I thought it was about to time to post more about the expedition that I went on to the Antarctic last year year as an Antarctic Youth Ambassador.
Below is the travel log that I wrote during the expedition, for more blog posts and video blogs from the expedition check out the expedition blog: Morgan in Antarctica
24rs to departure: Sitting at home in Perth, staring at the mess in my room I am feeling overwhelmed. In less than 24 hours I will be on an airplane en route to the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia. My room is covered in expedition clothing, thermals, fleeces, waterproof jackets and pants, beanies, gloves and sponsorship material. I am headed south, as far south as it is possible to go to the last great wilderness on earth, Antarctica. Four months ago I received an email from polar explorer Robert Swan inviting me to join thirty other young people from around the world as an Antarctic Youth Ambassador on an expedition to Antarctica. The expedition aims to show us first hand the effects of our changing climate on the continent and the need to raise awareness in our communities back home about the need to protect Antarctica. Sitting in my room I was feeling more anxious than excited, only a week before had I finally raised the final expedition funds and secured sponsorship for the expedition and it does not seem real that I am finally going to Antarctica.
Arriving in Ushuaia: I arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina with other members of the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program after three days of travel. I am feeling tired and desperately want to rest but I am here safe and sound at the southern most city in the world so I am feeling excited. Upon arrival at our hotel we meet polar explorer, environmentalist and the man behind the expedition Robert Swan. To meet the man that has made all of this happen is the culmination of the last four months of hard work and I am looking forward to meeting all of the other AYAP members and getting to know them better.
Training days: Before departing for Antarctica we need to spend two days in order to be fully prepared and ready for what lays ahead of us in Antarctica. This includes safety training and rope tying skills, as we will be trekking on the continent in teams using ropes. It was also an opportunity to meet the other expedition members and get to know everyone better. We are placed into teams and given the task of hiking up the Marshal Glacier above Ushuaia to work on teamwork and our rope skills. We are woken at 6am to a quick breakfast and then I am out the front of the hotel with my team waiting for our ride up the glacier. A pick up truck arrives and we climb into the back for the fifteen-minute drive up hill. Once at the base of the glacier we hop out of the truck and start out walk uphill. The team really pulled together and we didn’t have a single issue with teamwork or leadership and soon we were at the hallway mark and met by Robert Swan who explained to us that the glacier has receded so much in the last fifty years that the town of Ushuaia is now running out of water.
Departing for Antarctica: The Drake Passage, an ocean crossing feared by even hardened sailors for the ferocity and unpredictability of the weather and ocean. We were all feeling a little bit nervous as the ship pulled up anchor and we slipped away from the port in Ushuaia. We had heard that the waves can be as high as ten metres during a storm on the Drake Passage and I am petrified of waves so I was particularly nervous as the ship pulled away from the shore. Also the ship the Sea Spirit and our home for the next two days has outdone our expectations completely, it is a palace and I know we were all expecting much less. So far the Drake has been kind to us and we had our first meal on board the ship on calm waters
The Drake Passage: Around three am in the morning I began to feel really sea sick, although I once became sea sick kayaking around Penguin Island so it was expected. The ship creaked and rocked from side to side in the three-metre swell and the curtains in my cabin swayed from side to side. I stayed in bed all day and felt really seasick unless I lay on my back staring at the ceiling. The ship was playing the film Happy Feet on the television and after watching it three times in a row I decided to venture out on deck with my cabin mate from Sweden for ‘wave watch.’
First sighting of Antarctica: Today we have crossed over the convergence zone and are in Antarctic waters! This is so exciting and although the seasickness has not abided I have tried to spend as much time on deck as possible. The temperature also dropped around three degrees in the last hour since crossing the convergence zone and we have made our first sighting of land in the far distance, it looks like cloud cover but we can just make out the mountains popping out of the water covered in snow.
Antarctica: We have survived the Drake Passage and have arrived in Antarctica! We caught site of our first iceberg and land yesterday and today we are actually sailing past islands and land. The ice bergs have become much bigger in size and the temperature is getting slowly lower and lower, so I am glad that I packed well and brought enough warm clothing with me! We had our first shore landing today and jumped into zodiacs to land on Mickelson Island. We were greeted to Antarctica by the continents inhabitants, penguins! The tiny island was covered in Gentoo Penguins and also featured the remnants of a small hut and whale bones from old whaling times. It feels surreal to be here finally after such a long time of planning and fundraising but I cant wait for the next shore landing to see more of this magical place!
Lemaire Channel: Today we were awoken early at 6am to a voice over the intercom: “team inspire, team inspire, team inspire. We are currently cruising through the Lemaire Channel get our on deck to see a wonderful sight” and a wonderful sight it was. Even though it was freezing cold and windy we layered up and raced onto deck four and the bow of the ship to see a panoramic view of majestic snow capped mountains surrounding us. It was the first time that it really hit me that we were in Antarctica, and it was literally surrounding us as we sailed slowly through the channel. The mountains were sharp and white with black showing through and the sun was glinting on them causing a wonderful contrast. As we sailed along ice bergs slowly creeped past with the blue ice brightly showing up next to the brilliant white of the snowy mountains.
I really did not know how to react and more than one person shed a tear. We were also joined by some wonderful animal life and some Orcas were swimming right next to the bow of the ship. Antarctica really put herself on show for us this morning.
Camping on Ice: In order to be on the expedition I had to gain sponsorship and support from companies, and I was lucky enough to receive overwhelming support. Today was ‘flag day’ and we landed in Neeko Harbour to have photographs with Robert Swan and our sponsors logos. It also happened to be the most beautiful place we have been to yet and after the photos we hiked to the top of a mountain and sat over looking the harbour with glaciers and ice bergs and penguins all around. I sat and contemplated what I have seen and learnt and tried to put it into words. The solitude did not last long though because we had to move on to our camp for the night. Yes that’s right we were sleeping under the Antarctic night sky in sleeping bags for the night. We formed groups and dug out a sleeping area in the ice and settled in for a night of star gazing. Once everyone stopped talking the silence was deafening, there was not a single noise at all.
Polar Plunge: The waters of Antarctica are ice blue and cold, with ice and bergs floating along. Yet todays challenge bordered on crazy, tie yourself to a rope and jump overboard into the ice cold waters of Antarctica. I started to get cold feet and instead watched some of the other expedition members participate in the polar plunge. I still felt cold from last nights camping on ice and didn’t want to get really cold again. Yet my adventurous spirit overcame me and soon I was racing back to my cabin and getting into my bathers and dressing gown and I joined the other people standing shivering on deck waiting for their turn. A fellow expedition member Lillian from Botswana was also convinced to jump and together we overcame our fear of the freezing waters by jumping in together. It started to snow as we were waiting our turn and the polar plunge was over so quickly because we jumped out of the water as fast as we could. Luckily our ship is equipped with a Jacuzzi and we raced upstairs to deck 5 and sat in the warm water with the snow falling on us watching the Antarctic as we sailed to our next destination.
Glacier Hike: The zodiacs dropped us off at Brown Bluff for our biggest hike yet. We were roped up and in teams were instructed to hike up to the top of the glacier making sure to look out for crevasses along the way. I had a horrible time slipping and sliding on the ice and when Robert Swan came to assist me I took a large tumble and dragged him down a slope with me. Surprisingly we made it to the top unscathed and it was the most beautiful view of the harbour.
2041 E-base: Today was our final day in the Antarctic before leaving back to civilisation. Today we sailed across to King George Island the site of Bellinghousen station, the Russian base and the 2041 E-base. A private individual can not have a base on Antarctica but Robert Swan was given permission from the Russians to erect the e-base, a base that runs off 100% renewable energy in Antarctica. Robert first went to King George Island to move over 1,500 tonnes of rubbish and abandoned metal that was covering the shore line. It took him eight long years but finally the shore was free of any rubbish and the ice and penguins were able to reclaim their home. In exchange the Russians granted Robert the opportunity to erect his own base on their territory. Seeing the base and meeting Skye, the man who lives there for a month each year to maintain the base was really inspiring. If renewable energy can power a base in the most remote and extreme area on earth then surely it can be implemented everywhere else in the world. After seeing the e base and listening to Rob talk about renewable energy we hiked for around forty minutes to the other side of the island to see some elephant seals. The area we hiked through we covered in small waterways and moss and it was strange to see plant life again after only seeing ice and white for so long. We had to be careful not to step onto the moss because it takes thousands of years to grow and a footstep will destroy it. This meant that we had to stick to the frozen streams and this caused a lot of fun for the Aussies as we skidded our way across them, and I managed to only fall over once. Once at the beach on the other side, which also felt weird, as it looked a little bit like an Australian beach although obviously a lot colder, Chinstrapp penguins and some elephant seals greeted us as we arrived on the beach. These seals are massive and were at least three metres long and not yet fully grown! They sluggishly made their way to the waters edge and then hovered under the water looking like large rocks until they suddenly popped their heads out above the water.
Final landing and departure: On-board we were all feeling a little bit down about our departure until we heard a message on the intercom saying that we had an opportunity for one last shore landing in Antarctica. Almost everyone scrambled to thrown on warm clothing and jump into the zodiacs to land on Atchico Island, home to thousands of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Literally thousands of penguins were chilling out on the island and we were able to roam amongst them and take in our surroundings. Just observing the penguins going about their day is fascinating and they were still in the moulting season so some of the penguins were sporting bizarre and comical hair styles. I sat down on the beach and wrote in my journal for a while until my hand became too cold with the occasional curious penguin waddling over to check out who this strange creature was that had invaded their beach. All too soon we had to jump back into zodiacs and race back to the ship for the bell ringing departure ceremony. We stood out on the bow of the deck as the ships bell was rung to honour Antarctica, to honour the Drake Passage for a safe crossing and to thank the ships captain and crew. After the ceremony everyone else rushed inside out of the cold for dinner but as the anchor was pulled up and was sailed out into the Drake Passage I stood out on deck and watched the sun set over the island and penguins we had just been on. I did not want to leave this place that has caused so many thoughts and emotions in me that I do not know what to think. I do not know if I will ever come back to Antarctica, and if I do I know that it will never look the same as it does right now as it is changing due to climate change. The expedition has been both inspiring and puzzling, as I have met so many great people and seen the most beautiful place on earth, but I have also realised that I have become confused with my thoughts and I can think clearly in this place. Maybe it is Antarctica’s way of making you live in the moment and wait until you are back on dry land before digesting what you have seen.
The Drake Lake: The Drake passage caused some concern on the way to Antarctica with many of us falling ill. It was with great trepidation that we re entered the Drake to start our journey back to Ushuaia; Argentina because we knew that sea sickness was imminent. Yet 24 hours in, we were pleasantly surprised when we looked out from our cabin window to see a lake, with not a single wave on the horizon. Antarctica had been really great to us and now the Drake was helping us to get home safe as well. One of the expedition leaders has been on this crossing over thirty times, and said that he has never seen it calm like this before! Due to the fact that the ocean crossing has been so calm this time everyone on the ship started to get cabin fever, so a salsa class was organised in the lounge on level 5 and this turned into a challenge of staying balanced as although the Drake was a lake, the ship was still rocking gently from side to side. The class was soon being rushed from port to starboard and back again and this made keeping time and not stepping on your partner’s foot impossible but incredibly fun.
The Beagle Channel: We awoke this morning to the cry of ‘land ahoy!’ We have made it back to civilisation and after cruising into the beagle channel have dropped anchor to wait for a day before being allowed to dock into port. Sitting on the ship all day after arriving back from sea was frustrating. We were surrounded by land and yet we were not able to dock because we were a day early so we were stuck on the ship. To pass the time we listened to a few lectures and wandered around on deck breathing in the fresh air and writing in our journals but soon cabin fever started to set in and I began to get restless. Luckily we had a farewell session planned that included mocktail hour, the expedition had been run as a dry ship, followed by a captains dinner and departure ceremony. It will be really hard to leave this ship and experience behind including all of the great people that I have met. Some people have really inspired me and Amal from Bahrain is one of these people. She is the first Bahraini woman to ever come to Antarctica and has had to overcome so many hurdles to make it this far. She will be returning to her home country to face even more challenges and she is such a strong and determined woman that I know that she will be successful with her project.
Final thoughts: At three am the pilot boat arrived to help guide our ship into port in Ushuaia. We have officially ended the expedition and were up and about really early to pack and get off the ship. Everyone was flying off to different destinations at different times but we were able to say goodbye and I headed to the airport with high hopes for everyone and the experiences that we were going to take away from the expedition. I was pleasantly surprised to find out whilst at the airport waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires that I was not sitting with my other expedition members on the same flight in economy, but that I had been upgraded to row 2 in business class! I could not get the smile off my face as I grinned at everyone filing past into economy like an idiot as I had been dreading squeezing into the tiny economy seats on the airplane for a four hour flight. Instead I sat very comfortably in my armchair in business next to Roberto, a really nice guy from Costa Rica who was also on the expedition and chatted all things sustainability and South America. Arriving back in Buenos Aires was a culture shock after seeing the untouched wonder of Antarctica and everything seemed so large and noisy. I have had the most incredible and humbling experience in Antarctica and have learnt so much about the environment and the effect that we are having on our earth. I can’t wait to arrive back home and start working on protecting our environment.