In the morning, the kayakers were scheduled to paddle Neko Harbor. I had woken up with the beginnings of a cold, so I was seriously considering skipping this particular trip. But then we looked at the water and it was pretty glass-like, so I decided to go ahead after all. Thank God I did!
We were going to launch the kayaks from shore this time.
While we were getting ready, we were pleased, though very surprised, to see an Adelie penguin come over to check us out. This region is not at all where you would expect to find Adelies, because it's too far north. (Sadly, it's probably related to global warming.) The Adelie was clearly confused by the kayaks, so he decided to jump on one of them for a closer look. (Note: I wasn't able to get a good picture of this, so the next two are from Sarah's collection that she shared with us.)
We all stayed back to give him some space and not frighten him. But then he went to jump onto the next kayak and he slipped between the two. He flapped his wings a lot, but managed to extricate himself, and then went off running down the beach faster than I'd seen any penguing move on land.
I felt so bad for him. Not just because he was obviously really scared from what had just happened, but also because I knew he would be trying to find a group he belonged with, but all he was going to find there were hundreds of gentoos.
As we started our paddling, it was obvious that this was going to be a different kind of paddle from the previous two days. The sun had already broken through the clouds and the water was completely calm.
And just as we started paddling, a seal swam right in front of us, even bumping into one of the kayaks! We were all so surprised by it, and it moved so quickly, that none of us were able to get our cameras out in time. Oh, well... We certainly won't need a photograph to remember such a special encounter!
One of the highlights of this particular location was that there large areas of brash ice, which are the small bits of ice that are floating all around you (like in the header picture for these posts). And we were going to be kayaking right through it! Louise said that we needed to designate one boat to lead a path through the ice that the rest of us could follow. Sarah (who was my partner that day) had kayaked through brash ice in the Arctic before, so we designated her the Brash Leader (although someone suggested Brash Kicker might be a better name!). I was in the front of the kayak, so it was my job to let her know if we were headed directly into a piece that might be too big to go over, although she didn't really think there was such a thing!
This was just a total blast. We would paddle as hard as we could to go over the ice (sometimes we had to hold the paddles completely vertically to push us through). The crunching noises sounded like we could put a hole in the hull at any point, but the boats were more than sturdy enough to handle the collisions.
One of the most important considerations we had to take into account as we blazed our trail was that we had to keep a reasonable distance from the icebergs that we were kayaking around. They can be very unstable and roll over at any time without warning and, like the Titanic learned, the bulk of the berg is under water. So if we were too close to one and it collapsed, it could easily cause us to capsize.
As we were making our way through the ice, we were all regretting that we had worn extra layers under our dry suits that day, and most of us took off our hats and gloves to try to cool off.
When we got past the densest part of the brash ice, we reached a much more open area of water, with fewer bits floating around. At this point, Louise called for us to have a moment of silence, where we would hold our paddles quietly across our laps and not speak or take pictures or make any kind of noise at all. When we started, Jamie was in the zodiac a ways away and didn't realize we were doing this so we could hear the hum of the engine, which was distracting. But then he saw us and cut the motor and there were no more man-made sounds. And our moment of silence turned into about ten minutes, where we simply drifted where the water took us and the only sounds we heard were of the boats bumping into ice and an occasional glacier calving (large amounts of snow and ice falling into the sea). It was without a doubt one of the most magical and spiritual experiences of my life and one that I will never forget.
When we started paddling again, we heard a sound echoing around us. It turns out it was a leopard seal's call. We couldn't see it, so we decided to go hunting for him. We split off in different directions, trying to follow the haunting cries. Chelsea and her brother Chris were the first to find him basking on an ice floe.
By this point, we'd actually been out longer than we had planned, so we had to hurry back to the zodiac to take us back to the ship so we could move on to our next destination. As we were on our way, we all agreed that even if we couldn't have done any other paddling on the trip, this morning's outing would have been worth the full cost of the option. Even our highly experienced kayak master, Louise, was raving about how this had been one of the best paddles she'd led since she'd been begun working in Antarctica.
When we got back to the ship, Brandon and Jamie called the campers together to let us know that we were going to try again that night. We wouldn't know for sure until we got to our evening destination, Enterprise Island, because they had never camped in that area before (another first!), so they'd have to scout around to see if there was a suitable location.
In the afternoon, we moved on to Danco Island, where we were going to do another paddle. But since my cold was starting to get worse (I was coughing more) and I didn't want to risk missing out on the camping, I decided to forego the kayaking. Besides, after the morning's amazing experience, I thought it could only be a disappointment.
I did watch the group get started on their paddle, but before they launched their boats, we had a little visit from a leopard seal right at shore.
And here's a pic of Ike and Calvin getting ready to head off. I have to admit, I was feeling a little pang of regret as I watched them head off without me.
Danco Island had yet ANOTHER huge uphill climb. I decided to actually give it a try this time, but I didn't make it very far. (To be fair, several others only made it partway as well, so I didn't feel like quite as bit a wimp this time...) So, of course, here are some more penguin pics. :)
This first shot is of a “penguin highway,” which are the trails they create to climb up and down the mountain.
And here are a few penguins using them.
We had been told that we should never step on a penguin highway, so I thought it was funny when I found these two guys eyeing the “people highway” as if they were wondering whether or not they could walk on it.
I loved watching the penguins on land. They were so slow and awkward compared to how fast and graceful they were in the water. One of my favourite things would be when they'd be walking along and then, plop!, they'd fall over onto their bellies and start “tobogganing” along the snow.
I went back down to the shore to just sit and enjoy the views.
And then it happened again. Another Adelie showed up, well away from his natural territory.
During the landings, the zodiac would take people back to the ship at different times, so I decided to go back a little early to rest up for the evening's adventures. Unfortunately, that decision caused me to miss yet another first (although I have mixed feelings about having missed it). Just as the kayakers were returning, and the last zodiacs were about to head back to the ship, another leopard seal showed up and proceeded to kill and eat a penguin! From the pictures I've seen, it was quite an amazing (and somewhat disturbing) sight, as he tossed the poor gentoo into the air several times as he enjoyed fresh bites of it. Everybody who did see it, including Brandon, was really pumped about it. Snowy actually made a funny comment at recap about how upset everyone would get when they'd see skuas hanging around the penguin colonies, ready to steal an egg, but how thrilled they were to see a leopard seal tearing one apart!
As we sailed to the next destination, I went up to the bridge to watch for wildlife and was rewarded with my first sighting of a humpback whale.
Between the speed of the ship moving ahead and the whale moving in the other direction, it was out of sight again in less than a minute, but it was still amazing to see.
I also got a nice shot of a tabular iceberg.
During dinner, Jamie and Mariano went to scout a location for camping and they found one! It was a small island in the bay that had a flat top and was just big enough for the group. Before the camping, though, we went for a zodiac cruise of the area. First we went by the island so we could see where we would be spending the night (Jamie had planted a red flag in the middle of it and claimed it in the name of Canada! :) We did have a neighbour already.
Then we toured over to a spot where there was the remains of an old whaling ship where Antarctic terns had made their nests.
We also saw the remains of a whaling hut.
And we came across a couple of Weddell seals sleeping on an iceberg (at least they were sleeping before we got there... :)
Finally it was time to set up camp.
There was virtually no wind, so no worry of a repeat of the previous night. As soon as we landed, our friend the seal took off. But we had some new visitors—two chinstrap penguins.
This next picture makes it clear how these guys got their name. With their little black heads and that line underneath their chins, I thought they looked just like two little sentries who had come to watch over us for the night.
This picture of me shivering by the tent was purely for effect. It was actually a very mild evening (for Antarctica, that is).
The cardboard cutout beside the tent in the next photo is Flat Stanley. Apparently there's a whole story around him and people online track him around the world. Brian, the teacher from Ontario, had been asked by another teacher to bring him along and snap pics of him throughout the trip. And then Brian would use the pictures for a lesson on Antarctica for his friend's Grade 5 class. Stanley had a LOT of fun on this trip!
The next picture shows the view from our tent site. Remember, this was taken around 10:00 at night.
We ended up going to bed sometime within the next hour. Since the air temperature was so comfortable, we were expecting to be fine through the night. Um, no. The sleeping mats we had were pretty thin and the sleeping bags weren't as warm as we were expecting (although they claimed to be rated to -15 degrees). So the cold from the ground really worked its way up and I pretty much shivered through the night. And I wasn't just being a wimp. Even Sarah, who has done multiday kayak camping trips in the Arctic, and who had planned to only wear one set of thermals for the night, was so frozen she ended up putting on both her down jacket that she had brought with her and her Quark parka!
The other problem I had was that I had to go to the bathroom twice during the five or so hours we were trying to sleep. I don't have to go that often during a full night's sleep! We had brought a special eco-potty with us, so that wasn't a problem, but I had to haul on my boots and parka each time I went. So I figured if I was going to make all that effort, I was going to take my camera with me! This is the “view from the loo” at about 1:40 a.m.
At least our little chinstrap friends didn't seem to be having any trouble sleeping.
By the time 5:00 a.m. rolled around and Jamie went around to wake everyone up, Sarah and I had already gotten fully dressed and had begun tearing down our tent. The others weren't far behind us.
Our chinstraps got up as well and watched as we loaded the zodiac to head back to the ship. Is it my imagination, or does the one on the left look a little dejected? I think he was really going to miss us! :)>
Next installment: A two-paddle day.