Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Antarctica 2023 ✈ Day 6: Orne Harbour • Danco Island • Mountaineering

Antarctica had always felt like a distant and unreachable bucket list destination, not just because of its geographical location, but more so because it is so expensive. Honestly, I never thought it'd be possible for me to check off this bucket list item but we decided to make this trip happen and celebrated our 10th anniversary with an extraordinary adventure to the end of the earth - Antarctica! I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally step foot on my 7th continent and to experience this incredible journey with our moms.

13D12N Antarctica Cruise - Oceanwide Basecamp Expedition
1 December 2023: Paradise Bay & Lemaire Channel
2 December 2023: Pleneau & Petermann Island
3 December 2023: Port Lockroy & Damoy Point
4 December 2023: Cuverville Island
5-7 December 2023: Drake Passage & Disembarkation

30 November 2023 (Thurs): Day 6 - Orne Harbour & Danco Island

After spending the night camping out on Antarctica and a quick nap on the ship, we were ready for our 3rd full day in Antarctica!

After returning from camping, I was actually planning to sleep in and skip breakfat but managed to make it to breakfast at 7.15am. At this point, we are not bothered keeping the room neat anymore. The sofa in the middle of the room had turned into our clothes hanger for easy access.

We were supposed to start the morning with a landing at Orne Harbour but had a change in plan to a full zodiac cruise due to challenging ice conditions. Nevertheless, we were all in a good mood despite the lack of sleep the night before.

Certainly not complaining because the weather was beautiful and I was excited to see the sun! 
Look at the majestic snow mountains!

We had Juan again as our expedition guide for this morning's zodiac cruise. =)

An exciting start for the morning as we spotted 2 humpback whales fluking within 10 minutes...wow! Spot the mountaineers on the zigzag trail up the mountains.

We cruised around the area enjoying the scenery while waiting for the whales.

The guides have a buddy system where 2 guides are paired together. Juan and Misha (the other guide in the photo) are usually paired together because they are both photographers.

Gotta take a panorama photo to see the vastness of Antarctica. The mountains are often covered by fog so we were lucky with a clear day to see the entire mountain. The snow is so pristine! One thing many don't realize is how remote Antarctica is...it is really in the middle of nowhere. We can get travel insurance with the best medical evacuation coverage but if anything really happens, there is no way to get a helicopter to come all the way here.

After spending 40 minutes finding whales, we were ready to move on to a different area. As we were leaving, we spotted this double fluke...lucky us!

We then moved to the other side of the harbour to find the other resident of Antarctica. We spent the next 45 minutes watching these adorably clumsy chinstrap penguins on the snowy rocky terrains. It's mating/nesting season so the penguins were busy moving (and stealing) rocks to build the nest.

Stealing rocks is a common behavior among penguins because it's a lot less energy and effort to steal a rock than to go find one. They'll steal a rock from a neighbor's nest so they don't have to go hunting further away down to the shoreline.

Moving on to the Gentoo penguins colony, but spotted an out of place Adelie penguin waving to us. We were lucky to spot the 3 different types of penguins on this zodiac cruise. Can you differentiate the 3 types of penguins...Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo?

Then we found this lonely weddell seal enjoying it's solitude all alone on the shore.

Surrounded by towering glaciers and ice

Time to return to the ship at 11am. From sunny blue skies to misty overcast, this 2-hour zodiac cruise had been a stunning visual spectacle!

Buffet lunch with a glacier view at 12pm

Went to the deck after lunch to check out how the weather would be like for our mountaineering session in the afternoon

And was rewarded with these stunning views of glaciers and icebergs

The weather looked good at 1.45pm for our mountaineering session.  Mom did not join us for this activity and had fun chilling in the ship. We picked up our mountaineering gear on the ship before boarding the zodiac, which included a harness and an axe, and put on the snowshoes when we arrived at Danco Island.

We were hiking in groups of 5 with our guide, Johnny, leading in front. We started our uphill hike at 2.10pm with blue skies peeking through the clouds.

Hubby was in front of me, while MiL was behind me. Since we were all roped-up together, we had to keep up with the pace of the group. 

All these photos were taken within a span of 30 minutes. From sun to fog to snow. It started snowing and we certainly did not see this coming when we started the hike. We even thought we dressed too warm at the beginning of the hike...lol! Welcome to Antarctica weather! 

It started snowing harder the higher we went, almost like a blizzard, and we had an almost 'whiteout' experience when we made it to our destination. Whiteout is a term used by mountaineers when driving snow makes it difficult to differentiate between the land beneath your feet and the open air around you. The background was so white I could take a passport photo here...lol!

Our 'destination' was this gentoo penguin colony. No panoramic view from high up thanks to the snow and fog, but still quite an experience to hike in the snow. 

After hiking uphill for about an hour, it was time to go back downhill. Guess what, the sky started clearing up along our hike down...lol! Ours was the basic mountaineering so the hike wasn't difficult but it required some stamina and strength to keep up the pace of the group going uphill. We also had to make sure to walk like a duck in our snowshoes to avoid tripping ourselves (as you can see from the guy in the bottom right photo).

Successfully completed our mountaineering activity at 3.45pm!

We were free to explore the area and decided to check out more penguin colonies while MiL headed back to the bay.

Had to cross these multi-lane penguin highways to get to the colonies. Penguins have the right of way wherever and whenver so we had to be careful not to block them on their highways...lol! 

Gentoo penguins were my favorite because they are so cute and clumsy. November is a mating season for penguins so we were entertained with courtship displays, nest-building, and stone-stealing. We literally spent an hour watching them and did not get bored at all. 

We were required to stay outside the margins of a colony and observe from a safe distance, and the staff was also there to be the 'traffic police' for the penguins and made sure everyone does not disturb the wildlife. In general, we tried to keep a distance of at least 5m from any wildlife.

This tranquil backdrop of pristine Antarctic landscape was nothing short of magical. 
I took way too many photos on this trip and it was hard shorlisting just a few to post. 

The final activity for the afternoon was polar plunge, which we gladly skipped. We had fun watching others scream and shriek as they dipped into the ice-cold waters, and took some funny photos. The staff prepared and provided towels for this activity. The penguins were obviously unbothered by all the chaos around them and were busy in their own romance. The black spot at the top of the mountain on the bottom right photo was where we hiked up to earlier.

Went out on the deck to enjoy the views before the daily recap. Thankful for another unforgettable day in one of the world's most remote and pristine environments.

Daily recap at the lounge and to find out where were were going tomorrow. Looks like another good weather day for us!

Buffet dinner at 7pm.

Looked out of our room's porthole and saw the campsite for the next group tonight. What a view!

Profiles of some of the expedition guides on our trip. We got to know each of them better as the trip went on. These people are truly 'following their passions' and make a living from their passions.
I still can't believe Bill is 79 years old...this guy has too much energy for his age!

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