Seal on ice in Antarctica

Blue Ice and Antarctica

I observed as the ship gracefully distanced itself from the dock, and I stood still watching as it navigated back out to sea. My thoughts were bound in silence for the next two days.

Twenty-two days unfolded on that ship, revealing the raw beauty of nature in all its glory. A surge of gratitude overwhelmed me. I fell in love with the vast ocean, marveled at the unexpected wildlife in the Falklands, and embraced the untamed spirit of South Georgia. Yet, it was the profound impact of Antarctica’s ice that left an indelible mark on my soul.

Town sign for Ushuaia with Beagle Bay in the background

Despite my return to Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world, Antarctica’s ice had become a part of me.

Antarctica Convergence

It feels like yesterday when our expedition crossed into the Antarctic Convergence on the way to the Antarctic Circle. Standing on deck, we felt the temperature drop as the ship crossed an invisible line in the ocean.

The Antarctic Convergence, a polar front encircling Antarctica, is a boundary drawn by nature and maintained by winds and currents. This boundary isolates the south polar region, causing an immediate drop in air and water temperatures upon entry. As the ship advanced, it felt like stepping into a blue phone booth with Dr. Who, anticipating the unknown and unexplored.

Within the Antarctic Convergence, marine life thrives, providing protection for the Antarctic continent and preventing debris from reaching its shores. The cold waters host prolific Antarctic krill, a crucial food source for whales, seals, penguins, and some fish. The distinctive pink color of Antarctic krill even gives Chinstrap Penguins pink poop!

Iceberg in the bay of Antarctica

Approaching the Southernmost continent heightened our excitement. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and highest continent on Earth. It is the fifth largest and most remote continent, 90% of it is covered by ice.

Deception Island and Chinstrap Penguins

Our destination was Deception Island, an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands just above Antarctica. The cone-shaped island creates a safe harbor within its sea-filled crater. Our first destination however was Bailey Head on the outer shore. It is reported to be one of the most dangerous landings in Antarctica because of the Bransfield Strait, known for its rolling surf onto the steep, narrow beach.

Blessed with excellent weather, we loaded into the zodiac and approached the black-pebbled beach. Porpoising penguins surrounded us in the water, resembling mini dolphins. Bailey Head hosts the largest accessible Chinstrap Penguin colony in the Antarctica peninsula region.

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

Upon arriving, we disembarked, splashed into the surf, and stepped onto the shore. The thrill of being in this place overwhelmed me, prompting an exuberant hug for Sarah and Kirsten, newfound friends from this expedition. This island hosts the largest accessible Chinstrap Penguin colony in the Antarctica Peninsula region.

The Chinstrap colony appeared to be the liveliest among the penguins we had encountered so far. Their bustling activity resembled a penguin superhighway. A somewhat clumsy parade of these little tuxedo-clad creatures marched towards the ocean for feeding, while the return lane was crowded with their well-fed counterparts waddling back to their rookery. They all seemed so busy. Each one proudly showcased the distinctive black strip of fur along their jaw, which 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 into a huge inland amphitheater. The squawking chorus of 100,000 breeding pairs greeted us. The scene was vibrant, with males offering stones as gifts and parents caring for fuzzy brown chicks.

Most Chinstrap couples 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.

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 nest in a sea of penguins.

Many penguin 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 another mate.

That evening, our ship navigated into the seawater-filled crater of Deception Island, sailing around inside the 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 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

The talk touched on the polar plunge. When asked if I would participate, I replied, “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 wasn’t even considering the jump.

The conversation delved deep into our lives and decisions. 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

Blessed with beautiful weather, our Antarctic experience included multiple landings and zodiac cruises. 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 went about their activities, waddling, falling, sliding, and traversing to and from their nests.

Wandering up a hill in Antarctica felt surreal. The deep snow and steep hill at one landing made our ascent slow. Coming back down was a blast. I gave up trying not to slip and just sat down and tobogganed down the hill, thankfully my waterproof pants made the descent easy.

One unforgettable highlight was navigating the sea ice in zodiacs, experiencing the serene and wild side of Antarctica.

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 enjoyed the view from the deck of massive icebergs and seals 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 the 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, a brilliant geologist and photographer, and Nils, a descendant of the Vikings. Both were lecturers and guides on our expedition team. They were discussing Shackleton and other explorers who first charted this part of the world.

Mike remarked, “That was when ships were made of wood and men were made of iron.” Nils added in his Nordic accent, “Now ships are made of iron, and men of plastic.”

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 Fallacy of Cold

Despite my longstanding aversion to winter and cold, Antarctica challenged my perspective pushing that limit to recognize 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 another human directing adoration toward 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 a depth we previously overlooked.

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 its 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 appears 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 clear as glass.

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

We paused alongside an iceberg to observe a massive leopard seal leisurely lounging on its surface. Known for preying on penguins, leopard seals are agile and powerful predators in the water. As we observed the seal napping, it stirred and let out a yawn. Its colossal mouth opened wide, revealing an imposing row of teeth and a prominently large, pink mouth.

“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.

Leopard Seal in Antarctica
Leopard Seal

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 her 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?

Find your blue door
Are you ready for your next opportunity?
Quote by Azmat G Asimov after his visit to Antarctica
Quote by Azmat G Asimov after his visit to Antarctica

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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