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The end of the Antarctic summer

Posted: 2015-08-03 00:41:00, Categories: Travel, Argentina, Antarctica, Sailing, 673 words (permalink)

Nordenskjöld expedition hut on the Paulet Island.
Nordenskjöld expedition hut on the Paulet Island.
It was almost mid March and the short and busy summer season in Antarctica was coming to its end. Most of the animals had already raised their offspring and left towards warmer regions. During our last two days near the Antarctic Peninsula we could feel the autumn, both in the quietness of the nature as in the changing weather.

Lake with penguin pee on the Paulet Island. Photo by Sandra Teräs.
Lake with penguin pee on the Paulet Island. Photo by Sandra Teräs.
We landed on the small Paulet Island, still following the route of the Nordenskjöld expedition (also known as the Swedish Antarctic Expedition) 1901-1904. It was the first time in four years that the Bark Europa was able to do a landing there, having tried once every year. The snow at our landing site was coloured pink, from the guano of about a hundred thousand Adelie penguins which had nested there during the summer. Now they were almost all gone, with only a few penguins and other birds, some frozen carcasses and the smell left behind.

Antarctic autumn, Petrel Cove. Photo by Sandra Teräs.
Antarctic autumn, Petrel Cove. Photo by Sandra Teräs.
We saw the basic stone hut which had been built by the members of the Nordenskjöld expedition in 1903 after their ship sank next to the island. It was quite amazing to think how they survived the harsh winter inside that small pile of rocks almost without supplies. We climbed up the hill, which opened us a view over the shore and a small freshwater lake. The lake was already frozen and the ice was yellow in color, due to a rather large concentration of penguin pee.

Honeymoon at Petrel Cove. Photo by Micke Söderström.
Honeymoon at Petrel Cove. Photo by Micke Söderström.
From Paulet Island we motored a short distance to Petrel Cove on the Dundee Island, named after the Argentine station "Petrel". The station consisted of bright red buildings just like Esperanza we had visited a few days earlier, but it was smaller and there weren't any people around. We heard that the station had been mostly unmanned already for many years. Once in a while some research is conducted or at least craftsmen are sent to do maintenance on the buildings.

View from the coast at Brown Bluff.
View from the coast at Brown Bluff.
We walked a bit around and between the buildings and headed then for a short walk on top of the snow covered glacier next to the base. During the walk the wind started picking up and quite soon we found ourselves inside a small snow storm. We joked about being on a honeymoon in such a cold, windy and desolate place, and asked our Swedish friend Micke to take a photo of us. After that we walked back to the shore and were transported to the ship as usual in the zodiacs, zig-zagging between blocks of ice floating in the sea.

Glacier reaching to the sea at Brown Bluff.
Glacier reaching to the sea at Brown Bluff.
Early following morning we sailed west to Brown Bluff for our last landing on the Antarctic Peninsula. The snowfall had stopped, wind had calmed down, and shortly after landing even the sun came out. Yippee, finally a landing with sunshine! At Brown Bluff there were still quite a few penguins and seals around, and there were also interesting geological formations to see. A massive brown and black coloured mountain dominated the landscape, and walking closer to it revealed various volcanic features such as pillow lava rocks lying on the ground and black stones embedded inside a brown wall.

Three gentoo penguins running up to the shore.
Three gentoo penguins running up to the shore.
Right next to the volcanic rocks a glacier was reaching out to the sea. The 20-30 meter high wall of ice at the waterfront and blocks of ice scattered on the beach looked spectacular in the sunlight. We got some of our best penguin photos just before boarding the zodiacs — the sun simply made everything look shinier and friendlier.

We would have loved to stay longer, but the sunny landing at Brown Bluff was a wonderful goodbye to Antarctica. After lunch we raised the anchor and started first motoring and then sailing north-east towards South Georgia, a subantarctic island about 800 nautical miles away.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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