The Last Place on Earth – An Evening Climb

2011.12.31The next day morning, we have cruised around Trinity Peninsula, the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and we were sailing south in Gerlache Strait.

Day 2 Route
The navigation route of the second day

The heavy cloud that took the sky for two days now opened up a bit. The mountain range at the continental side looked mysteriously beautiful.

Mountain range in Antarctica
Mountain range in Antarctica

At the breakfast time, there were two Humpback Whales appearing at the right side of the ship. Many of us rushed to the deck to watch them. The captain turned off the engine and tried to stay close to them. Their surface lasted for 10 minutes. They didn’t jump but at least we saw their tails several times.

Humpback Whales, Antarctica
Humpback Whales, Antarctica

Morning time was devoted two lectures. Jolande talked about different penguin species and their behaviors, and Lex gave a talk about seals of the Antarctic.

Icebergs, Antarctica

We had our first landing of the day at Cuverville Island after lunch. This is a small island that hosts the largest Gentoo Penguin colony in the peninsula. As we have sailed south more, the weather were getting warm later than the place we visited the previous day. There were no chicks on the island – they were still on the eggs. However, it was a very warm day. I took off my parka, left it on the shore and wander around the island with just a fleece.

Gentoo Penguins, Cuverville Island
A Gentoo Penguin, Cuverville Island
Gentoo Penguins, Cuverville Island
Gentoo Penguins, Cuverville Island

An interesting phenomenon we found was penguins’ highway system. It’s very difficult for penguins to walk on the soft snow. Sometimes, it’s actually dangerous. Our guides told us not to walk on the untouched snow because our boots could make deep poles. If a smaller penguin fall into the pole, it’s almost impossible to get out. We could see these tracks that stretched from the beach to the hill and there were some parallel ones across the hill as well. Penguins use them to get up to the hill faster and safer.

Gentoo Penguins and their highway system, Cuverville Island

Cuverville Island is at the entrance of the Errera Channel. On our zodiac ride back to the ship, we had a detour to cruise through the maze of icebergs in the channel. Back on board, as we kept sailing south, we saw several more whales at afar.

Icebergs, Cuverville Island
Icebergs, Cuverville Island

Dinner was early today because we would have the second landing after the dinner. The place is called Neko Harbour. It’s another continental landing. At one side of the harbour is Rupert Glacier. After we landed on the pebble beach, our expedition leader, Stefan, told us if we heard loud cracking sound, “don’t stay at the beach, run to the higher land”. We did see some calvings of the glacier, but they were all small pieces.

Rupert Glacier, Neko Harbour

There were some Gentoo Penguin on the beach, but we just passed them by and started climbing the hill. After half an hour, most of people had reached a huge boulder at the hillside. Lex asked everyone to keep quiet for 3 minutes, no talking, no photo shooting, just listen to the nature surrounded us. View the harbour from the top, we were immersed in the sound of silence.

An evening climb, Neko Harbour
At the hillside, Neko Harbour
View Neko Harbour from the top

At 9:30pm, we started walking back. The hill was covered by knee-deep snow. We could totally indulge ourselves, running, sliding or rolling down the hill. (Penguins don’t come to the slope). At the beach, there was a Weddell Seal hauled out on the far side.

A Weddell Seal on the beach, Neko Harbour
A Weddell Seal on the beach

We returned to the ship at 10pm. It is the last day of 2011. The crew hosted a celebration party and we counted down the new year.

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