Day 6: Neko Harbour: Officially on the “continent” of Antarctica!

Today we landed on the continent of Antarctica by disembarking at Neko Harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula. If you’ve been following my posts, you’re probably wondering, “Huh? Didn’t you already do that a few days ago?” Well, actually no, we didn’t.

It is true that on the third day of our expedition we made landfall on Barrientos Island. But Barrientos Island is part of the Aitcho Islands archipelago and is not contiguous to the continent itself. One might compare that to visiting Hawaii and making the claim that you’ve been to North America (although Hawaii is much further removed).

Neko Harbour is named for the whale factory ship “Neko” which operated along the Antarctic Peninsula during the whaling season of 1911-1912 and 1923-1924. It is situated on the Gerlache Strait.

After six days in the close quarters of a ship, we have been due for a bit of exercise. Our landing today at Neko Harbour did not leave us disappointed. We woke up early to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed voice over the ship’s PA system announcing that weather conditions were cooperating and we would finally get to try sea kayaking. We have been looking forward to this for two days but due to strong wind and / or heavy ice “traffic” our expedition leaders had decided to postpone the activity.

The sea kayaks we used are a bit different from those I have seen and used before in at least three ways. First, our sea kayaks have multiple inflatable compartments to protect them from being punctured in a collision with an ice floe (our ship’s 12 Zodiacs are also designed this way). Second, instead of the lower half of our bodies being tucked away inside the kayak, our legs and feet lie open to the air. Third, these kayaks have a rudder, which is controlled by a wire attached to two foot-operated pedals – one to turn left and the other to turn right. My mother asks that I sit in the back to steer the boat. :) We spent a good 45 minutes navigating the cove, getting close to bergy-bits and penguins playing in the water. Awesome work-out for the arms and back!

 

We have had little time for rest during our expedition; today is no different. Immediately following our kayak excursion, my mother and I are bundled on to a Zodiac which takes us to the shore of Neko Harbour. Upon landing we are informed that we are on the continent. :)

We now have the opportunity to climb up the side of a snow-covered peak. It is not high – perhaps just 1000-1500 feet, but a good hike is just what we need to get the legs working – dressed in three layers of winter clothing we are not complaining about the height of the climb! On the way up, penguins and skuas accompany us for part of the way.

At the summit, we are greeted by an incredible view. Other hikers from our expedition report having seen avalanches in the mountains on the horizon. We can see the evidence of it but don’t get to see an avalanche ourselves.

Swirling around us is a fine mist of snow which we later learn is called diamond dust, leading some people to call it the “Crystal Desert” (there is a book of the same name by David Campbell). The more elevated parts of Antarctica receive very little precipitation – only an average of 2 inches a year. (In my last blog post, I wrote that glaciers are created by accumulated snow over many years, which gradually turns into ice.)

Until next time…

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