The White Continent was always going to be home to some impressive ice bergs - but what lay ahead was quite simply stunning and out of this world. Along our journey we experienced myriad types, shapes and sizes of ice resembling everything from dragons to mushrooms. According to the illustrated Glossary of Snow and Ice (yes, that is a real thing) there are around 40 classifications of snow and ice. Here a few of those that we experienced in Antarctica…
The sound of calving (the breaking away of a mass of ice) was a frequent and eerie interruption to the silence of Antarctica, and was usually followed by a frantic search of the horizon to watch said ice breaking from a berg, sliding down a glacier to form a new ice berg or just crashing into the ocean. It also acted as a rather sobering reminder that zodiacs and kayaks (which we used every day) must stay at least three times the height away from any ice…
One of the many, many highlights of this trip was the Captain rather skilfully parallel parking our 6,230 gross tonne ship next to a sheet of fast ice (sea-ice which is attached fast to the shore, ice wall or between two ice bergs), lowering the gang way and allowing us off to trek a couple of kilometres across the 2m thick fast ice. Not only was this is a first for us, but also our Captain who had been leading voyages to Antarctica for over 20 years. We were joined by Adelie Penguins, which playfully waddled over to greet us, Crabeater Seals which merely grunted at us from afar and we even glimpsed a Weddell Seal basking in the sun.
It seemed like a normal ice berg in the distance, but after an hour had passed and we were still cruising towards, at 13 Knots, it was obvious this was no normal piece of ice. It turned out to be a 2.5km long, 50m tall tabular berg (a flat topped ice berg, most typically formed by calving from an ice shelf). There were horizontal bands running along the length of this enormous berg, akin to the lines found on a tree trunk.
The tabular berg we saw was large enough to land a Boeing 747 on, but was tiny compared to some of the monster tabular bergs found in Antarctica - the largest on record being 31,000 square kilometres - larger than Belgium.
Pretty much does what it says on the tin - dotted across the horizon was lots of floating ice, often frequented by sleeping seals and penguins, or resting birds.
We managed to go out kayaking most days and encountered lots of open pack ice (composed of floes, seldom in contact and with many leads, ice cover 40% to 60%), following the existing leads, or breaking through the thin ice covering (up to 10 cm) with our paddles to form new paths.
Below The Antarctic Circle
When journeying below the Antarctic circle (at 66°), we noticed a distinct difference between the ice: the introduction of fast ice, pack ice and a sense that the ice was surrounding us.
In the words of one of my fellow cruisers, "It was the wildlife that first brought me to Antarctica, but it's the Ice that makes me come back time and time again."