NW Passage

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24 July 2017

Antarctica 2015 expedition: key take-aways

29 January 2015 | Ushuaia
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!

Vessel Name: Libellule
Hailing Port: Switzerland
Crew: The Cottier family on s/v Libellule
Extra: Caribbean - Greenland/Iceland - NW Passage - South Pacific - Antarctic Peninsula - Svalbard
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