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Expedition to Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula,
On board the M/V Plancius, March 6-17 2017 Trip Report

Escorted by: Cindi LaRaia

Video of trip to the Antarctic Peninsular on the Plancius in March 2017
by Paul Statham

Antarctica!! March 6-17 2017
Plancius ~ Basecamp Expedition

My longtime friends and I arrived from around the world, Sydney Australia and the UK. We met in Ushuaia, Argentina, at the bottom of the world, or pretty close! We stayed at the most lovely Hotel Arukur up in the mountains with incredible views, lovely rooms and outdoor spa!!

Had dinner in town for Pats birthday enjoying superb local crab and seafood with lovely Argentine wine!

We board the amazing Plancius, from the Netherlands. Stable, quiet, comfortable with excellent crew and guides. With trepidation some of my friends fearful of the crossing of Drakes Passage! As luck would be with us, we got to experience the ever rare ‘Drakes Lake’! Flat calm seas all the way to Antarctica! We made it in only 2 days and a wee bit less! Wow.

We had some great Albatros sighting along with Fin whales as we headed south! Our days of voyage kept us busy with activity meetings on how they go about preparing us for the wonderful Base Camp activities we signed up for.

Kayaking, hiking, snowshoeing, mountaineering, photography workshop, camping and scuba diving. Though we are all divers we chose not to take the plunge in 32F water!

This year they were not using tents for the camping which I thought was a good idea. The divers ended up having one of the best scuba experiences they have ever had.

This past season was the warmest they have ever had in Antarctica, in the height of summer they reach 60F, shocking! There was a lot of melting snow and ice. The guides had not seen some areas ever look like this before. Snow shoeing was very limited for the lack of new snow. They don’t work so well on ice. The mountaineer guides could see all the crevasses as the snow on top melted and revealed places they have crossed before walking over crevasses. Very interesting indeed.

For the first couple of days the weather was glorious, sunshine, no wind and very pleasant! The first day of activities Paul and I were to go mountaineering. Each day you look at the board in reception to see when you are scheduled to do certain activities.

We got to see our first Gentoo penguins as they are still rearing chicks; feeding them while they molt to prepare for their departure to the sea for winter.

We had some rock to cover before we hit the snow to don our crampons and get roped up to make our climb and subsequent summit.

There we can see a lot of crevassing due to the melt. We made our ascent not so high or difficult with our ice ax. Then it became rather interesting, they had us ice pick our way up a very steep-strait up wall ice on the right and rock on the left. I decided I do not like rock with crampons, just seems wrong and not easy!

We climbed this crazy sheer face one at a time, as our guide Massimo from Italy, advised how to punch your toes into the ice then pick and continue up until we could rest and see the stunning views before we did this again to the very top. What cool fun!! Then we had to do this back ward which is a bit more difficult to negotiate the same steps already made in the snow/ice. Sure!

It was a blast!! Great fun and my calves were sore for days!!

We had the most special treat in the zodiac on the way to mountaineer, WHALES!!! Humpback whales all over the place!! Just hanging out, sleeping and chilling! They were not fussed we were there next to them in the zodiacs! We all had amazing encounters with these chilled whales, they stayed by the big boat all day also! Mama and babies and escorts, I am in heaven! When you are this close you get to hear the big loud groan they make before they blow! Amazing and really you know you are close to them to hear and see this!

The guides have not seen this many Humpies so close and chilled out. We learned later they were feeding, must have had a good supply of Krill!

The next morning I was scheduled for kayaking at Brown station, another lovely day. With the ice melting, Paul our guide was amazed as we got to go further inside an area that is normally iced over. It was gorgeous and very picturesque. However very disturbing the amount of ice and snow that has melted to open up this huge bay for the first time ever!

We all signed up for the photo cruise in the afternoon. We got to see the 3 types of seals that live there; fur seals, crabeater seals which have a funny face with a pointy nose and sometimes crazy mixed up fur and Weddell Seal.

Our favorite we got to see posing perfectly for us is the Weddell Seal, a gorgeous spotted seal with an adorable face! We carried on to the island to walk amongst the penguins, we did get to see a Leopard seal swimming in the bay toward the penguin colony, did not get any pics of him.

March 11 we visited Neko and Foyne Harbour, today was a 5 star day! A very scenic glacier cruise with calving glaciers, this was our 3rd continental landing of the trip. A wonderful place with penguins swimming in the shallow shoreline. This colony were the most curious penguins yet We sat on rocks taking pictures, a curious teenager crawled under my legs and playing with anything of mine he could find! My gloves, straps, lens cap, tried feeding from my glove but it did not work so well!

The moms keep their feathers clean so they are more efficient in the cold water. Babies are molting now so not able to go in the water as they are not fully protected. They need to find a way to drink so they eat ice. When the moms have to molt they are not able to go to sea for at least 2 weeks an also have to eat ice or snow for water.

This was a perfect sunny day no wind, this is where they do the cold water plunge with swimmers! I hate cold water so declined.

Sophia went in with a new friend we made – YIKES everyone screaming mad! Funny everyone commented on how COLD their feet were, the rest of the body ok! Wild.

In the later afternoon we had zodiac cruises, we went in the photog boat, and we had WHALES!!! OMG did we ever have whales!!! They were all over creating feeding circles. No idea how many since they were all over the bay and around the boat! It was so exhilarating to be a part of this very special whale behavior. We would see them make the bubble circle at the surface, they corral the krill then come up to feed, a sort of bubble netting. They come partially out of the water, we see the heads and mouth but not the entire body like we have seen on Discovery Channel in Alaska! This is very interesting as we learned that it depends on where in the water column they are feeding on the krill.

We witnesses several episodes of this with various whale families! Always a baby in the mix. Then we were stunned as we must have floated in the middle of a feeding circle, they blew and came up right under us! I could only get a picture of a Tail fluke next to my boat mate on the opposite side of the zodiac! Behind Pat was another and boy that is the wildest feeling to bein the middle of a feeding bubble!! They surrounded us. With the low gray sky and later evening time frame, it was all very surreal to say the least!!

This is one of those wonderful ‘nature at its best’ episodes we all dream about!! Ahhhhh I love Antarctica!!! Magic magic magic!!

Sunday March 12 we entered the stunning Lemaire channel. Seven miles long and less than 1 mile wide. I was not certain we could do this as they had 3 big icebergs blocking the channel for some time. Only last trip did a boat make its way through! Thank Goodness as it is so gorgeous! We only had 1 of the icebergs left and a lone Minke whale made a single appearance in front of the burg.

Huge granite mountain peaks on either side with the morning sunrise was beyond breathtaking! The Captain negotiating his way around the iceberg, stunning scenery at its best!

We had our land excursions here in a magnificent setting, with nesting Gentoo penguins. A grave yard filled with hundreds of icebergs for as far as you could see. This was the reward after a lovely hike up the snow and rocky plateau. Absolutely the most stunning views of 360 degrees, so amazing.

However now the wind began to build to about 25 to 30 Kt and it did not let up. Kayaking canceled, what a pity as this is one of the loveliest areas to kayak!

Sadly the wind did not let up and all the afternoon activities had to be canceled ;-(, no kayaking, no mountaineering or camping. The boat Captain and Beau our activity director decided to take us south to parallel 65 degrees and 17 minutes south. Almost but not quite to the Antarctic Circle. Pretty cool, a very pretty ride along the way.

March 13 at Port Lockroy and Goudier Island, a British base already closed for the season. The winds continued, however shore excursions and zokiac rides prevailed.

I was able to do another full day of mountaineering with only 2 climbers per guide. This was a very challenging climb which started us out with 2 ice axes and a sheer vertical climb up with only using our toes/crampons and 2 picks, holy cow. This is how we began! 5hrs of solid brutal climbing, various degrees of intense focus, pitching several times at steep slopes. The scariest bit for me was having to traverse an ice ridge, sheer abyss to the left and steep V point, we had to stay just right of with ice. Not so easy to dig crampons in ice at an angle scared to death. I just wanted to get up there to where the guide had put in ice screws,,, mama mia!

Somehow we made it! Ack! A lot of other variations of fun, a long walk along what I called the Sahara, an ice sheet, then more uphill climbs, always seeming to end it straight up! It is best to not look down sometimes so I would just focus on pick, pick, toe-slam, toe-slam.

In order to summit after more of this sort of steep climbing, pitching, ice screws and ice poles to keep us safe as we are roped together, we had a scary choice to make.

The 2 boys and guide went straight up, a long sheer face to the base of the summit. Our guide thought to try to rocks to walk up next to them. OH sure, they were all moving and horrid scary!!! You could not even step and they would want to avalanche! I am not happy on this sort of moving rock with crampons. I would have preferred the strait up the ice wall with 2 pick axes! We arrived there finally, had some water with the boys, took great pics and carried on a bit higher, more sheer snowy ice as it had started to melt in the sun a bit, and finally made it to the summit peak!

What a glorious, exhilarating feeling of accomplishment for us 2 girls! I have only done 2 other climbs prior to this and determined to do well and keep up with boys (with a lot of experience) and we did it!!! Now coming back down the steep vertical walls is another story altogether, not my favorite! How the heck to you see the footsteps we made coming up? Yeah right. Never mind, we figured it out and survived! We came back on the back side and a longgggg way down on a solid gradual slope. My quads are still sore ;-).

We climbed 500 meters in five hours of the most incredible scenic vastness of Antarctica, only 6 of us on the mountains for as far as they eye could see. Pushing my body to the limit was a great accomplishment for me in an unknown sport that I have learned to really love, a big adrenaline rush!

March 14 was our last zodiac excursion to Melchor Island and base station as we were heading back north. Gorgeous blue glacier ice formations, a lot of big male fur seals on the rocks next to us. We finally got to see some chin strap penguins, however they were swimming so not easy to really enjoy them. This season was so warm the penguins left to the sea earlier than last time I was there. Same with the Adelle penguins.

However one afternoon cruising, our wonderful Russian Captain brought the ship to a complete stop, beside us a wonderful flat ice flow with 3 Adele penguins performing for us! They were the cutest things I ever saw! Running around, posing and just having a really fun time as we all got some great images of this outstanding performance! They stayed with us for some time then all of a sudden on cue, in formation they waddled over the side, one, two three they went into the water!!! I shot the sequence, how fun to see them this way!

Antarctica is the most pristine continent on our planet. The Antarctic treaty is working hard to maintain this and keep it forever safe from ownership and degradation. Let us share this amazing place that is beyond surreal, we have much to learn from this!

If you are able at all to get to Antarctica in your lifetime, it will be forever etched into your heart and soul. There is something so pure and special about being in a place that has no ownership, no malice, no war, only a place of great vastness and beauty that is beyond comprehension. The penguins, seals and whales and birds are grateful for our love.

Cindi LaRaia