|DECEMBER 31, 2007 - FEBRUARY 3, 2008|
If you believe as I do that the Earth is a living thing, then Antarctica is its pulse. Each year the continent freezes solid, then parts of it melt, freezes solid, then melts. It is this annual process that makes Antarctica so important today, its influence on the world's oceans vast, when warming temperatures are impacting and threatening to change life all over the planet.
During five weeks we explored the Antarctic Peninsula by sea kayak and sail - which included rough crossings of the Drake Passage, a variety of wind and snow storms, many beautiful blue sky days and even torrential rains, which are new to the seventh continent. Our goal was an up-close look at how the Peninsula is evolving thanks to warming temperatures and increasing numbers of tourists. Along the way we had incredible adventures - kayaking through brash ice and past giant icebergs, mingling with leopard seals, humpback whales and thousands of penguins and attempting to climb peaks covered with slushy ice and snow. Highlights were many, but the most powerful image we took away from Antarctica was of a place where every day is different and unpredictable, stark and beautiful and intimidating all at the same time.
WEEK 1 We boarded the "Pelagic Australis" in Puerto Williams, Chile - the southernmost town in the world - and spent three-plus days crossing the Drake Passage to King George Island.
WEEK 2 Our kayaks awaited us on King George Island; from there we flew over the western side of the Peninsula which we'd hoped to explore. Thick pack ice encouraged us to change our plan and we headed down the eastern edge, through the Lemaire Channel. Scientists at three bases welcomed us.
WEEK 3 We headed south from the Ukrainian base called Vernadsky, finding more and more ice and big winds every day. Not far past an abandoned British refuge on Detaille Island we reached our southernmost point, at the bottom of Crystal Sound.
WEEK 4 Our attempt at climbing Sharp's Peak was hindered by rain and wet, wet snow. We dove below the icy Southern Ocean in the Fish Island group and discovered a rarity on land: Albino penguins.
WEEK 5 A late night climb above Pt. Lockroy offers an incredible Antarctic sunset. This being the heart of the Antarctic summer, we also saw evidence of the tourist boom...everywhere. Perhaps the biggest loser in the rain's now coming to Antarctica are the penguin chicks. Our crossing of the Drake Passage was rougher than expected and rounding Cape Horn provided a welcome return.