We sat there on the Zodiac boat, the 10 of us and driver, in absolute silence, staring at the massive glacier ice wall, engine turned off. We were lucky that day. The typical Antarctic weather that would otherwise confuse the senses, such as snow, wind and waves, continued their vacation during our expedition. With their hiatus, sounds and sights opened up to us. The faint soft crackling of the sea ice, air bubbles trapped in the snow all winter finally being set free, is what caught us first. Periodic “bloops” in the water of small groups of penguins swimming by on their way to or from their colonies every couple minutes. And finally, if it’s quiet enough, the subtle baritone song of the glacier in front of us, just a couple hundred yards away. Every thirty seconds or so, a low hissing, the mountain exhaling. A crackling or what sounds like distant gunfire, as gravity takes hold of huge chunks of ice walls, unseen from our vantage point, causing them to crack and fall within the body of the glacier.
And then we start turning, slowly. We’re surrounded. The nearest shore is not another few hundred yards away, but over a thousand. As far as the eye can see, the bay is filled with large chunks of sea ice which at this scale look like lillypads. Icebergs bigger than semi-trucks look like garden sculptures. Every surrounding shoreline is lined with glacier after glacier, too numerous to try to count, every one with a sheer unstable vertical ice and/or snow wall, completely barring all access. The only word to describe it is overwhelming. It simply can’t all be taken in at once. Up close to a glacier or two, contrasted with a specific iceberg or area of sea ice, maybe. What can be seen in a single photo, maybe. But all together, the full panorama, it’s just too much. The brain literally is not capable of processing it all.
And in this incredible, incomprehensable environment, we start to realize how foreboding the place really is. It dawns on us that it’s December 19th, the equivalent of June 19th up North, the beginning of what should be the best weather of the year. But there are only small splotches of land uncovered by the snow, the very few places where penguins can breed and humans can land, most of which are small snowy rock islands. And the glaciers look like it would take a full year of 90º days to ever uncover the land underneath. And then we realize that glaciers cover 98% of Antarctica. And Antarctica is 1/10 of all land on Earth. And 6 months from now in the Antarctic winter, what we’re currently doing, exposed on a Zodiac boat, in just a jacket and hat and a couple layers of pants, would mean certain death, as normal clothing can’t contend with temperatures that go as low as negative 90º Fahrenheit. Trees and agricultural plants can’t be grown here. People can’t survive here without relying solely on high tech outside supplies and food brought in. Mother Nature is utterly and completely in control here. It’s absolutely humbling, absolutely overwhelming and absolutely awe-inspiring.
Click here for part 1 (of 2) of our Antarctica photos. Some highlights are below…