The Best Day in Antarctica, EVER! Part II

13 Jan

As the day moved on, I prepared myself for one of the best parts of the day and one of the greatests things to happen down here yet. I didn’t think things could get better, but I had no idea what was in store for me.

Linda and I had signed up for a trip to Cape Evans and to see the Ice Caves. Cape Evans is the place where Robert Falcon Scott, one of the first explorers to Antarctica, brought an already built hut from New Zealand to use as a stopping point on his trip to be part of the first expedition to the South Pole.

We bundled up with all of our cold weather gear and meet our other peeps to begin our adventure.  We boarded a Delta, a very large vehicle that would transport us on the sea ice about one hour towards the ice edge.  Yes, we would travel on this huge vehicle weighing thousands of pounds on top of ice only about 6 feet deep.  I would like to say we were traveling North, but everything around here seems like it’s North!  It was a VERY bumpy ride, but the sights were amazing.  This was the first time I had been out this way and it was pretty cool.  We saw very large glaciers and lots of sea ice and packed snow. 

We finally arrived at Cape Evans.  Since there were 20 of us, we divided into two groups.  My group, lead by our wonderful tour guide Shawn, took us up the hill to see the commemorative spot (noted by a plaque and a cross) and for a little sledding.  We had some great views from the top of the hill at Cape Evans and got to slide down this cool little hill.   It was the first time I went sledding (minus the sled, but my Big Red worked really well) in Antarctica.  Pretty nifty and not too cold!  Yes, that’s what I said.  It was not cold.

Next, we took a tour of Scott’s hut.  It was incredible.  The hut is 50 feet long, 25 feet wide, and up to 9 feet tall at its peak.  The doors were insulated with quilted seaweed and lined with felt.  The roof was covered with three ply rubberoid (not sure exactly what that was, but it was for keeping heat in) and the floor was laid with linoleum.  The hut had gas jets, stoves, clotheslines, clocks, and a gramophone.  They used buckets of ice to melt and use as bath water once per week.  There were officers quarters separated by wine crates (don’t you like how they were thinking!) and separate quarters for the crewmen.  We saw the food that was left, the darkroom that was used, the horse equipment, a preserved penguin (not sure why it was there, because I can’t believe it was used for food), Scott’s desk, and the general living spaces.  All if this was intact and left as it was found.  It was amazing to see how they lived. 

After exploring the hut at Cape Evans, we boarded the Delta again and headed to the Ice Caves.  They were about 1/2 hour ride back towards town.  We saw other side of the glaciers and mountains that were just as beautiful.  We arrived at the Ice Caves and I was in awe, again!  The other group went in first as we played outside and reviewed the different ways to keep warm while standing around.  I have since learned that even if it doesn’t appear to be cold out, you can easily get cold by doing nothing.  We learned from Shawn, our trustee guide, the many ways to keep warm and still not do much.  It was fun AND educational.

When the other group returned, we headed in.  As we got closer, I was speechless.  These caves were so beautiful.  It was like an amazing creation by an artist.  These caves were created naturally by the sea ice being pushed and all of the pressure needs a place to release and the ice gets pushed up.  In rare occasions, the ice will push up so much and air gets inside and creates ices caves. 

Initially it was a bit scary entering since there was just this hole you had to slide down to get inside.  It was fun, but a little strange.  I wasn’t sure if we had to come out the same way we went in.  The slide was really cool after the initial fear.  When I got up, I was just mesmerized by the beauty.  It was indescribable.  It was like a picture you see in National Geographic, but never expect to see in person.  I slowly began walking around, but was a little fearful that one wrong step and I could go down, far, and not come back up!  But I got over that when I was reassured that specially trained professionals checked out all of the areas we would explore and did all the safety precautions to ensure our safety if we followed all of the guidelines. 

The area was not too big, but it seemed like everywhere you looked was another cool image.  I tried to capture all of this on my camera, but it was challenging .  The best part of being inside the ice caves was when Shawn wanted us to take a few minutes of silence to appreciate where we were.  I decided I wanted to lay on the floor of the ice caves and just take it all in.  For about 2 minutes, we all stopped moving and just were in the moment.  It was truly a spiritual experience.  I felt so at peace and so calm.  It was strangely silent and so serene.  It had been awhile since I had that kind of silence and I had forgotten how amazingly wonderful it was. It was truly an experience I will treasure forever. 

We headed out of the Ice Caves and that was cool too!  There was this amazing view as we stepped out with the sky so blue and georgous.  It was a nice ending to that adventure.  The view was picturesque and postcard worthy!  We walked back to the Delta and began to head back to McMurdo.  I figured the fun was done, but it was just beginning!

As we got back to the Delta, we spotted an Adele penguin beyond the road.  This cute little guy was just chilling and watching what we all were doing.  We all were furiously snapping pictures of this cute little thing.  It was the first penguin many of us had ever seen and I felt so special to be able to see this part of  Antarctica in nature. 

We eventually had to get back in the Delta and head back to town.  To our surprise, we soon slowed down and I realized we had another tour guide, our friend the penguin.  It was the cutest little thing!  He was initially on the side of the road just walking with us as we began to drive.  It was a nice piece of scenery.  I guess he wanted more company.  Now we can’t interfere with the wildlife so we drove really slow.  We decided to stop again and check out our new feathered friend.  I decided to name the penguin Oswald, in memory of Linda’s pet pigeon Oswald she’s told me so much about.  All of us took lots of photos of Oswald and were just in amazement to see Oswald seeking out more attention.   Some people that were with us had been down to Antarctica several seasons and had still not seen any wildlife other than the skua (the attack bird that will kill for any food you may be carrying to and from the dining hall) and now to see Oswald twice in one night was pretty cool.   It was a sight to see! 

After about 20 minutes, we got back on the Delta and needed to head back.  There were some people on the trip that had to work that night.  To our surprise, Oswald got in front of the Delta now and took his sweet time moving along.  I guess that he wanted more company still! 

We stopped again and a few of us began to walk behind him in hopes he would turn around and want to play (or atleast pose for some more photos!).  We walked about 3/4 of a mile and then he did stop.  He turned around and was such a show off!  We got lots of great photos and Oswald was so close!  We weren’t allowed to touch him, but we all got lots of photos with him in the background or just him really close.  He looked so beautiful and cuddly.  I just wanted to pick him up and take him back to our dorm room. 

As soon as Oswald felt he’d had enough, he started walking away from the road.  He began to head south, I think.  Maybe he was lost and seeking out his family.  It was obvious he’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.  I hope he eventually made it back to what ever he was looking for.  Scientists say that if we see a penguin out in our parts, they are usually lost and don’t have good odds to make it back safely let alone alive due to the harsh conditions and lack of food available.  I said a little prayer he would get home okay.

We boarded the Delta one more time and headed back to town.  Our fun was coming to an end.  It was such an amazing evening.  It was fun filled and packed with sights I would never get the opportunity to see anywhere else.  This was truly the best day in Antarctica I have had. 

Who knows what the next few months will bring?

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