Seal on ice in Antarctica

Blue Ice and Antarctica

I watched as the ship pulled away from the dock and I stood in silence as it headed back out to sea. I couldn’t talk about it for two days.

Twenty-two days I spent on that ship filled with the beauty of raw nature in all her glory. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I have fallen in love with the vast ocean, was surprised by the wildlife on the Falklands, and filled by the wildness of South Georgia. Then the ice of Antarctica hit me deeper than I thought it could.

Town sign for Ushuaia with Beagle Bay in the background

Although my feet were back in Ushuaia, the city at end of the world, I was not. The ice of Antarctica has entered my soul.

Antarctica Convergence

It seems like it was just yesterday that our expedition crossed into the Antarctic Convergence on our way to Antarctica. We stood on deck to feel the temperature drop as the ship crossed an invisible line in the ocean.

The Antarctic Convergence is a polar front that continually circles Antarctica. It is a line drawn by nature, maintained by winds and current. This line isolates the south polar region from the surrounding oceans. Air and water temperatures drop immediately upon entering the convergence. As the ship sailed forward I imagined we were entering a blue phone booth with Dr. Who. The unknown and unexplored lay ahead.

Marine life productivity is much higher within the Antarctic Convergence. The natural phenomenon also provides protection for the Antarctic continent keeping debris and trash from washing up on shore.

Iceberg in the bay of Antarctica

Productivity for the Antarctic krill is especially high in these cold waters. Krill is a vital food source for whales, seals, penguins and some fish. The pink color of the Antarctic krill is the reason that Chinstrap Penguins have pink poop. 🙂

We were nearing the Southernmost continent. The excitement was mounting as we headed toward the fifth largest and most remote continent. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and highest continent on earth. It is almost 90% covered with ice.

Deception Island and Chinstrap Penguins

We were headed to Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands just above Antarctica. Deception Island is an active volcano whose crater is filled with sea water. We were going to attempt a landing on the outer shore at a beach called Bailey Head. It is reported to be one of the most dangerous landings in Antarctica because of the Bransfield Strait that always throws a rolling surf onto the steep narrow beach.

We were blessed with excellent weather so we loaded into the zodiac and began our short journey to shore. In the water all around us were porpoising penguins (jumping out like dolphins). Large rafts of penguins head to and from the shore where our destination lay.

Part of the Chinstrap Penguin Rookery in Antarctica
Part of the Chinstrap Penguin Rookery

After pulling up to the black pebbled beach we jumped out into the surf and walked onto the beach. I was so excited to be here that I gave Sarah and Kirsten a huge hug just after we all made it ashore. On this island resides the largest accessible Chinstrap Penguin colony in the Antarctica peninsula region.

The chinstrap colony seemed to be the most active colony of all the penguins we had visited so far. They just seemed so busy. The beach was a penguin superhighway. A clumsy parade of the little tuxedo-clad creatures marched to the ocean to feed while the return lane was filled with their well-fed counterparts waddling back to their rookery. All of them sported the black strip of fur along their jaw that inspired their name.

A busy Chinstrap Penguin on his way to the sea in Antarctica
A busy Chinstrap Penguin on his way to the sea

An Amphitheater of Penguins

We waited patiently for a break in penguin traffic to cross their highway and trek through the narrow opening to the interior of this side of the island. It is estimated that over 100,000 breeding pairs reside here. Most pairs lay two eggs each year. That translates to 400,000 penguins!! Of course, one parent is often out feeding and not all eggs survive, but that is still a lot of penguins.

After crossing the narrow opening leading us inland a huge amphitheater opened before us covered with squawking busy penguins. We watched as males carried stones as gifts to their partners and parents fed their fuzzy brown chicks.

Penguin parents take turns watching and feeding their young. While one is at sea feeding the other stays behind to watch over their young. When the mate returns they call to each other which helps them find their individual nest in a sea of penguins.

Many penguins species mate for life. The chinstraps try to but if the mate doesn’t arrive back in time the first one to arrive will find someone else. Did I mention that these penguins seemed to be very busy?

That evening our captain navigated our ship through the narrow opening into the seawater-filled crater of Deception Island. We all stood on board as we sailed around inside an active volcano.

On Board the Ship

In the evening I sat with Carol and Pete, Kristen and Sarah. As normal our conversation lasted long after everyone else left the dining room. The number of English-speaking passengers on the boat was small and we were really blessed to have a cool group. They were all pretty relaxed and most of them just took things as they came enjoying every moment they could.

From Left to right: Pete, Carole, Sarah, Kirsten, Bonnie, Vivian, Charlotte, and Peter.
From Left to right: Pete, Carole, Sarah, Kirsten, Bonnie, Vivian, Charlotte, and Peter. Picture was taken in the dock in South Georgia

We talked about the polar plunge. They asked if I was going to jump into the iceberg-filled waters of Antarctica in my swimsuit.

“No, twenty years ago I would have jumped in without hesitation. I don’t see any reason to do it now. I hate being cold,” I said, not even considering it.

The conversation continued and delved deep into our lives and the decisions we had made. I enjoyed every moment with this group. It was exciting to have so many English conversations after being in Latin America for over two years.

Skua looking for penguin eggs in Antarctica
Skua hunting for penguin eggs

Wandering around Antarctica

We were blessed with beautiful weather in Antarctica and were able to do multiple landings and zodiac cruises. It was nice to get off the ship and wander up a hill. Penguins often watched as we disembarked and then went about their business nonplussed by us.

We did our best to keep our distance and not disturb them, but they all seemed pretty content as they waddled, fell in the snow, slid along the path and made their own way back and forth to their nests.

The deep snow and steep hill at one landing made our ascent slow as we were careful not to slip. Coming back down was a blast as I just sat down and tobogganed down the hill on my waterproof pants.

One of the highlights however was navigating in the sea ice on the zodiacs. It was so peaceful and wild.

Blue Ice

Our ship continued south exploring the coast of Antarctica. On January 10th we crossed into the Antarctica Circle. We celebrated on deck as many Antarctic cruises never venture this far south. Ice pack, unfortunately, prevented us from landing beyond the circle but we spent time on deck gazing at the massive icebergs around us and seals lazily resting on the sea ice.

Sea ice and icebergs in the waters of Antarctica
Sea ice and icebergs in the waters of Antarctica

In one of the smaller bays that we entered I was transfixed by the mountains of white. Ice floated around us while deep blue streaks in cracks of the glaciers caught our attention. The chatter in Mandarin around me was pushed to somewhere distant and I allowed the wind to convert it into benign white noise.

Ice burg in Antarctica
Glacier in Paradise Bay

“Oh my god, it is so beautiful,” Carol exclaimed as she came up behind me. We stood in silence together just drinking in the beauty.

This rugged landscape fills the soul just by being still and letting it enter. Amid the crowd there is peace.

Men of iron

An white Arctic Tern against a blue sky in South Georgia
“The Arctic Tern is so beautiful and graceful yet feisty. It is the only bird that will go up against the polar bears” -Michael Scotting
The Arctic Tern travels from its breeding grounds in the Arctic to Antarctica and back every year! This Tern was seen in South Georgia and captured in this photo by Michael Scotting

I stepped back from the crowd to join Mike and Nils, both lecturers and guides from our expedition team. They were discussing Shackleton and other explorers who first charted this part of the world.

“That was when ships were made of wood and men were made of iron,” said Mike, a brilliant geologist.

“Now ships are made of iron and men of plastic,” added Nils, the Viking, in his Nordic accent. Ironically, Nils is probably one of the few men of iron of this age, though he would never say this of himself. I watched a video of him racing across sea ice near Greenland on his assignment in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. He tested fate unafraid. It was pretty impressive.

Nils The Viking
Nils, The Viking, a man of iron in a world of plastic

The Beauty of Ice and the Fallacy of Cold

For years I have despised winter and have hated cold. Yet somehow I find myself in Antarctica pushing that limit and recognizing its beauty.

Maybe my relationship with cold started to change with a brief conversation on the top deck of our Ocean Atlantic ship. It was the day I began to see the frozen land through the eyes of a man of the ice. His name is David. He is an arctic explorer with so many fascinating stories.

Ice Burg in Antarctica

“Everyone complains about winter,” David said. “You can like the cold but dislike being cold.”

I am guilty of this fallacy of cold.

When we see adoration directed to something or someone, does it not change how we see it? It’s as though their feeling towards that subject can open our eyes to see it a bit more in depth.

The Beauty of Ice

I found myself wandering out each morning before breakfast headed up to the top deck with a light jacket just to steal my few minutes of pristine air and calm quiet while gazing at the land of ice. The cold immediately woke every sense. My coffee poured hot inside was quickly cold. The beauty of the ice began to change me.

Massive Iceberg in Antarctica
Massive Iceberg

The vast open sea drew me in with their changing colors. In the middle of the open sea on a sunny day, I can gaze down from the top deck into deep blue waters. Later on the same afternoon, the waters can turn gray along with the fog above us. By nightfall, the ocean appear as inky black. It is the same waters flowing beneath our ship changed only by the light shown into their depths.

It’s like the cold and my hatred of it was changed by someone’s admiration of ice. They shined a light on it that changed its colors for me.

We can see our world differently. We can help others see more beauty around us by the light we shine on it.

Paradise Bay

A tiny Argentinian scientific station rests in a small inlet called Paradise Bay. The mountains around the bay protect this area from the strongest winds. A few of us sat on the hill above Brown Station gazing out at the bay filled with sea ice. The air was so clear it gave the surrounding glaciers a stunning contrast to the cold waters they rose from.

Brown Argentina Base and Research Station on Antarctica
Brown Argentina Base and Research Station on Antarctica

Later while zooming around Paradise Bay in our zodiacs I dipped my hand over the side into the water to feel the black ice. Maciej grabbed a chunk and pulled it out of the water. This was an ancient piece of ice broken from the massive glacier at the end of the bay. Years of pressure had condensed the ice pushing out all air bubbles leaving it absolutely clear.

Clear glacial ice in the bay of Antarctica
Clear glacial ice in the bay

We stopped next to an iceberg that was sitting near our ship. On top of the iceberg lounged a huge leopard seal. Leopard seals eat penguins, they are fast and strong predators in the water. While we watched him nap he stirred and yawned. His massive mouth opened wide exposing a large row of teeth and a big pink mouth.

Leopard Seal in Antarctica
Leopard Seal

“OK, I’m not doing the polar plunge,” Catherine said next to me. The polar plunge was scheduled for that evening in this very bay.

Check out our article on affording Antarctica

Polar Plunge

It was a beautiful day in Paradise Bay. After our afternoon excursion, a few of us sat around a table onboard the ship near the tea station. We were talking about the next activity, the polar plunge. Carol was excited and full of nervous energy. Pete her husband was also going to do the plunge.

The loudspeaker crackled as the start of the polar plunge was announced. Anyone who wanted to jump into iceberg filled water should gather now in the mudroom.

Carol ran to their room to change. Pete walked back to their room, his calm and quiet demeanor masks his adventurous spirit. He and Carol are mountain climbers after all.

Mischievous Carol climbing a ladder on the top deck of the ship
Carol at the top of the ladder that was forbidden to go up. Peter and Carol had just the right amount of mischievousness mixed with humor.

I went back to my room where my roommate Vivian was also getting ready to take the plunge. I changed, walked down to the mudroom and walked off the ship and into the ice-filled water because, well, I had to do it. When else am I going to get a chance to swim in the waters of Antarctica?

My wonderful roommate Vivian and me on a warm summer day in Antarctica.
My wonderful roommate Vivian and me on a warm summer day in Antarctica. We stayed up too late a few times talking and laughing about travel, spreadsheets, and life in general.

What is your next adventure? Can looking at something you hate through the eyes of someone else help you find your next blue door?

Quote by Azmat G Asimov after his visit to Antarctica
Quote by Azmat G Asimov after his visit to Antarctica

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10 thoughts on “Blue Ice and Antarctica”

  1. Another great blog about Antarctica. Absolutely loved the pictures and great food for thought! Looking at something through somebody else’s eyes can really change how we see things – good or bad – depending on how that person sees things.

  2. Penguins have always been one of my favorite animals. So far I have only seen them in zoos, which is definitely not the same. The pictures of them here and on South Georgia were amazing!

    How was the boat trip across the open waters? We have a friend that often talks about going (we travel together a lot), but I always freeze up at the idea of the boat trip as I have heard it can be quite rough and we don’t do well in those situations at all.

    Dragon Guy

    1. We were very fortunate to have excellent weather for our entire trip. We experienced what is called the Drake Lake. Often, however, the Drake Passage is more like the Drake Shake and it can get quite rough. I was actually a little disappointed to not experience the Drake power, but the entire crew told me that I really didn’t want to experience it.

      Not sure I can say a rough passage would be worth it since I didn’t experience that, but personally it would be totally worth the risk. If you take a longer cruise that goes to South Georgia first then you limit your time on the Drake passage as you would miss most of it on the way down by going around it.

      Either way, I encourage you to go. We booked our trip through Freestyle Adventure. They gave us the best deal we could find.

  3. Emma & Nathan’s Travels

    Wow!!! What an amazing experience! The photos are breathtaking!! I loved Ushuaia and hope to return one day to visit Antarctica!

  4. Christy Mcgreger

    I love your pictures. I just got back from an Antarctica cruise on February 3 and we also had awesome weather. We left from Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Around the Horn, Paradise Bay, Elephant Island, Faulkland Islands, Uraguay, YES the Drake Shake is real– we sailed around a storm, and it still felt like Lieutenant Dan on top of the Shrimp boat. (Loved it all!)

    1. Your trip sounds amazing! I wish we could have experienced the shake, but everyone tells me I really don’t want to 🙂 Did you find the shake exciting to go through?

  5. Pingback: She Retired At 43 To Travel The World - Bonnie Truax w/ 43 Blue Doors

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