Antarctica WOW! Part 2

HIlton Smith at the Antarctic Circle crossing
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“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have just crossed the Antarctic Circle”

With that announcement, the best part of our adventure had begun. The impressive preview that morning was waking up about 7:00 a.m., opening up my cabin curtains and seeing icebergs floating by my windows.

After breakfast we collectively put on our cold weather gear and made it to the ship’s bow. There, as the icebergs became more numerous and the snow capped mountains loomed closer, that amazing announcement was made.

Solan, our very professional, accomplished and rugged looking Quark Expedition leader, said a few words. Then Robert Swan, who was on board, made some comments. Swan was the first person to trek to both the South and North Poles. He spoke of the need to protect the Earth for future generations.

Back inside for a warm up, I saw more bergs as we slowly sailed into Crystal Sound, the southern most point in our exploration. We had raced for almost three days non-stop to reach here ahead of a looming storm. Now even more adventures were in store and with the anticipation of our first Zodiac cruise and landing.

Our first steps on Antarctica came later that day. It was an afternoon Zodiac excursion and landing on one of the fingers of Crystal Sound and to now abandoned Station W. It was definitely an effort for someone from Southern California.

Lots of layers, multiple socks, waterproof pants, parka, hood, thick gloves, scarf and rubber boots along with an inflatable life vest were all part of the necessary gear. Outside it stayed just around freezing for most of the trip. This time we had an hour in the Zodiacs cruising among the icebergs and wildlife and the same amount of time trekking on shore.

The results were magical with plenty of playful seals, aristocratic looking penguins and even a humpbacked whale. This was the beginning of many excursions and animal sightings.

The next week saw a mixture of ship and Zodiac cruising as well as Zodiac landings. Some of the more adventurous tried paddle board and sea kayaking.

There were numerous daily itinerary switches due to the prevailing snow, ice and wind conditions. Solan was a maestro in making quick changes so we could take full advantage of each day. All the Quark staff did an amazing job of keeping us informed, busy and engaged. Their passion was infectious. Please note that landing sites could be challenging with uneven surfaces and slippery footing.

Our objective was to gradually work our way back up the Antarctic Peninsula. Each exploration voyage is different due to the necessary changes. The scenery alone was mind blowing and the various animal sightings added to the excitement. The penguin colonies were always a show of their own. Two very frisky fur seals chased me along the beach on Deception Island.

Aside from the wildlife, I was fascinated with the immense number and diversity of the glaciers and icebergs. As no two snowflakes are alike, the same is true for icebergs. Mostly white, but a few in shades of blue, the sizes and shapes were unspoiled by man. “Nature’s art” of tortured sculpting in Antarctica was truly amazing.

A few days before the end of our journey, we did a Zodiac landing at beautiful Portal Point, passing by and stopping to view a spectacular group of feeding humpbacks. It was also guarded by huge and artistic icebergs. This was significant because it was our first walk on Continental Antarctica as opposed to the islands surrounding it. With that and over a foot of new snow, it was time to celebrate another significant expedition accomplishment.

Our two day return in The Drake Passage revealed its softer side. Sun and relatively smooth seas on day one reverted to clouds and more shaking on day two. Towards the afternoon on day two, magic happened and we actually sailed past Cape Horn on a sheet of glass calm ocean.

The barriers to Polar travel are indeed very high in time, distance and money. It is not for everyone. Regardless, the rewards for the wanderlust are bountiful. A genuine voyage to the unknown, my personal discoveries of a breathtaking, fascinating new Antarctic world, was well worth my efforts.

At first I saw a cold and frozen place devoid of humans. Then I discovered it’s unique, sustained and adaptive life on the land and in the sea. There was also the ever changing majestic scenery and those imposing floating sculptures. I learned to appreciate, respect and enjoy this magnificent and surprising continent.

Memories for a lifetime.

Hilton Smith