Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, expedition, Ross Sea

Antarctic Peninsula vs Ross Sea

The difference between the two expeditions goes much deeper than the price. Whenever people say they have been to Antarctica, my first question is: “Which part did you visit?” I gauge my opinion on whether they are true Antarctphiles by their response.

Having waited a lifetime to visit the 7th continent, I was determined that, when my time came, I would dig deep and experience as much of Antarctica as I could. That meant going to higher latitudes, and definitely inside the Antarctic Circle (66° 33′ 39″).

I achieved this on my 2013 Ross Sea Expedition, of which I have already written (see other blogs on this site). During that 32-day expedition I experienced so many wonderful things: stepping inside Scott’s Terra Nova and Discovery huts; Shackleton’s Nimrod hut; taking a helicopter into the Taylor Dry Valley; anchoring for 5 days in McMurdo Sound, spellbound by the magnificence of the Ferrar Glacier sweeping around the Transantarctic Mountains.

After I returned (a different person) I felt the ‘Antarctic tug’ that so many feel. I needed to return. Having blown most of my budget on the big trip, I looked around for any opportunity to return. As usual, I found that Oceanwide Expeditions offered the best options, and I chose Basecamp Plancius for my return.

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This trip was 12 days, and only went to the Peninsula, but I figured I had seen the best, so this trip would be a ‘top-up’ experience.

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And it was fantastic, there is no denying it. I got to go snowshoeing, kayaked around beautiful icebergs, even slept on the ice; although it was not the experience I had anticipated – no tent, but survival-mode camping in a bivvy bag. It was six days of non-stop action squeezed in between three days down and back across the Drake Passage.

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Most of the fellow expeditioners were younger, which was to be expected, given the nature of the activities. I couldn’t keep up, but even so, I was proud of my body’s capabilities thanks to months of preparation.

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I sat back, feeling a wise old Antarctican, watching the joy and amazement as people saw their first iceberg, their first penguin, whale, seal, their first ice-capped mountain from which tumbled blue glaciers. But I felt like screaming out: “This is nothing! You should see the real Antarctica”.

It was then I realised that what I have said all along is true: the Antarctic Peninsula is an adventure playground. A spectacular one, but just a playground. It is no substitute for feeling horizontal ice sting your cheeks in a 35 knot wind at minus 14 Celcius (the Peninsula temperature rarely dropped below zero), or jumping into a Zodiac in a two-metre swell with the hull of your ship, your guide, the rubber boat, all white with frost and the spray from the waves snap freezing as the winds whips it into the air.

I’m now back from my short adventure, and treasure the friendships made and the challenges I faced – and, of course, the photos of stunning scenery – but it was all over so quickly.

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So, guess what? I’m heading back to the Ross Sea in February on my favourite ship, MV Ortelius. I have decided I just can’t live without it.

To see more of my photos, visit http://shutterstock.com/g/dale_jacobsen

And if you, too, can’t live without a true Antarctic experience, there are still a few berths left: Oceanwide Expeditions Ross Sea 2017  Mention gift code “DALE10GIFT” for extra 10% discount.

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Antarctica, Discovery, Dry Valley, expedition, Ferrar Glacier, Hut Point, McMurdo Sound, Robert Falcon Scott, Ross Sea, seal

Scott discovers the Dry Valleys of McMurdo Sound

Scott Discovers the Dry Valleys

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I remember well my feeling when I stepped from the helicopter into the Taylor Dry Valley. The immensity, the lack of ice, the absolute quiet … as I spent the next few hours wandering, looking for fossils, I decided this was one of my favourite places on earth.

Wind the clock forward three years, and I am currently re-reading RF Scott’s own account of his Discovery expedition to the Ross Sea (1901-4). Having been in the hut at Hut Point, and anchored off the Ferrar Glacier myself, this time round it is much easier to picture the place Scott so eloquently describes.

Last night, I came to the passage where Scott describes finding the Dry Valleys. What a joy! Particularly poignant is his coming across a seal skeleton, just as I had. Below is an extract from his story:

Quite suddenly these moraines ceased, and we stepped out on to a long stretch of undulating sand traversed by numerous small streams, which here and there opened out into small, shallow lakes quite free from ice.

I was so fascinated by all these strange new sights that I strode forward without thought of hunger until Evans asked if it was any use carrying our lunch further; we all decided that it wasn’t, and so sat down on a small hillock of sand with a merry little stream gurgling over the pebbles at our feet … We commanded an extensive view both up and down the valley, and yet, except about the rugged mountain summits, there was not a vestige of ice or snow to be seen; and as we ran the comparatively warm sand through our fingers and quenched our thirst at the stream, it seemed almost impossible that we could be within a hundred miles of the terrible conditions we had experienced on the summit …

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From our elevated position we could now get an excellent view of this extraordinary valley, and a wilder or in some respects more beautiful scene it would have been difficult to imagine. Below lay the sandy stretches and confused boulder heaps of the valley floor, with here and there the gleaming white surface of a frozen lake and elsewhere the silver threads of the running water; far above us towered the weather-worn, snow-splashed mountain peaks, between which in places fell in graceful curves the folds of some hanging glacier…

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I cannot but think that this valley is a very wonderful place. We have seen to-day all the indications of colossal ice action and considerable water action, and yet neither of these agents is now at work. It is worthy of record, too, that we have seen no living thing, not even a moss or a lichen; all that we did find, far inland amongst the moraine heaps, was the skeleton of a Weddell seal, and how that came there is beyond guessing. It is certainly a valley of the dead; even the great glacier which once pushed through it has withered away.

[pp625/6/7 “The Voyage of the ‘Discovery’.”]

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