Sunday 23 November 2014

Half a Moon and a full volcano

After a day at two stations we go definitely nature today.
In the embrace of the mighty glaciers of Livingstone Island lies the long and crescent-shaped Half Moon Island, a very descriptive name if you look at it from above. It resembles a semi-volcanoe and, point of fact, it might well be just that. The landing there is an easy one, a sheltered shore with many a chinstrap penguin giving us a welcome at the beach. And on approach we notice two large shapes on the snow - sleeping Weddell seals, totally unfazed by our presence.
So we were watching the tiny brave waddlers carry pebble after pebble to lofty heights in order to build their nests, a tedious task considering they need about a thousand of these…
And that was just the morning landing, the day is far from over.
Just around the corner, not quite but almost in the middle of the Bransfield Strait, lies one of the most stunning phenomena in Antarctica - Deception Island. The name isn’t given just like that: Seen from any direction, the island is a high-walled fortress and anything but inviting. But look at it from the South-South-West you’ll notice “Neptune’s Bellows” a narrow entrance, a tricky passage. Once you braved it, however, you enter the immensely well sheltered Port Foster. And when you are in there, you are navigating inside an active volcano - in Antarctica!
The large caldera has several active research outposts, but it also sports some very picturesque abandoned stations from the past, the most scenic being without a doubt Whaler’s Bay.
After a period of land-based whaling the protected harbor was home to the British Station B, where not only significant research was carried out, but also the first ever flight in Antarctica took place in the 1950’s.
The eruption of 1970 smashed the base, and no British activity has taken place ever since. But it remains a site of adventure, and today the scenery was suitably decorated up by the strong winds that drove the snow across the rusty ruins and installations. Untroubled by the weather were the skuas who have one of their favorite bathing sites here.
Well, some are always compelled to push things a little farther. And so a intrepid group of adventurers started a walk that seemed near impossible: Across the crater wall down all the way on the other side to Baily Head. On a fine day this is a terrific hike that takes about three to four hours. Today, however, the daring party had to fight heavy snow under their boots, violent, blizzard-like gusts blasting the snow in their faces, and a visibility under ten meters.
They wouldn’t quit, they just wouldn’t, until they reached the very crest. But that was as far as things went, every single step further would have been totally irresponsible. And that is what we don’t do. So the only option was to turn around and go back down. But the memories will last forever, of a snowstorm inside a volcano in Antarctic
Well, what can I say? Just back down at the beach, some of the group went swimming… How nice to travel with thrill-ready people!