||NW 4-6 knots
We woke to clear skies but a windy morning, in the Gerlache Strait. The Captain brought the ship into Andvord Bay, where we were afraid there might be to much sea ice blocking our passage. While the ice was all around us, it was not too thick for navigation, and we made our way into the back of the bay. Our destination was Neko Harbor, a small indentation on the coastline of Andvord Bay. As we approached, Se-ba made sure we were aware that there was quite a bit of brash ice along the coast, and we would have to be patient, as the landing would take some time.
Climbers came first, setting off towards higher slopes, then the rest of us (except kayakers, of course!) came ashore for a landing on the Continent proper. Arriving to the beach was a challenge, as the drivers had to negotiate the boats through a thick field of brash ice that was constantly surging back and forth. Many of us followed Bill up the hill to the viewpoint, which was spectacular, allowing us to sit with glaciers and snowy mountains all around. Ortelius looked small in the distance, and the amount of snow and ice all around was very impressive. Some of us opted to spend the time lower down the hill, watching the Gen-toos go about their business. There was courting and calling, squabbling and stone-hunting happening all around, as the penguins prepared for the Antarctic summer. They needed to be ready for their new chicks they hoped to meet at the end of December. In the icy water, a Weddell seal and a few Crabeater seals swam near shore, as sparkling clean Gentoos popped out of the sea and scrambled up the beach every so often.
Back on board, lunch was the order of the day, with some of us taking our time to eat and others rushing the meal to sneak a very short nap in before our next excursion. It was a slow passage through to Paradise Harbour and our afternoon landing at Stony Point. At the northern entrance to Paradise Bay a giant iceberg was blocking our way. The Captain navigated the ship around the ice and South, and we finally arrived at Stony Point about an hour later than we had hoped. It was not a problem, as we had a great time on the ship watching our progress, and also got a short “polar nap “in. When we arrived, again the polar condi-tions slowed us a bit, and this landing site was definitely a challenge! Bill set up a rope for us to do our own mountaineering, without Tim and Owen's assistance. We climbed a wall of winter snow to the top of a small dome, donned our snowshoes, and headed uphill again. At the top, a few brave (or foolish) folks stripped down for photos, while the rest of us enjoyed the Gentoo-free peace and quiet, with only ice and snow cracking and moving around us. Down near the landing site, a beautiful mottled grey Weddell seal posed on a bit of pristine white snow, with blue sea and glaciated mountains behind.
By the time we were back on board, the weather had closed in, and the snow had come down low enough to block the views, so we were all happy to change into warm, dry gear and make our way to the bar for the briefing, a chat, and a visit with Rolando. The most exciting part of Recap was the draw for spots on the camping list. Nacho enlisted Bill to assist, and the lucky campers were drawn by lottery. We reposi-tioned the ship a little bit North, to the Argentine Base Brown, and in light snow, took our camping team to their home for the night, while the rest of us had another drink or cup of something hot, a leisurely dinner, and spent a bit more time in the Bar socialising before retiring to our warm, dry bunks.
The morning brought calm waters and the beautiful landscape of Andvord Bay. The ship negotiated the icy waters for a clear approach to Neko harbor; the destination for the morning. We were in high spirits as this would be the last full day of excursions. Putting in a safe distance from the glacial face we paddled out into the middle of the bay, sightseeing some of the larger bergs and taking in the surroundings. The conditions were so calm it was very optimal to go where ever we wanted. This was a slightly different paddle in re-gards to the language spoken by everyone but our guide. However, the enjoyment translated in any dialect.
Stony Point, Paradise Bay
The afternoon proved to be just what we needed. Back in the southern entrance to Paradise Bay, calm water, remnant sea ice and light snow made for a very atmospheric scene. It was finally Group 4’s chance to get in the kayaks! Having been canceled or “post ponded” on day two of excursions, it was much anticipated. We headed off into the ice, with the destination of a petite island in Ferguson Channel harbor-ing a small Gentoo penguin colony. In the shallows around the island many ice bergs had been grounded and we were able to safely weave in and out of this icy playground. The reflections were astounding and we felt at ease and relaxed, enjoying the independence of a small group and good friends.
Neko Point, Grade F
After most of the ship had seen what a great time the mountaineers had had under such fine weather the previous day there was a mini gold rush for the available places on this trip. With the objective looking steep and with a degree of uncertainty we approached with 9 passengers in 2 roped teams. Crampons were needed for progress on firm snow and as the flanks guarding the summit steepened, Tim took a line to the right carefully navigating a circuitous passage. Owen opted for the steeper face with a pitched a rope length up the ice. Both teams were eventually turned around due to the difficulty of the terrain, leav-ing the summit un visited. The teams had an exciting first mountaineering experience having used their ice axes and crampons to good effect.
Hauron Peak, Stony Point Grade F
In the afternoon Ortelius steamed round to Andvord Bay, a wonderful inlet with crashing glaciers tumbling in to the sea. Here we took 12 passengers on a snow shoeing glacier trip on the flanks of Scheipflug Nuna-tak. This proved to be very good sport with several enormous crevasses needing to be carefully negotiated. On the way down the wind dropped causing the sea to be glassy smooth offering outstanding reflections of the surrounding peaks, only made more tranquil but the light snow fall.
Camping night 5 – Spared night (Almirante Brown station)
As we had to cancel 3 nights of camping in a row, we decided to make a lottery and randomly select 30 people who missed the chance to do it due to the cancellations. During the recap of the day, Nacho made the lottery assisted by Bill and his amazing sense of humour. Finally, 30 passengers got the opportunity to go. As every camping night, we met the campers at 8:30 pm at the Heli hangar to brief them and give all the necessary gear. All the lucky winners were very excited to go, but at the same time the snow falling turned into rain and then snow again, even with some doubts about it we headed to Almirante Brown sta-tion with the happy campers to get this amazing experience. No wind we could feel, the snowfall started slowing down little by little and the conditions went optimal for a great night.
As soon as we landed there, some people started digging the graves for setting their bivys and others just decided to leave that for later and enjoy the wonderful evening Antarctica was giving to us.
There was such a good atmosphere at the campsite, not only weather conditions were amazing after 3 nights of cancellations, but the passengers were so happy specially when they got the wake up call.
Between smiles, jokes and some work to put the camp down and leave everything as it was before, the first zodiacs appear to take the group back to Ortelius and with that nostalgy but happiness at the same time, we said good bye to our “home” for at least one night.