wait for me. I do want back on the ship!

Our afternoon excursion takes us to the Esperanza Base which is quite striking with its red buildings against the black lava stone. This is an Argentinian research station, and has families living here year round as a real community with a school, a couple of churches, hospital, etc. The Post Office has an Antarctic stamp, so as a tourist “must,” we wait in line to have our passports stamped. There is also a small souvenir shop. I also noticed a big Direct TV satellite dish. This community can brag that the first people born in Antarctica were born here.

I could not hear the guide very well, so I missed a lot about the history and significance of things. Guess I will have to research it when I get home. The small Adelie colony is protected here, and these penguins also enjoy climbing to the top of a hill and sliding down the icy snow on their bellies. So fun!

An antique Tucker Snow Cat is on premises. I doubt if it runs any more, but it sure looks good all painted red to match the buildings around it. I guess if you can’t hide it, you might as well make it blend in.

One bit of history is that the hut made by the Rescue Party of the Nordenskjold Expedition is located here. He was a Swedish doctor that wanted to do an experiment of over-wintering in Antarctica. Things went wrong, and they got left with only 2 weeks of provisions and still made it. It is a crude rock shelter but was able to keep the men sheltered while they hunted to stay alive on penguin, seal, and whatever they could find to eat through an Antarctica winter! Real men!

After dinner the magnificent views of Iceberg Alley filled with tabular icebergs, some of which are more worn than others. There are older icebergs which have been weathered into all shapes and sizes. As the scenery changes with each few minutes, it is worth staying on deck to watch the transformation. Around 10 pm we start to see some brash ice floating in large sections and it becomes thicker as we travel. Between 11pm and midnight the sun pushes through the clouds and creates a spectacular sunset for us with reflections that turn the sea pink and yellow, only broken by the large silhouette of the icebergs.

The pretty views of large Iceberg Alley has now given way to what I would call an “Iceberg Minefield!” Chunks of ice in all sizes floats precariously all around the ship, swimming in the brash ice. All I can think is that I am glad the Captain and Expedition Leader have done this before and know what they are doing!

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