Snow Hill Island and Devil Island

Jan 03, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

Today, National Geographic Explorer brought us to Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea, which was named after James Weddell, an 18th century British explorer who journeyed to 74°S. This island is seldom accessible because of the multiyear ice floes that block entry, and we were very lucky to make a landing. In fact, we were the first to visit this island for the season; the previous visit was in December 2017.

Our first sight was a wintering cabin used by Nordenskjöld during the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-04 on the ship Antarctic. We’ve seen so much incredible wildlife and geology. Journeying in the footsteps of great explorers added an element of human history from the heroic age of expedition for a full Antarctic experience

After visiting the cabin, we climbed a bit to get a gorgeous, panoramic view that included Cockburn Island and James Ross Island. We then took a long hike along the coast, discovering fossils and imprints on the way. This helped us understand why Nordenskjöld, a geologist, had chosen this spot. He had hoped to discover ammonite fossils, which we uncovered.

The atmosphere of Snow Hill Island, which is almost completely snowcapped, felt like a landing on the moon. Eroded rock formations jutted out of the snow, and where the snow was melting in the warm sun, the pathway turned to deep, viscous mud. As we boarded Zodiacs to return to the ship, a thick fog rolled into the inlet, creating a jigsaw puzzle of sorts as we navigated around chunks of ice.

We spent the afternoon at Devil Island. We split into groups with some going for a hike and others kayaking around the Weddell Sea. We carefully crossed between two colonies of Adélie penguins and hiked either through the valley or to the top of one of the Devil’s horns. With blue skies and minimal wind, we had breathtaking views of the tens of thousands of Adélie penguins and Vega Island.

While kayaking, we were able to get an up-close view of the eroded ice formations, many of which had penguins on top. Nearby, penguins were porpoising their way through the water to hunt food for their chicks. The sun was shining brightly and created a picture-perfect afternoon with bluebird skies.

Before dinner, the most adventurous among us jumped into the frigid waters in a polar plunge. Dozens of guests cheered one another on from the decks above as each took their leap into the icy-cold water around 29°F. Many said that it made them feel so alive!

Evening on National Geographic Explorer was marked with a special dinner for the Young Explorer’s Club aboard the ship. Young guests came together to enjoy a pizza party and the movie Happy Feet.

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About the Author

Nicole Eshelman and Kholood Qumei, Grosvenor Teacher Fellows

Nicole Eshelman and Kholood Qumei, Grosvenor Teacher Fellows

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