Words can not describe arriving on the peninsula. This place is not real.
Even better news is the forward cabin heater is now operational and the boys’ cabin is now dry and warm. With yet another amazing dinner – vegetarian pasta bake courtesy of Bruce – we retired to our bunks ready for our first ski on the peninsula in the morning.
My head is probably just at water level as I lie slumbering in my cosy sleeping bag. I am woken by the thud, scrape and graunch of an iceberg hitting the boat just millimeters from me. We jump up to fend the iceberg away. The tidal current around Penguin Island pours a steady slow moving stream of bergs towards our boat. Most pass with barely a scratch, occasionally, however a monster finds itself ensnared by our stern line. Note to self, only visit Antarctica in a solid metal-hulled boat.
Morning comes and the sky is lighter than the previous day. 3 to 4 inches of snow has fallen overnight and the temperature has risen to above freezing. We move Spirit of Sydney half a mile to just off the only small beach in the vicinity. Landing anywhere in Antarctica is tricky. Most of the shore is either ice cliffs with glaciers calving treacherous bergs into the sea or impenetrable vertical mountains.
Once ashore we get our skis on, rope up (one four man and one three man) and skin up the nose of the glacier. Bruce leads, pausing wherever a shadow or undulation indicates the possibility of a crevasse. Using a probe he is able to test the snow ahead. Visibility is poor, the cloud is down and we cautiously gain altitude, pausing for a cup of tea to see if the visibility will improve. Fortunately the snow under ski is good and the clouds finally clear revealing an amphitheatre of mountains with their glaciers tumbling down towards the sea. Few people have had the privilege of witnessing these mountains from up here.
We continue to climb gaining a shoulder that leads though a navigable crevassed approach to the first summit. Summit 555 leads onto to its sister peak where skis and packs are taken off and a well earned lunch is had taking in the astonishing vista. To our north is an icefall that must be 4 miles across and some 5 miles deep.
The descent back to the boat affords us a some good skiing on excellent snow. Following the ski tracks back to the beach is good practice to ensure we do not ski into dangerous territory. The final drop to the beach is the best skiing of the day.
As the team sort out their skis ready for the return to Spirit a large iceberg about 200 meters from us groans and in a split second capsizes sending a small tidal surge in our direction. Orderly panic ensues with all of us clambering back up onto the glacier to keep dry. A good soaking avoided we load up and return to Spirit of Sydney for dinner.
Dinner… Spirit has the pick of Ushuaia’s food sequestered away in every nook and cranny. The port side of the forepeak has our citrus, lime for the homemade guacomole and gin and tonic. Butternut squash for John our resident veggie and some of the best cuts of meat you can imagine. Tonight it is a BBQ on the transom. Darrel has just walked past me with a juicy and delicious bife de chorizo cut for dinner.
Our first day on the continent of Antarctica is now over. Cards and anchor watch awaits.