From the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica
Feb 3, 2013 - National Geographic Explorer
Yalour Islands and Port Charcot, Antarctica
Throughout the day today we followed in the wake of the great men who traveled this way a century ago, in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Our own explorations began in the Yalour Islands, which were named after an officer on one of the ships that came in search of the missing men from Otto Nordenskjöld’s Swedish Antarctic Expedition in 1902. Not far away was the hidden rock where Jean-Baptiste Charcot’s ship the Por Quois Pas went aground and was nearly wrecked; on the mainland, Mt. Scott and Mt. Shackleton soared above the Penola Strait, reminding us of great and terrible adventures in other regions of the White Continent.
The Yalour Islands themselves are a collection of low, rounded rocks and reefs, ground down by glaciers and now home only to several colonies of Adelie penguins. But the icebergs and raw, rocky mountains all around this lonely archipelago were a thrilling setting for Zodiac cruises in the company of the naturalists. Exploring in the small boats allowed us to really get close to the big bergs for wonderful photo opportunities and the chance to simply lose ourselves in the grandeur of the big ice. We wandered among huge square towers, sweeping fluted curves, caves and pools glowing with a magical, indescribable blue, even a soaring arch that framed more bergs beyond. It was an immense polar sculpture garden, as transient as the day, for our eyes only. Leopard seals took the role of museum guards, lounging on the ice or swimming quick graceful loops beneath our boats and occasionally livening things up by showing us their very impressive teeth.
In the afternoon we moved on to Booth Island, the site of Charcot’s over-winter camp in 1909. As we finished lunch, National Geographic Explorer found her way through another maze of enormous icebergs and into a patch of open water in the lee of the island. Then the crew hit it on all cylinders! Zodiacs were lowered again, quickly followed by the kayaks. Some of us headed ashore for a hike up to a spectacular view over the islands and the Bellingshausen Sea beyond. Others joined the naturalists in the Zodiacs for cruise in a stupendous maze of icebergs, even more tightly packed and more imposing than those we saw in the morning. And those of us who sought a little peace and quiet slipped away from the ship in the kayaks for a chance to contemplate the still waters and icy mountains all around us. All afternoon we could sense the spirits of the explorers in the wind, still woven into the fabric of the Antarctic.