Andrew Evans explores the Antarctic Peninsula.
I think weather is the only thing that really matters in Antarctica–weather and luck. And I think most every Antarctic explorer would agree with me. Scott had a turn of bad weather–he and his team perished. Shackleton had a good wind that carried him all the way to South Georgia safe and sound. Captain Cook thought it was too cold and made his way back to Tahiti.
Right from the start, I’ve had good luck and good weather. Getting to Antarctica was smooth sailing and now that I’m here, it’s been generally clear and beautiful. I expect it to change because the weather changes every five seconds down here. In the last 48 hours I’ve been rained upon, snowed upon, sleeted upon and blown upon, but the point is, the weather has not limited us in any way. In fact, the good weather has opened up all kinds of great opportunities.
In Antarctica, Lindblad does not force a set itinerary–only a set destination. I am glad for this, as our good fortune and clear weather allowed us to make double distance and enjoy our first landing on Margeurite Bay–well south of the Antarctic Circle and right on the continent itself. I am happy to know that I have left my footprints (rather, boot prints) in the soil of the seventh continent. To experience a place that so few ever get to is a most remarkable feeling, especially when it’s all so beautiful.
A couple of days in Antarctica and I’ve been rendered speechless. If you want to shut up a chatty wordsmith, simply drop him into the frozen void. Right away, I’ve been sucked into the great silence that pervades down here. When the peep of a penguin is the loudest sound in the universe, or when you hear the crackling echo of deep ice and know that perhaps this single sound has traveled on the wind from a mile away or more, well, that’s just how quiet it is.
I’ve noticed that even as passengers crowd the bow of the ship and gaze out to the magnificent shore, they will start to whisper or not talk at all. We all get excited about whales–on the National Geographic Explorer, a fluking humpback will cause a round of Superbowl cheers–but with landscapes we act quite differently. Facing a never-ending stretch of chiseled, grey-black mountains or passing by centuries of snowfall pressed into eternal ice, our mood becomes reverential–awestruck. Just like the penguins strain their necks up at us, or like the fur seals blink their big wet eyes at the ship, we too strain and blink at the new world around us.
The great irony of Antarctica is that the very thing that makes it beautiful–the tremendous weather–also makes it inaccessible and inhospitable. Over 95% of Antarctica is permanently covered with ice–some of it over 10,000 feet thick. Antarctica is also one of the driest places on earth, with less than nine inches of precipitation per year. The exception to all this barren desolation is the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s a little warmer up here and in summertime (right now), some of the ice and snow melts away to reveal an amazing geology that covers a whole textbook of rocks from A to Z.
I know for a fact that I am not the first person here–by a long shot. Tens of thousands of tourists visit the peninsula every year, and I accept that I am on the well-beaten trail of travel to Antarctica. But that fact does not lessen the brilliance of the destination nor does it make it any less beautiful or remote. I have seen no other ships here nor any sign of humanity. Antarctica makes you feel like you’re the first person ever to have arrived.
Even on a ship with 140 fellow passengers, this place makes me feel like the only person on earth.
Andrew Evans is tweeting about his travels aboard the National Geographic Explorer at @Bus2Antarctica. Want more? Follow the map of his journey, bookmark all of his blog posts, watch videos, and get the full story on the project here. Photos by Andrew Evans.