Coming Ashore At Brown Bluff With Hurtigruten

Our first landing in Antarctica happened this afternoon on Brown Bluff! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our first landing in Antarctica happened this afternoon on Brown Bluff! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Monday, January 19, 2015

Because of a snowstorm that pounded Hurtigruten’s FRAM late last night, we awoke to the news that we wouldn’t be able to make our scheduled landing at King’s Cove. But this is the nature of expedition cruising; it pays to be flexible and expect the unexpected.

In the Observation Lounge on Deck 7 early this morning, waiting for our first glimpse of the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In the Observation Lounge on Deck 7 early this morning, waiting for our first glimpse of the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Suddenly, Antarctica is visible from the bright windows of the lounge...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Suddenly, Antarctica is visible from the bright windows of the lounge…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Even so, many guests – including myself – were up at 06:00 to catch our first sight of land in Antarctica, and we weren’t disappointed. We passed several large tabular icebergs on our morning of scenic cruising, and watched as penguins raced off icefloes as we made our way slowly past.

The beauty of Antarctica is as indescribable as it is magical. Words show their horrifying inadequacy here.

Antarctica! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Antarctica! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I’ve seen beautiful things in this world before. I’ve been lucky enough to watch elephants run wild in South Africa, and to see the sun set on the Mekong in Cambodia. I’ve looked on as lizards sunbathed themselves in the Galapagos, and sailed silently between the majestic rocky outcroppings of Australia’s King George Falls.

This wasn’t like that. This was like meeting your long-lost soul mate.

The open bow viewing area on Deck 5 became the place to be as Hurtigruten's FRAM neared the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The open bow viewing area on Deck 5 became the place to be as Hurtigruten’s FRAM neared the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a penguin-filled iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a penguin-filled iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and FRAM's Expedition Team members alike line up to take photographs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and FRAM’s Expedition Team members alike line up to take photographs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a huge tabular iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a huge tabular iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I saw my first glimpse of Antarctica, bathed in a million shades of grey and blue that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. The clouds boiled overhead, the seas rolled beneath our keel. Even here, in a land without a permanent population, everything that surrounds us is alive, in its own unique way.

After an enjoyable breakfast and lunch in the Imaq Restaurant (both of which are served buffet-style), we arrived at Brown Bluff, located on the coast of the Antarctic Sound at the end of the Tabarin Peninsula. Interestingly, the Peninsula gets its name from a popular Parisian nightclub that was favored by early polar explorers – though I don’t personally see the connection!

After lunch, we disembarked the FRAM...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After lunch, we disembarked the FRAM…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and headed for Brown Bluff via the ship's Polarcirkel boats. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and headed for Brown Bluff via the ship’s Polarcirkel boats. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Brown Bluff is spectacular, with cliffs that tower 745 metres (2450 feet) above the rocky shoreline. This afternoon, guests aboard the FRAM made their way to Deck 2’s Mud Room to put their boots and lifejackets on in a procedure that is, at last, becoming quick and routine. It’s also fun – going down to Deck 2 to change footwear and put on all the necessary gear somehow heightens the experience.

Disembarkation is very orderly, and the Expedition Team are doing a fantastic job of managing the groups and crowds. Disembarkation today started with Kayak Group A, then moved on to those who were partaking in the first round of optional cruising-only excursions. Finally, Zodiac Groups 3,4,5 and 6 were able to disembark one at a time, followed by Groups 7, 1, and 2. Being in Group 3, I disembarked first this time – but our disembarkation tomorrow will be last, as groups are cycled so that not one group is always first or last. It’s a very clever – and fair – way of arranging things.

Coming ashore on Brown Bluff, with its vast rocky beach and towering cliffs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Coming ashore on Brown Bluff, with its vast rocky beach and towering cliffs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There are also just a few Adelie Penguins. Everywhere. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There are also just a few Adelie Penguins. Everywhere. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Perfect for reflecting. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Perfect for reflecting. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

When guests come ashore, they’re given a short briefing by one of the Expedition Team members before being turned loose to their own devices. These short briefings are important and informative, and let guests know where they can and cannot go, and at what time they must be back at the Polarcirkel boats for the return to the ship. Most are conducted in English and German.

Today, guests could hike along the beach for kilometres so long as they were mindful of the carefully-placed orange cones and flags that denoted where the Adelie Penguin rookeries started. Guests are asked not to step over to the other side of the cones, though this can be difficult in some instances to determine which is the “right” side of the cone to be on.

The enormous icebergs that had been driven ashore by the tide became objects of fascination. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The enormous icebergs that had been driven ashore by the tide became objects of fascination. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...particularly those with a brilliant blue hue to them, indicative of very old, highly compressed ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…particularly those with a brilliant blue hue to them, indicative of very old, highly compressed ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As we walked along the beach, frequent stops were made to touch the many icebergs that had washed ashore. Contrary to what you might think, these aren’t made up of smooth, shiny ice like you’d find in the ice cube tray in your freezer; rather, most were made up largely of ice and snow pellets that you could scoop up in your hand.

Hurtigruten's FRAM, hidden by ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Hurtigruten’s FRAM, hidden by ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It also made sense to stop and photograph these icebergs, many of which held huge crevasses tinted in varying shades of blue. This blue appearance is caused by compressed snow which forms glacial ice, and appears to be blue due to the refraction of light, which cannot penetrate the surface of the ice because it is so tightly compressed. “White” icebergs appear that way because their surfaces still contain a tremendous amount of air, reflecting the sun’s rays. I wouldn’t rely on my description to write your next science essay, but that’s essentially the gist of it.

Here’s my unexpected recommendation for anyone travelling to Antarctica: find yourself a rock or a snowbank and sit down. Don’t move. Just watch and listen.

It's amazing what you can see in Antarctica when you sit still and just take in the scenery. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s amazing what you can see in Antarctica when you sit still and just take in the scenery. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We did as much, finding a nice rock near the shoreline to perch on. Initially, this was for a practical reason – walking in those rubber boots is tough business, and a rest was in order. But then something amazing happened: once we’d stopped walking and started watching, Antarctica came alive.

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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM continues tomorrow from the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula as we explore Danco Island! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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