Well, that’s it. It’s almost all over. We sit now in our last weekend before resupply, just waiting for word that the MPV Everest is on its way to get us. This was my first season south and what an incredible year it has been. The hardest question to answer from people back home is “What’s been the best bit?”
How do you answer that?
From the very beginning, literally when the Aurora Australis left the dock in Hobart and began its journey down the Derwent, I was bombarded with these completely unique and incredible experiences that had absolutely no comparable measure to them. Once, having passed 60⁰ South and catching sight of our first ice bergs, us first timers lost our minds, getting excited seeing, and trying to photograph, these tiny little bergs, way, WAAYYY off in the distance. The more seasoned expeditioners laughed at our energy as they couldn’t care less. Closer to the continent we started to push through more pack ice. One of my favourite memories of the voyage is standing at the bow of the ship as it steadily pushed its way through the ice. It was a very low-vis day, but also really low wind, and we were getting this really nice dusting of snow. Big, fat, but gentle snow. Even the ship's engines seemed to be muffled by the incredible whiteness that completely surrounded us, creating a very surreal atmosphere.
Once on the continent itself, and having gotten through resupply and the craziness involved with that, there was finally an opportunity to look out the window and start to register where I was. "Holy sh*t... I’m in Antarctica...that’s Antarctica out there" I thought, as I stared out the mess windows, looking at the jagged ice cliffs around station pushing out to sea. Only a couple weeks later I tried to look out that very same window and it was completely blocked out by snow. Thick blowing snow, stopping me even catching sight of the ground, which was only metres from the window. The winds smashing into the red shed causing the whole building to shake and vibrate similar to steady aeroplane turbulence.
Field training changed my perception once again, as we rode quads up the steady rise behind station and on to the plateau. This provided a better view of the surrounding mountains and the endless, almost unfathomable, amount of ice. I then spent my first night out in a bivvy bag. It was -21⁰ as I peered out of my bag, clear-skied with an Aurora visible above and Rumdoodle mountain silhouetted by the moon rising behind it. To be fair, the next morning after a blissful 45 minutes of sleep, condensation from my breath freezing and now snow falling down on my face inside the bivvy bag, I wasn’t feeling overly chuffed with my life decisions. Now though, looking back on it all, it’s all part of a wonderful experience.
Having said that, I’m sure some stories wouldn’t sound like much fun when sharing with people back home. Stories like the time, during the middle of winter, when I spent enough time outside to not only build up little icicles on my eyelashes, but then froze them together when I blinked. I literally couldn’t open my eyes until I could wipe the ice from my face. Or after returning from a full day quad trip on sea ice, I had built up enough condensation underneath the neck buff I was using to cover my face, that it froze my beard to the neck buff. I had to run my neck under a hot tap in order to unfreeze it!
The opportunity to travel on sea ice was well worth it though, especially on quads. The trips out have been incredible. I was lucky enough to go out as far as Ledingham, and spending a week and a half out in the field all at once, was fantastic. The field huts are a great get away, each have their own character and are situated near some incredible natural features. It might be a wind scour, melt lake, islands, mountains, glaciers, a rookery or even an iceberg that has been trapped for who knows how long, that you can walk between. That’s the thing about this place, it has this amazing vast nothingness about it, but you can’t take your eyes off it.
People expect that you would get sick of the lack of colour, but the colour contrast down here is insane and it constantly changes with the seasons. In autumn, the sun follows the horizon and gives off these unbelievable day-long sunrise/sunsets. Even the colour of the ice is dynamic. On a clear day with full sun the blue ice and snow look pretty similar, but then, when the sky becomes overcast, the blue ice turns a much brighter neon blue, changing how you see features like ice cliffs and glaciers.
Then there’s the wildlife. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world you can be amongst animals like this. Pretty much everywhere else, animals have been forced to adapt around us and either see us as a food source or a threat. Here, we are neither. Here, we are the guests. This makes visiting the emperor penguins particularly special because they will come right up to us. Literally an arm’s reach away at times. But not because they are looking for food, or trying to protect their territory. They’re simply just as curious about us as we are of them. At places like Auster rookery we just sat down on the sea ice, amongst these giant, towering icebergs, surrounded by an iconic animal in its natural habitat. So few people will ever get to experience that, and just that statement alone sums up life down here.
Ultimately, it’s the people we share all this with that make an already incredible experience even more so. Nineteen people with different professions, from all walks of life, squeezed together in one large red building in the middle of nowhere, for a year. It wasn't always a perfect community of love and harmony, but given the length of time spent together, living in each other’s pockets, I think we have been extremely lucky. We have continued to exist and work together in a really great way. Even after all this time we still enjoy just doing the basics together, and the fun we have really makes the experience. You can’t leave a meal, desert or tea/coffee anywhere with out expecting it to go missing by the time you turn around. You can’t leave your phone anywhere without finding selfies of everyone else except you on it later. You can’t leave your drink unattended at the bar without having it laced with tabasco. You can’t slip up talking on the radio, or anything really, without being gently reminded of it for the rest of the season. The creativity and generosity of these people is incredible, it is amazing the talents people hide and it has been my genuine pleasure getting to know everyone of these fantastic people.
Even a summary like this doesn’t quite paint the full picture. There is so much more that could be added, but I think its pretty easy to see how there is no ‘best bit’. Leaving will be bitter-sweet and I have no problem admitting I get a little emotional thinking about leaving this place behind. It certainly has been one of the best experiences of my life and I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of it.
Guy Edgar (Dieso)