Saturday, January 18, 2020

Lemaire Channel and Paradise Bay

As mentioned in my last post, the day that I got to spend aboard Holland America's Zaandam included cruising to parts of the peninsula I haven't seen yet, which was a really fun, beautiful experience. In the morning, we attempted a pass through the Lemaire Channel, which is supposed to be one of the most scenic experiences of the whole peninsula due to the steep walls of rock on either side of the narrow channel. Unfortunately, there was too much ice in it to actually go through (you can see the much smaller boat up ahead that was able to navigate much closer than the Zaandam was, but even they had to turn back too rather than passing through the channel. But the approach was still GORGEOUS.

This is the Legend, the private yacht you can see in the first picture, way up ahead of us in the mouth of the Lemaire Channel. It has a helicopter on deck, which the Legend's captain told the captain told the Zaandam captain was for the guests who were chartering it to use to fly up to the top of mountains that they could then snowboard down.

Also, check out these hanging glaciers--the stair-step effect that happens when a glacier is covering an extremely steep slope.

Since we couldn't get through the Lemaire Channel, we had some time on our hands and spent the afternoon in Paradise Bay, which was beautiful as its name suggests, along with the weather.

Soooooo grateful for this experience and getting to see these rare and amazing things. It's definitely one of those times when I'm pinching myself that I am actually getting PAID to be here and do and see these amazing things.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tourist visits

One of the really fun parts of Palmer for me so far has been that we get visitors to our little corner of Antarctica. I've gotten to board a few ships at this point, as well as to lead tours around the station for visiting groups, and it's been really re-energizing to see things through fresh eyes and be reminded how special it is to be here. 

For example, we recently had a yacht visit that had 12 Estonians on board who are circling the globe in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the first known sighting of Antarctica, by Estonian-born Russian explorer Bellingshausen in January 1820. After they toured the station, they invited any of us who were interested to come on board and see their private yacht. Hard to imagine this getting tossed around the Drake Passage!

We've also had small-end (100-200 passenger) cruise ships come visit, such as this National Geographic/Linblad vessel that anchored in our harbor for a couple of nights:

Their crew brought their passengers on board in Zodiacs for small group tours around station, which I trained to lead and have gotten to do on my own a couple of times since.

And then there are the BIG cruise ships, such as this Holland America vessel, the Zaandam, which bring nearly 2,000 passengers down to the Antarctic. There is no way we can have that many people at wee little Palmer, so instead, we go to them! I got to ride about 30 minutes from station in a Zodiac with 7 others for a rendezvous with the Zaandam...

...climb a Jacob's ladder into the ship...

...and spend the day in cruise boat heaven!

For the majority of the 12 hours we were on the boat, we got to just do whatever we whatever food they were serving, we could have swam, could have gotten haircuts and pedicures (if we'd been willing to pay cruise ship prices), and so on. Our only obligation was to participate in a couple of Q&A sessions in the ship's theater...

Which was actually totally fun.

The rest of the day, we cruised around the peninsula and I got to see some gorgeous new scenery I hadn't seen before. (The next post will just be about those new sights.)

And when our boat guys from station came back to pick us up at the end of the day, there were hundreds of people watching and filming from the starboard decks, shouting goodbye and waving to us. We felt like SUCH celebrities.

Pretty cool experiences, all around. We do these visits and tours as part of outreach and education to the public about the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is of course funded by taxpayers. It's definitely one of my favorite parts of being at Palmer, so far.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Pi Island

Another magical island visit, this time to Pi Island (USGS name is Detrich Island), a rocky mount that first began poking out from the steady retreat of the glacier that covers Anvers Island on 3/14/14--hence the local name of Pi Island. It still has an ice cap covering most of it, but circumnavigating the edges was a perfect evening's entertainment.

I loved all of the olivine veins prevalent in the rocks here.

And the ice cap still covering the island hangs along its sides in beautiful, dramatic ways.

Excellent icicle farm!

We weren't the only ones who found Pi Island to be a lovely place to hang out that evening, either. Elephant Seal pups were enjoying the calm and quiet of this little spot as well.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


Sometimes when we go out on boats, we don't get off and hike around islands, we just drive around on the water and see what we see. This got even MORE beautiful and interesting around Christmas, when the humpbacks came to town.

We still stopped to appreciate the gorgeous skies and views and water...

And there are always new (to me) things to see, like Cormorant Island, eponymously named for its nesting birds, with Mount Williams in the background. 

But it sure was a nice salve to the sting of holidays away from my family, to bring a couple of thermoses of hot chocolate out to the dock, hop in a zodiac with half-a dozen new friends...

...and head out to commune with the humpbacks.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Amsler Island

Now that the ice is largely blown out from around the station and we're through the more hectic, first half of the season, the reason that people keep coming back to Palmer year after year after year (which a lot of them do--contractor retention rates are way higher here than at other stations, I am pretty sure): the surrounding area is gorgeous and if boats are available, we can take them out to surrounding islands and go for hikes.

These pictures are from the visit I got to make to Amsler Island, which is where Palmer Station was originally established in the 1950's. For a number of reasons, a decade later they moved it to where it now is. But there are still some signs of the former station here, even as beautiful and abundant moss and lichen have taken over much of the island's surface.

It was so peaceful and gorgeous to wander around...

Though when we got to a part of the island called Sheathbill Cove, the peace was usurped by the extraordinary number of elephant seals sprawled about (probably at least 100 of them in view at once) and making their very distinctive, appalling sounds. It was such a mesmerizing experience to just sit and watch and listen to them.