THE COLOURS OF ANTARCTICA are white and black. Everything is either white (snow, ice, sky) or black (water, rocks). Sometimes there is a little bit of blue from the icebergs or the very rare sunny sky patches. But essentially, Antarctica is all white and black.
SAILING: The Drake Passage took 4 days on the way there and 5 days back. The sailing on the Peninsula was relatively easy wind-wise (no winds above 25kn), but difficult from a navigational point of view (no accurate maps, lots of hidden rocks just below the surface). The ice conditions were relatively easy, except south of Vernadsky where this year access to the coast was impossible. We anchored in 10 different spots and found most of them relatively safe, meaning ground holding of anchor successful after several attempts, 2-4 ropes tied to adjacent rocks, and nightly anchor watches due to moving ice. In most anchorages we were quite busy during the night pushing away ice floes moving in and out with the tides or the winds.
MOUNTAINEERING: The Peninsula is very pretty, with hundreds of interesting mountains to climb. Having said that, there are several problems which make even technically easy ascents rather challenging: 1) drop off points are often exposed, full of ice, or non-existent; 2) crevasses are abundant from bottom to top, in fact we have never seen so many crevasses anywhere before; 3) avalanche risk, particularly below 500m where the snow is really wet and heavy; 4) the distances are huge; 5) the weather was awful: out of 22 days we enjoyed only 4 days of good weather (one 3-day period, plus two half-day periods), this made most ascents very difficult, particularly since there are no detailed maps making clear views onto the mountain mandatory. We climbed 12 mountains, of which 3 were first ascents (Langley Peak, "Mt Libellule", "Unnamed Peak") and the third ascent of Mt Matin (2450m). Overall it was a successful expedition, but of course we would have loved to climb a few more peaks.
- The rugged, white, inaccessible and vast landscapes
- The abundant maritime life with whales, penguins, seals, and birds everywhere; penguins are absolutely fascinating; and the mink whale swimming right between our hulls was unbelievable.
- Climbing Mt Matin & Mt Libellule
- Bragg Islands anchorage 66°28'S:066°25'W
- Treacherous Cape Horn
- Vernadsky sauna and bar
- We ate huge quantities and still felt hungry all the time (due to the cold); in fact we all lost weight during the expedition despite feasting like ogres.
- Cold feet on the unheated boat (frost-nips)
- Lack of sleep
- Dehydrated food on the mountain trips
- The weather really sucked.
Overall, it was a great trip. We will surely return to Antarctica one day!
28/01/2015, Cape Horn
We made it: After 5 days in the Drake Passage we finally sighted the legendary and impressive rock of Cape Horn - the 1st time we see land in 5 days and the first time we see land without ice and snow in almost 5 weeks !
You might wonder: How was the mighty Drake Passage this time? Drake Lake or Drake Shake? It was not too bad, but pretty bad. With winds up to 35 knots (over 60 km/h) and waves up to 4 m there was enough to make us sick and very happy to be back on the other side...
Another 100 nautical miles to Ushuaia in calmer waters and then a big asado awaits us...
23/01/2015, Enterprise Island
Yesterday, it was raining practically the whole day. So we decided to sail to the only really safe anchorage in Antarctica, Enterprise Island, and tie up to the wreck of a large boat called Enterprise. We slept very well, without nightly anchor watch and ice floes.
Today, we did our last mountain, the north summit of Nansen Island (420m). Due to avalanche danger and bad weather, we couldn't do the more challenging south summit. The picture was taken from our drop off point on Nansen Island.
We seem to have a half decent weather window tomorrow, and will leave tonight around midnight to cross the Drake Passage back to Chile, which will take 4-5 days. We're anxious to see how the Drake will treat us this time...The forecast for the next few days is a mix of easterly, northerly, westerly and northwesterly, with wind force 10-30kn and waves between 2-4m. So we will try to juggle our way through the two deep pressure systems as best as we can, and take first a course north, then west, then turn north again, and finally round Cape Horn from west to east. If all goes to plan. If not, we may end up somewhere in the Malvinas/Falklands...
21/01/2015, Cuverville Island
Today we skied up Mt Tennant (730m) from our Cuverville Island anchorage. It was very warm and humid due to the northerly winds.
The weather forecast continues to announce bad weather, so we will have to do with smaller peaks for the next few days. We have started looking at possible weather windows to cross back over the Drake Passage, but it doesn't look very good. So we will probably need to spend a few days around this area to wait for the right weather.
Here are some facts on Antarctica's history which we found reading through our Antarctica literature:
- 180 million years ago: Antarctica starts breaking away from the super continent Gondwana
- 1531: The first mention of Terra Australis appeared on a French map;
- 1773: James Cook is the first to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent, and also the first person to sail south of the polar circle, but he never actually sighted land;
- 1820: The Antarctic continent is first sighted by Bransfield, von Bellingshausen and Powell;
- 1821: John Davis is the first person to land on the continent ;
- 1889: Joseph de Gerlache's ship Belgica is the first ship to be frozen into the pack ice and overwinter south of the Antarctic circle;
- 1901/1903: Otto Nordenskioeld's famous saga of survival on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula;
- 1903/1910: Frenchman Charcot charts a large part of the Antarctic Peninsula and conducts significant scientific research;
- 1911/12: Roald Amundsen and 4 other Norwegians are the first reach the South Pole, while Robert Scott's expedition reaches a month later ending in death on their return journey;
- 1915/16: Ernest Shackleton's Endurance is famously crushed in Weddell Sea pack ice, the expedition members live on the ice for 5 months before sailing to Elephant Island, and after two years to South Georgia where they are rescued;
- 1929 Richard Byrd flies over the South Pole;
- 1935: Norwegian Caroline Mikkelsen becomes the first woman to set foot on the continent;
- 1959: The Antarctic Treaty is signed by the 12 initial countries ;
- 1966: Antarctica's highest mountain Mt Vinson is first climbed by a US team;
- 1989/90: First ski crossing of Antarctic continent by Reinhold Messner and Arved Fuchs;
- 2000: The largest iceberg calves from Ross Ice Shelf, measuring 298km by 37km;
- 2012: The Antarctic Treaty is renewed for 50 years.
20/01/2015, Argentine Islands
We visited a Ukrainian Research Station yesterday which is populated by 12 persons, 7 of which are scientists and 5 support staff (cook, doctor, engineer, mechanic, electrician, etc.). They actually have a sauna which they kindly let us use, so we jumped at the opportunity to warm up after enduring freezing temperatures for weeks, both on board as well as in our high camps.
After the sauna and a hot shower we were led to the bar and offered tea or coffee, but there were surprisingly (or not) no alcoholic beverages available, so we returned to the boat to retrieve our remaining supply of beer and spirits. Shortly thereafter we were joined by the crew of the yacht Icebird, who also brought along a crate of beer, so the evening at the base developed into quite a lively party ending in the early hours of the morning.
The station members were very hospitable, offering us traditional Ukrainian snacks and it was fascinating to listen to their research activities and to exchange views on the political deadlock they face in their home country.
The picture is not of Vernadsky Station, but of a landing spot nearby.
20/01/2015, Petermann Island
After spending two nights in a tent on the glacier to climb Mt. Martin and then Mt. Cloos we returned to the boat and embarked to nearby Petermann Island where we anchored at Circumcision Bay.
A colony of Penguins and calm conditions brought up the idea of diving, although the visibility was not great (approximately 4 meters), so Phillip and Conrad got into their 5-7mm thick wetsuits and took the plunge into the icy waters taking along a pole to fend off Leopard Seals, should they show up.
Several Penguins were sighted under water as they shot past at high speed. The seafloor was mostly rocky with sandy sections in between from which short bits of seaweed grew. Small seashells and krill were abundant in the waters. We approached an iceberg and dived down to about 8 meters depth to explore the underside.
After roughly 25 minutes the cold became unbearable and we swam back to the boat as quickly as possible. After pealing of the wetsuits we took a ''long'' hot shower to thaw our frozen extremities.
As the name of the bay suggests: we lost something (fear of the cold), but the experience will last a lifetime.
19/01/2015, Lemaire Channel
As we approached Lemaire Channel several Mink Whales accompanied us by swimming under the boat and popping up for air just in front of the bows. As they swam alongside the boat they turned on their side to look up at us, which was a very moving experience.
19/01/2015, Summit Mt Matin
We finally had a period of good weather and spent three days on Hotine Glacier above Lemaire Channel to climb Mt Matin. At 2450m, Mt Matin is the highest mountain ofthe Antarctic Peninsulanorth of 69°S (apart from Mt Français on Anvers Island and Mt Parry on Brabant Island). Its name relates to the Suisse Romande newspaper Le Matin which was one of the main sponsors of Jean-Baptiste Charcot's Antarctica expedition in 1903-05.
The landing spot inside Lemaire Channel was surprisingly free of ice, but there were a few scary crevasses at the beginning of the glacier. We pulled our pulkas 11km up the glacier and installed the base camp at 800m altitude. The next morning we climbed the SW ridge of Mt Matin, first with crampons then skis, and reached the summit after 8 hrs. This was only its third ascent ever. The view from the top was incredible (see the picture with the mountains of Anvers Island and Paradise Harbor in the background). The skiing back down was pure adrenaline.
The next day we walked up the south summit of Mt Cloos, before heading back to our anchorage situated in the middle of an Adelie penguin colony at Petermann Island.
19/01/2015, Hotine Glacier, Lemaire Channel
15/01/2015, Bigo Bay
Today is our first real sunny day in Antarctica, after 14 days of bad weather. Everything looks different, amazingly beautiful. Shiny icebergs in turquoise water in front of white glaciers and peaks, with the immense ice plateau in the background.
We spent the last two days scouting the whole coast between 66 30 S and 65 30 S for landing spots, but were not successful. Either there was too much ice on the coast, or no suitable landing spot, or the mountains too technical or too dangerous with overhanging seracs. So we gave up on the idea to attempt further first ascents of virgin peaks. Instead we will take advantage of the good weather forecast over the next two days and try to climb Mt Peary or Mt Matin, both over 2000m high and further inland, from an anchorage near the Ukrainian base Vernadsky.
We crossed the Antarctic Circle at 66 33.73'S. Although the weather was miserable, it was an exciting moment, duly celebrated with a Quilmes beer. Libellule must be the first catamaran to have crossed both polar circles.
14/01/2015, Rambler Harbour, Bragg Islands
We are lying in a protected cove between a few snow and ice islands, awaiting the wind to pass. From time to time a large iceberg tries to intrude into our cove with the rising tide. Sylvain built a snowman on the back of the boat. We start having our first frostbites.
Today is a rest day, unless we get chased away by an iceberg, and we did some reading.
Did you know that:
- Antarctica's territory is 14.1m km2, which makes it a huge continent;
- Antarctica's highest mountain is called Mt Vinson with 4892m, and the average height of the continent is 2200m, making it the most elevated in the world;
- The inland ice shield is over 4000m thick in places, on average 2700m, as a result in some places the ice shield's enormous weight has depressed the underlying landmass by 1600m (!);
- Antarctica is the world's driest continent, classified as a desert (not on the coast here though, as we can confirm...);
- The sea ice can extend more than 1000km from the coast;
- Its largest ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf, is the size of France, is several hundred meters thick, and floats on the seawater;
- The Southern Ocean comprises 10% of the world's oceans, and is the most biologically abundant in the world;
- There is no vegetation, and no land animals on the continent, but abundant marine life. Seals, whales, penguins, fish and seabirds all live here or come down here over the summer to feed on the krill and plankton in the water.;
- The lowest temperature on earth was recorded in 1983 at Russia's Vostok station at -89.6 C
- In excess of 30,000 tourists visit Antarctica each year, of which 95% by cruise ships (there are about 40 of them offering trips to Antarctica);
- About 4500 scientists are in Antarctica in the summer. Over 40 research stations have been established by 27 countries. The US base on the South Pole has up to 2,000 researchers during summer;
- There are territorial claims by 7 nations (UK, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, Norway) plus proxy claims by 2 nations (US, Russia)
- The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 and renewed in 2012 for another 50 years. It prohibits nuclear explosions and oil/mineral exploration, protects Antarctica's species, manages fishing, and guarantees freedom of science. So far, it has been signed by over 50 nations. Switzerland has signed but not yet ratified the Antarctic Treaty (shame on Switzerland!).
13/01/2015, E of Levoisier Island
We have started sailing south towards the polar circle. Our first intent was to go all the way to Detaille Island to do some climbing on Liard Island, but the latest ice charts show too much ice. So we changed our plans and will try to anchor at Cape Evans or Mutton Cove awaiting the easterly winds announced by the weather forecast. We hope to find some landing spots further south in Darbel Bay to climb some virgin mountains there.
In case this should again not be possible due to ice or lack of suitable landing spots, we will either go further south to Rambler Islands or retreat back up further north to Pitt Islands or Lippmann Island to try some climbs around Leroux Bay. This whole coast is all very remote territory with very few landing spots, and we need to fully adapt to local ice and weather conditions.
Today it is snowing big snowflakes and our catamaran has become quite slippery. We are now on our 13th day of bad weather in a row, with only very few and short patches of sun rays, and are looking forward to the improved weather awaited in two days, once the easterly winds decrease and turn.
12/01/2015, Jabet Peak, Port Lockroy
Today we anchored at Port Lockroy and climbed Jabet Peak (540m). Despite the bad weather, we managed to find the summit after a while, and the summit ridge turned out to be really stunning. It was Yves' first mountain climb, and he was smiling like a kid in a candy store.
After the ski down, we spotted our first sea leopard lying lazily on an ice floe, and then visited the Antarctic museum at the British research station. There were about 500 small, cute penguin chicks in the adjacent Gentoo penguin colony.
11/01/2015, Mt Banck, Paradise Harbour
Yesterday - the 10th of January 2015 - we cruised down south from our anchorage at Bluff Island through the Graham Passage into the Gerlache Strait where we sighted a large pod of approximately 15 Killer Whales including several young specimens and also several Hump Back Whales in pairs.
En route we stopped off to view the wreck of the Enterprise before arriving at Paradise Harbour in the evening where we were promptly invited to the Chilean research support station named after a former President called Gabriel Gonzalez Videla. The 16 inhabitants were extremely friendly and showed us the various buildings and even their little bar - claimed to be the most southern in the world - where we were offered a cold Australis Beer, which went down very well indeed.
After a short night we were dropped off at the base of Mount Banck (710 MOSL), which lies on the south side of the Ferguson Channel. We reached the top after a 2.5 hour ascent on skis up the left flank after which we applied our crampons to scale the steep 100 meter headwall to the summit. The weather conditions improved during our climb, so that we were presented with a stunning view of Paradise Harbour and the distant Osterrieth Range on Anvers Island while enjoying a picnic lunch.
The descent on skis was a true treat and the three big fat Weddell Seals basking in the sun were still there when we returned to our landing spot where Yves kindly picked us up in the dingy Dragonfly.
Now we are off to Port Lockroy to anchor for the night.
10/01/2015, Unnamed Peak, Curtiss Bay
Depicted on the photo are Leif, Conrad and Phillip (left to right) on top of 'Mount Libellule'. Unfortunately Ueli is missing, but somebody had to take the photo.
10/01/2015, Langley Peak, Curtiss Bay
We spent the last three days up on the Peninsula scaling three (most likely) unclimbed peaks.
On the first day, we landed between growlers on a spot just south of Cape Andreas in Curtiss Bay, and installed an emergency depot with dry-suits, food and gasoline not far from some nesting birds. Then we used our skis with skins to ascend up the glacier with our pulkas, the first part was very steep but then it flattened out. After 7km we installed our base camp at 600m altitude. The snow lent itself very well to build a protective iglu wall around our camp making it a safe and fairly comfortable location.
The weather wasn't particularly favorable during the first two days, practically a white out, so whenever it cleared temporarily, we immediately grasped the opportunity to climb several adjacent peaks. After two attempts we reached the top of Unnamed Peak 1 (824m) over a nice,steep, crevassed shoulder around midnight of Day 1. After another two attempts we reached Langley Peak (977m) at 02:30 am in the morning of Day 3, climbing with skis almost all the way to the top. Later in the morning of Day 3 improving weather conditions allowed us to climb the bitmore technical Unnamed Peak 2(982m) over its very steep NE ridge. Uelihad to use his shovel to crack the snow mushroom on top of the ridge.The view from the top onto the Wright Ice Piedmont and the Detroit Plateau was incredible. Nothing but glaciers and mountains (many of which unclimbed) as far as we could see. We intend to name this summit Mount Libellule.
The ski ride back down the glacier with our pulkas was alot of fun, and despite the fact that the cove near our landing spot was covered withsmall ice bits , we reached the boat safely, sunburned but very happy. The shower, Quilmes beer, and delicious lasagna afterwards felt like paradise, and we slept like angels.
06/01/2015, South Trinity Island
We got up, prepared everything and did a first outing in "real" conditions, with a lot of the gear, the pulkas etc.
We climbed the highest point of the south part of Trinity Island (540m), so to speak as a "warm up" for what's to come... Everything is so big here, everything is gigantic, the rocks, the ice shelf, the glaciers and the view over the Antarctic ocean - except the penguins: they are small and sweet and cuddly: Today when we got down 3 Gentoo penguins (different than the Chinstrap ones we knew from Deception Island) came to say hello...
Early tomorrow morning we'll take off from here back over to Cape Andreas on the Peninsula and head out on our first 4 day expedition into the ice with Langley Peak, Boulton Peak and some other mountains to climb. We are well prepared with food and gear, are slightly anxious, but are looking forward to get going for real...
We'll get back to you once we're back on the boat in about five days.
05/01/2015, Mikkelsen Harbour, Trinity Island
During Sunday night we crossed over to the Antarctic Peninsula and followed the coastline from Cape Kjellman around Charcot Bay and Whittle Peninsula all the way to Cape Andreas, in order to find a landing spot for our first expedition skiing trip. The coast is very unaccommodating - no chance to whatsoever to get ashore between rugged black rock walls and huge white glaciers producing house size icebergs like ice cube machines...
After 15 hours of searching we found a spot to land on, just south of Cape Andreas from which we'll attempt Langley Peak on Wednesday.
We crossed over to Trinity Island to spend the night in a bay on the south side where we were fighting off little drifting icebergs, called growlers and bergy bits from hitting the boat.