Last Dispatch

While I was at North­ern Voice, Pam’s final email came in:

There won’t be many pho­tos from the Zodi­ac cruise through Ple­neau Island, also known as ‘The glac­i­er grave­yard’. Get­ting from ice­berg to ice­berg for obser­va­tion proved to be a wild ride. Wind, waves, and snow hin­dered pic­ture-tak­ing for all but those being paid to do it. The rest of us clung to the side robes with heads turned into sleeves. I sup­pose we learned that form of pro­tec­tion from the pen­guins.

When ice­bergs become ground­ed, it’s ero­sion that shakes them apart, even­tu­al­ly becom­ing ‘burg­er bits’. It might take an ice­berg 10 years to rot. They look snowy from a dis­tance but up close you see accu­mu­lat­ed rocks frozen in the sol­id ice. We cruised through icy chunks where a leop­ard seal hid out and taunt­ed Zodi­acs try­ing to land.

The next day oppo­site weath­er in qui­et, sun­ny Cuverville Island. We observed more gen­too pen­guins in a big smelly rook­ery. One of the guides not­ed that in the past 3 years, snow cov­er has retreat­ed from the shore expos­ing sharp rocks and pro­duc­ing new moss­es. We could hear the pen­guins squish as they stepped across the tour trail.

In the evening a British base com­man­der lec­tured on ‘A Year in Antarc­ti­ca’. He described how a par­tic­u­lar sci­en­tif­ic group phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly han­dled a 12-month rota­tion. In addi­tion to work­ing in pairs, they also had to deal with per­son­al annoy­ances such as soup slurp­ing. If a cowork­er got the bet­ter of you, they were asked to ‘repair a meter’ in the out­er­most hut. (It was equipped with essen­tial overnight gear.) When the base sup­ply ves­sel returned the fol­low­ing year, the com­man­der explained that, nat­u­ral­ly, out­go­ing crew went through with­draw­al and grief. Replace­ments were to allow them a few days for intro­spec­tion before they left.

Our stops over the last 5 days have includ­ed Decep­tion Island, Peter­mann Island, Half­moon Bay, Par­adise Bay, and Neku Har­bour. We crossed 66-degrees south lat­i­tude, a joy­ous moment for the cap­tain, with­in spit­ting dis­tance of the Antarc­tic Cir­cle, the fur­ther­est south this ves­sel and this cap­tain have ever been.

We’re now think­ing about home. Tonight at the Cap­tain’s farewell par­ty ‘Las Pen­guinas’ my pic­ture-tak­ing bud­dies and I will rem­i­nisce about this incred­i­ble jour­ney to the awe­some Antarc­tic.

Pam will be back on Tues­day, and I’m hop­ing that her pho­tos will be up short­ly after that.

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