Start: February 3, Leith Cove
Finish: February 4, Pork Lockroy
12,000 Year Old Ice Cubes Drank: 8
Nights Camped in Antarctica: 1
Feet a Penguin Can Projectile Poo: 1.5
Our third night near the Antartica peninsula sees us fulfilling one of our main goals of the trip: spend a night camping in Antartica. And drink 12 year old scotch on the rocks using ice that predates modern civilization.
We also stop by the historic British Antarctic research base at Port Lockroy where we are able to send a few postcards to our parents, sure to arrive home about the same time we do.
After an early dinner, the brave 25 passengers who elected to spend a night camping on the snow are shuttled to our campground, Leith Cove, near Paradise Bay. We were given the option of sleeping in a tent or a bivvy sack. Having spent the past year and a half in a tent, the three of us opt for the bivvy sack in order to better appreciate the spectacular environment.
In case anyone is unaware, a bivvy sack is essentially a waterproof outer liner for a sleeping bag. It's quite warm, the overnight temperatures don't dip much below freezing, but we are more exposed to the elements than we're used to. The weather holds, although cloudy, it's not raining or snowing and as the above picture shows. The seas are calm and make for a spectacular view of the surrounding bay.
After setting up camp the three of us gather to share a toast with Antartica, soak up the scenery and commune with the occasional penguin who happens to wander into our campground.
While we're sitting around and enjoying the view, a big piece of this ice wall falls away, creating a new iceberg and making an insane amount of noise in the process. It is hard to convey with words the variety and severity of the creaks, groans, cracks and crashes that happen while being surrounded by 50-foot tall cliffs of ice. Sometimes you can tell something is about to happen because the noises increase in volume and frequency, but sometimes the ice breaks without a warning.
There was an Adelie penguin on the beach just in front of us who also shared this magic moment with us. After the massive block of ice fell, not 100 feet from where we were standing, he turned and bolted up the hill. Thinking it's probably best to take a note from the locals, we turn and do the same as a 5-foot wave washes over the shore. When in Antartica, do as the penguins do.
As it got dark that night, not too dark, sunset was around 11:30 and sunrise at 3am, a light freezing rain started to fall. It continued through the night and into the next morning. If it hadn't been for the 18 months we spent conditioning ourselves to sleep in less-than-ideal situations, we probably wouldn't have slept at all. In the morning everything was soaked. We returned to the ship in time for breakfast and a nap while the crew hung 25 wet sleeping bags up to dry in the lounge.
After a refreshing nap we were loaded back into the zodiacs to take a cruise around Jougula Point before visiting Port Lockroy. The cold rain from the previous night had stopped and the weather showed signs of improving. So far we've been lucky with the wind, high seas means we can't leave the ship, so nobody's complaining about the overcast skies as we start the zodiac cruise.
Several humpback whales are immediately spotted. Having 5 or 6 zodiacs in the water a time means we can spread and cover a lot of ground looking for the interesting wildlife. We follow the whales while they go through a serious of dives culimating in the tail breach in the above photo.
Ice is a constantly problem for the zodiac drivers. While the boats themselves can take quite a beating, propellers are frequently broken and the 60hp motors that power the zodiacs constantly need repaired.
But after several days we're amazed at the staff and the equipment. There doesn't seem to be much these guys won't go through to get us to our destination, including this beautiful but bumpy sheet of pack ice.
Leopard seals are also a common sight during our zodiac cruises. These guys are big, and a bit creepy looking with their smiles, but they never seem to mind us coming up for a closer look and a few photos.
As the weather clears revealing a few patches of blue, we head back to the ship for lunch. After lunch we have an hour to rest and then it's back on the zodiacs for a trip to Port Lockroy.
Port Lockroy is a British historical base, now primiarly serving as a tourist stop for cruise ships in the area. Decades ago it was an active research station, although after it fell into disuse and the Antartic Treaty was ratified, the UK was asked to either restore or dismantle the base. They chose to restore the base and turned it into a museum that showcases how early researchers lived and worked in Antartica.
One of the main scientific experiements used this beastly machine to measure atmospheric conditions in order to better understand weather and climate conditions. Although it reportedly had a bad reputation among the residents of Pork Lockroy as it was known to spontaneously catch on fire. Above, Jessica does her best to impersonate a Antarctic scientist.
Port Lockroy also houses one of the few post offices in Antartica. For $1 you can send a postcard to anywhere in the world. Estimated time of delivery: 2 to 3 months.
The museum showcased both artifacts that were left on the base, including foodstuffs and kitchen gear, along with equipment returned to the base by previous residents and Antarctic research teams. A 50 year-old bottle of gin was on display, along with enough cans of tea to keep the British team warm, cozy and thinking of home through the dark Antartic winter.
After the station was abandoned, a small colony of Penguins set up shop and remain in the area today. They nest under and around the buildings, and fill the air with their less-than-appetizing smell. One of the guides at the station serving a 4-month shift told me that over time you do in fact get used to the nauseating aroma. I for one think that's a load of penguin crap.
After a brief stop at Port Lockroy we stop off at Jougula Point, home of several giant piles of whale bones that are testimate to the industry that opened the doors to Antartic settlement. The two largest bones in the above photo are 30-foot jaw bones from a blue whale.
Yep, that's a picture of what you think it is. You saw it. You can un-see it.
Up Next: Jessica's birthday, a stop by yet another penguin colony, and an amazing zodaic cruise through an iceberg graveyard.