Monday, February 2, 2009

North Through the Neumayer

After a late night of packing, moving, hot tubbing, and snowball-throwing contests I awoke in my bunk on the Gould at 6-something AM and climbed up onto the ship's decks to witness our departure from the station. Despite the early hour many of our Palmer friends were up to see the ship off and an impressive number of them jumped from the pier into the freezing cold ocean as the Gould pulled away ("Plunging" upon the Gould's departure, especially when she is traveling north, is a long-standing Palmer tradition).As we headed away from Anvers Island and the brash ice closed back in behind the ship, I silently said my goodbyes: first to the remaining Palmerites, then to the station itself, to all my favorite local islands and the creatures and sounds they hosted, to the Palmer Safe Boating Area, and finally,to the last vistas of this small piece of Antarctica I had called home.People who have spent significant time in Antarctica often say they leave a part of themselves on The Ice (which goes a long way towards explaining why so many staff, scientists, and explorers seek to return year after year). I think that you leave a part of yourself behind at the conclusion of any great adventure. For me this is usually somewhat melancholy but I am often able to temper my sadness with thoughts of visiting again someday, or dreams of my next big endeavor. Neither of these tactics were working for me now. I knew how very unlikely it was that I would ever see Palmer Station again. It's just such a remote place, with so few ways to get there. It was easy to list them all off in my head and see how implausible they were for me: cruise ship, private yacht, another grant, or a support job. Furthermore I had no idea what my next adventure would be. And even if I had had something in mind, how could I possibly top a month in Antarctica?! So it was with a real sense of loss that I stood on deck and watched this small, but incredibly rich, part of my life recede into the distance.

Fortunately it was turning out to be a beautiful fair-weather day and we were about to sail through the Neumayer, a narrow channel framed on either side by rugged peaks and glaciers. Thus it was simply not possible to remain mournful for very long. The view just became too stunning, and Antarctica herself cheered me right up with an amazing display of icy and mountainous delights.A couple of hours later we left the channel and the waters opened up into the wider Gerlache Strait, but all day long the panoramas remained phenomenal.
Sometimes in the distance it was hard to tell the difference between giant icebergs and islands.
(left big bump= iceberg, right three bumps= islands)

Eventually we left the mainland behind and aimed towards the South Shetland Islands. There, in the wee hours of the night, the Gould would be stopping to pick up some Polish geologists from Arctowski Station on King George Island. I debated whether or not I should get up at 2 AM to see this, but several jam-packed days in a row had left me completely exhausted and I concluded that a good night's sleep was more important. We'd be starting across the Drake Passage tomorrow and who knew what it might have in store for us.Before I wandered off to bed I watched my last Antarctic sunset... at least on this trip.

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