Saturday, 27 November 2010

Blizzard Island!

Like an icy-hot pad, this active volcano called Deception Island is freezing and hot at the same time. The geothermal activity produces hot spots all over the caldera making Deception Island the ideal place to challenge the cold of Antarctica and have a swim.

The day started early with a hike from Whaler's Bay to the huge Chinstrap Penguin colony on Bailey Head. This colony is extremely difficult to visit the traditional way- that is to land on the beach near the birds- because of the exposed nature of the shoreline and the steeply sloping bottom.
Three groups of about 30 people were organized to land in Whaler's Bay and hike over to the colony, the first group left at 0800 and made it to the colony by 0915. The second group started at 0845 and made it to the summit but were forced to stop and turn back by hurricane force winds and a blizzard. This made trekking impossible with zero visibility and wind strong enough to blow you off your feet.

The third group couldn't even start the hike and stayed at the beach to admire the agile Cape Petrels dance over the breaking waves to feed. As the tide went out, evidence that we were in the middle of an active volcano was obvious in the steam rising from the beach and in the smell of sulphur.

This was to be a full day in Deception Island, we had the place all to ourselves. So over lunch we repositioned to Telephone Bay, deep inside the caldera. There we enjoyed the beautiful scenery produced by patterns of snow and volcanic ash.  We walked along the shoreline of a small salt water inlet and discovered many dead and alive krill washed up.
Krill are small (3cm) shrimp-like animals which are super-abundant in Antarctic waters and represent the cornerstone of marine ecosystems in these parts. Almost everything eats krill!
The most courageous of our passengers decided to have a little swim despite the strong winds that kept swamping the beach.
An extremely young Weddell Seal -that still had the characteristic baby fur or lanugo- stayed on the beach during all our landing so that everybody could see him. The seal mother was not far away.