In the early hours Ortelius pressed southwards. The morning started very early for a few of us; we made our way onto the decks before breakfast to take in the approaching scenery of the Antarctic continent. We soon found ourselves surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and ice caps. With barely a breath of wind the sea was a still, dark pool, coloured by the ceiling of grey cloud and creating a suitably polar atmosphere. We breakfasted quickly and as we made our way back out onto deck the weather continued to improve, the last whispers of wind died away and the sun came out as we entered the Andvord Bay and approached our destination for the morning: Neko Harbour. Once again, we boarded the zodiacs, and after a short journey through the brash ice we were ashore at Neko Har-bour. We stepped ashore and onto the mainland of Antarctica, our first continental landing! From here we walked swiftly up the beach, wary of the possibility of glacial tsunamis close to the shore. We then ventured up the snow slope, skirting round the noisy (and smelly!) rookery of Gentoo penguins. From the top the view was breathtak-ing; the huge fjord was littered with icebergs, growlers, and brash ice. Amongst this medley of ice the surrounding sunlit mountains reflected in the bright, blue mirror of the fjord waters.
During lunch Ortelius had repositioned and was now steaming into Errera Channel, a scenic channel with massive glaciers and vast snowfields.
With full stomachs and a cup of coffee we were soon recharged and ready for an afternoon of activities at Danco Island. The expedition team went ashore to scout the landing and before long we were boarding zodiacs bound for the beach. Danco is a small rounded island home to thousands of Gentoo penguins, skua, and is a resting spot for seals. Once ashore we picked our way carefully up the slope, taking care to avoid the network of penguin high-ways, and stopping frequently to let the inquisitive birds waddle past us on their way to feed their young.
The vantage point above the landing spot was the perfect place to take in our spectacular surroundings. Mountains more than 1000 m high form the flanks of the Errera Channel; glaciers, large cirque glaciers, and huge snow cor-nices adorn the jagged peaks. As we paused to take it all in, we spotted humpbacks out in the fjord, the noise of their deep exhalations carrying for miles in the still air. After a glorious few hours ashore, it was time to head back to the ship and we arrived just in time to take in a sumptuous buffet lunch. Aboard Ortelius once more there was time to take in the surroundings and make the most of the beautiful weather as the campers prepared to have another beautiful night put in Antarctica. Ben and Rustyn went out scouting and decided the weather conditions were good to give it a go. So, the Expedition team brought us to Kerr Point and there we experienced the magic of an Antarctic night. The backdrop was spectacular, and as the campers settled in those of us on the ship were treat-ed to a sunset that lit the mountains yellow and then pink as the sun dipped behind the huge peaks. After a few last photos of the alpenglow behind the ship and it was time for some well-earned rest, and the end to a fantastic day in Antarctica.
AM – Neko Harbour
The kayaking this morning starts in the best possible conditions; sun, blue sky and no wind. The bay is full of amaz-ing ice and we make our way through brash ice and look at many incredible formations of ice.
PM – Danco Island
We have some stronger winds (25 knots), but that doesn’t scare us off. We enter the kayaks outside Danco Island and go with the wind towards Cuverville. Best encounter of the day was a big leopard seal that was looking at us with the same joy as we looked at it.
Camping Kerr Point
The wind had picked up throughout the afternoon but camping was possible for our second night out. We were dropped off on the far side of the snowfield and walked through Crabeater seals and Gentoos to out camp spot on the far side. With some clouds in the sky the daylight was disappearing fast, and everyone joined forces and helped dig out sleeping holes for the night in order to utilise the remaining daylight. The wind was strong and made it challenging to set up our equipment. But as the sun went down and the starts came out, the wind completely stopped and made for a very quite night. The temperatures dropped to -9C which made all the glaciers that sur-rounded our camp spot solid and relatively stable. There were very few ice falls during the night and the silence was incredible. The cold, icy air made for almost zero humidity which allowed the view if the Milky Way to come out in all its glory. The night sky was unforgettable. Our zodiac pick up was on shore at 05.15am to take us back to the ship - and back to a well deserved hot breakfast.
AM- Neko Harbour
Neko Harbor is always an amazing and inspiring location to go mountaineer and this morning we were also reward-ed with beautiful sunshine and calm winds …… The calm winds didn’t last very long however as a strong katabatic wind coming down off the 2000m high mountains behind us quickly began picking up the recently deposited dry, crystalized snow and began shifting it about. Drifting snow lokks a bit stranger as we walk though it - it almost makes us feel like we are moving faster than we are! The limb to our high point for the day takes us through a small crevasse field but Dan and Mal were able to take us safely both up and down through this - standing at our high point was a bit cold as the cliffs above cast long shadows in the autumn sunshine so it’s a bit like standing in a deep freeze …. then again we are in Antarctica.
The climb gave us all an amazing view of the glacier pouring into Neko harbour and more of an appreciation of some of the hazards that a large Calving event can have here.
We made our way back down to the shore and observed many of the moulting juvenile penguins standing around waiting to lose their down feathers so they could finally get in the water and find food! The short journey back to Ortelius was followed shortly by a well deserved lunch
PM – Danco Island Ice climbing
11 ice climbers
Going ashore on the edge of Danco Island, Dan and Mal setup 3 short tope ropes on the safe section of ice cliffs on the Southern aspect of the Island. This allowed us all to rotate through a few different climbs after we had been given a short introduction on how to use crampons in a vertical plane as well a few tips on the techniques need to use our ice axes. We were also shown how to Belay each other using a 3rd person (Climber - belayer + backup) as a backup safety to ensure we didn’t accidently drop each other! From our climbing position we could also see the large seracs across the bay collapsing and sending streaming ice avalanches down over the steep rocky cliffs and eventually into the sea below - a very spectacular place - there are not many places in the world where you can go ice climbing with the sea lapping at your heels!