Heads or Tails – In the heart of ice-ness

March 1, 2023

Petermann Island – AM

It was kinda gloomy when we crossed the Lemaire Channel, 11km long and narrow strait lined by rocky mountains coated in snow that extended into glaciers nearby. The weather was unstable, a huge blow to whale sighting as El Capitane delicately steered the ship into and around slabs of ice blown into the channel, setting off little ship shakes. Large chunks of scattered ice bergs drifting in. Ripples on the surface unfolding potential drama. The ice growing thick, it was imperative to leave before finding ourselves wrapped in an icy embrace. At the exit, we followed the traces of the Belgica.

In 1898, Adrien DeGerlache passed through Lemaire on the Belgica, and named it after Charles Lemaire who travelled to the Congo on a scientific expedition in 1898-1900. We headed towards the shores of Petermann Island off the Kyiv Peninsula on Graham Land, that looked like a mythical painting from the Dutch Golden Age. First discovered by the Germans in 1873-74, it was named after August Petermann a German cartographer who moved to Scotland in 1845 and produced maps (in color too). He published one of the first maps of Central Africa in 1857 and organized expeditions to Africa between 1849-1864. Coincidence? Might be. I investigated.#fail.

We landed on large boulders and shuffled our way up to the island, a stark red refuge hut built by the Argentinians in 1955 positioned at the elevated part of the shore. The landscape was a blend of vivid colors muddled with blobs of grey, black and white. Not rocks. They were loungin’ weddel seals exposing their spotty bellies. Gentoo penguins were up to the usual, waddling along the trails or huddled together to protect their eggs from stalking Antarctic Skuaas who kept an eye on them or wanted to provoke their chicks.

A shabby bunch of penguins were moulting, a natural (yearly) process that lasts 3-4 weeks until they grow new and shiny hair. Attention and camera lenses diverted to the one non shabby Adelie penguin who took ages to preen itself. I was careful not to slip and fall over as we climbed up slippery slopes to pick up on the daily life of these penguins.  Some of them were belly down on ice, others were having fun sliding on their bellies leaving red traces of algae on their feathers.

Green Algae, which are usually under snow and ice, proliferate around the island and turns into red when exposed to the sun. The red reflects less sunlights so the snow melts faster which contributes to red bellies and a plea for obnoxious humans to be nice to our planet.

Later, we zodiac-cruised to explore the rocky side of Petermann crowded with birds and then chase le humpbacks. The breeze picked up, heavy mist blending in with mountain peaks overruled. We rolled around pieces of ice spread all over the sea, some with grey tips juxtaposed transparent ones that exposed trapped bubbles. Splashes of water chimed in the setting as Gentoo penguins propelled themselves to feed or escape predators.

We heard humpbacks were up north and so our driver revved it up towards a few snoozy ones, active blowholes at the surface. Engines off, they were motionless. Waaa!?  One eye open looking out for predators and half their brain shut down to remember that they have to breathe. They don’t sleep for more than 30minutes because they have to be on the move to regulate their body temperature.

We were still around, uncertain at which point of the 30minutes window we were at, but we knew for sure, they were going to wake up. So they did and subsequently dove in to show off unique pigmentation patterns on their flukes. It was a wonderful contrast to the glacial landscape until my camera lens burst out screeching sound waves. Before I got all worked up, I took a deep breath, tucked it in my bag and visualized writing a stinking e-mail to the store manager.

Port Charcot, Booth Island – PM

Remember how the Melchior Islands were first sighted by the German Expedition (under Eduard Dalmann in 1873-84) and then charted by Jean Baptise Charcot during the third French Expedition in 1903-1905 ? Well, Booth Island shared the same fate. It’s just around the corner to Melchior on the northwestern part of the Willheim Archipelago and named after one of the Mr. Booths by Dalmann, Oskar or Stanley. They were both members of Hamburg’s Geographic Society founded in 1873. If it were up to me, I’d go for Stanley booth, only because it adds more flavor to the African idiosyncrasies above.

On the way to the rocky peninsula on the North western side of Booth Island, Port Charcot, we stopped by a leopard seal lounging on an ice sheet. Pervasive ice bergs in various geometric shapes and sizes circled the bay rienforcing the bay’s “iceberg graveyard “reputation.

Upon landing, I looked up at the slippery slope and traded off “piles of stones that once was JB Charcot’s hut or….” for a practical photography session. I experimented a bunch with exposure, focus, shooting mode and histograms in the most beautiful of settings. A group of gentoo penguins jumped in and out of the water like a penguin waterfall (in reverse too). We circled around aforementioned leopard seal patiently waiting for it to yawn, stretch, move its flippers or expose its large canines. Another playful one with big cute eyes often distracted us showing off its whiskers, brushing our boat and then somersaulting to the other side. My camera lens screeched once again. It was probably more excited than I was. For the second time, I packed it in and sealed the bag.


3 responses to “Heads or Tails – In the heart of ice-ness

    • It was! But I guess the story and photos makes it more personal. I’m enjoying the research about why explorers wanted to go there. Although I wish I had read “Madhouse at the end of the earth”, it was more relevant to this trip. Thank you sooo much for stopping by and reading!

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