21.2 2017 2.18 pm
Today we encountered a new barrier to success on Antarctic peaks. Throughout the afternoon time seemed to be against us, slipping through our fingers. On steep snow slopes we would stumble, or stand stock still, staring into the distance.
The greatest obstacles to summiting our chosen peak today were the gentoo penguins nosing curiously around our landing point, the grunting seals squabbling on a nearby iceberg, and the pod of humpbacks cruising gently in the sound below us. Climbing in Antarctica involves tearing your eyes away from the incredible abundance of wildlife and sometimes that can be close to impossible. Even though we didn’t have time to make it to the top of Pion Peak, today has been astounding.
This morning saw me having to wipe the residue of a humpback’s exhalation off my camera lens. The whale spent about half an hour weaving and diving within inches of our zodiac. I was knelt down at the bow, looking into the w ater when the whale surged upward from the deep and rolled its great head to the side, gazing at me curiously with one of its dark aquatic eyes before flicking a fluke and gliding away. It was surreal.
Something Simon said painted the incredible wildlife of the Antarctic in a new light: “to see this kind of natural abundance we have to come to the coldest, windiest and most hostile environment on earth, just imagine what the rest of the world with its jungles and forests, wetlands and plains might have looked like with less human interference.” Antarctica is a unique slice of a world that might have been, the last bastion of the truly wild. I’m hooked.