Friday, December 2, 2016: Antarctica- Orne Harbour- A walk in the Snow
Although we have been having a terrific experience so far in Chile and Antarctica, today was certainly the highlight of the trip. This is an exploration voyage, so the itinerary always has a plan A, plan B, and plan C (and sometimes plans D and E), so you need to be flexible. Today found us in Orne Harbour, a nice bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. When we did our zodiac landing this morning, we landed on a snow bank instead of a rocky beach. We took our hiking poles and zigzagged our way up a very steep hillside. It was a soft, deep snow, but we quickly had a packed track to follow in. If you stepped off the path, you went in the snow up to your knees or more.
It was a good climb to the top of the hill, but when you came out on top – WOW, what a view. Totally surrounded by brilliant blue water with icebergs and then steep mountains covered with snow, ice and glaciers as far as the eye could see. It was an exceptionally clear day with bright sunshine, so we took advantage of it and stayed at the top for a long time.
But we were not alone. There were many, many penguins and many kinds of birds on the top of our hill. We watched penguins build their stone nests from a very short distance (10 to 15 feet). They are so much fun to watch as they waddle back and forth gathering stones and returning to their nests. When you look down the steep hillside that we just climbed (see the pictures to get an idea of the height), you have to wonder how they ever got up here from the water. And the hillside is all covered with snow and ice. This coastal area gets between six and twenty feet of snow each year as opposed to the interior of the continent, which is a cold desert area that is lucky to see two inches each year.
After a late lunch, we set out by zodiac for an excursion to explore the area by water. Our driver was full of knowledge and explained the creation of this rugged area by tectonic plate movements. We saw mountains and cliffs and glaciers and calvings and streams, etc. It was the perfect afternoon to be out here with mother nature.
After dinner this evening we watched a movie on Shackleton’s Antarctic explorations and then watched the sunset over the mountains. The days are long here as it’s summertime at this extremely southern latitude. Sunset today was about 11:00 pm and sunrise is one something in the morning. So if you want to watch the sunset and also the sunrise the next morning, it makes for a very short night’s sleep.