Weather: Overcast with low clouds and light winds
Air Temperature: 37˚F
Sea Temperature: 1 ˚C
About six o’clock in the morning I woke up to overcast skies, but calm seas. Our destination was not far ahead of us, but clouds and light fog hid the volcanic island from sight. While having my second cup of coffee, a faint outline started appearing in the distance; it was Deception Island, our goal for the day.
Right at seven, the Prince Albert II made its way through Neptune’s Bellows, which is the entrance into this ancient volcano that has been breached by the Antarctic seas. We cruised by towering cliffs, home to nesting Cape Petrels, and hundreds of Chinstrap Penguins feeding on the abundant krill in the waters around the island.
Soon we were inside the caldera and dropping anchor in Whaler’s Bay, home to the remains of an old whaling station and a British research base. Almost immediately I was in a Zodiac, shuttling to shore those guests who were going on a long walk to the Bailey Head area on the outside of the island. The following is an account of that hike by one of the Expedition Team members that led the hike.
Whaler’s Bay to/from Bailey Head Overlook Hike Supplement
by Peter W. Damisch Historian, General Naturalist & Cartographer
A select group of hikers chose to participate in an optional hike out of the Deception Island caldera, over the crater rim and out to a stunning location that overlooks a huge chinstrap penguin rookery. This challenging route can only be attempted during a narrow window each year after much of the winter’s snow has melted away and before the slick glacial ice is exposed underneath. The hikers started out from the Whaler’s Bay beach, steaming with volcanic steam, then proceeded up a steep valley enclosed by shattered rock- and dirt-covered ice, which was also bisected by a small meltwater stream.
The path became quite steep as the group climbed into a misty environment that was quite surreal: cold, foggy, glacial and volcanic. With periodic short rest periods, these intrepid explorers, led by members of the Expedition Team including myself, literally discovered the best routes through the snowfields. Since the glacier re-sculpts the path each year, it is never an exact science, and this adds to the magic of participating in such a unique experience. After sliding down one snowfield, the group finally reached the largest chinstrap penguin colony on Deception Island, a place of wonder overlooking steep cliffs to the sea. All too soon it was time to retrace the steps back towards the landing site.
One final surprise awaited, the fog began to clear just before descending from the final high ridge and we could clearly the abandoned whaling and research station along the beach with the Prince Albert II quietly anchored just offshore in Whaler’s Bay. It was a very strenuous but stupendously rewarding 4-hour adventure.
After the hikers left the beach, I started bringing the remainder of the guests to shore for the rest of the morning’s activities. There was a quick history lesson about the area given by our historian, Victoria Salem. Then it was off to explore the remains of the stations, and a shorter walk that our geologist, Franz Gingele, and I led up Ronald Hill.
The final act for the morning was the “Polar Plunge”! Some of the Expedition Team members had dug a large hole in the beach at low tide, with the intent to have it filled by the natural seepage of thermal waters through the volcanic black sands of the caldera. Soon there were a number of brave souls peeling off layers down to their swim suits, diving into the cold waters of the bay and quickly running for the warmth of our little plunge pool. Even the long walkers made it back in time to take advantage of this unique opportunity. A lot of screaming and laughter followed, and a good time was had by all!
Soon I was taking the last of the guests back to the ship for a hot shower and lunch, while the ship repositioned about five miles further into the caldera and our afternoon destination of Telefon Bay. Right after lunch was finished, the Expedition Team headed to shore and got ready for the afternoon activities: more walks.
I led one of the long hikes that walked along the crater rim of the 1967 eruption. There is dramatic but stark scenery in this relatively recent event area! There were also some shorter walks offered for those feeling a bit less adventurous.
Soon it was back to the ship to get ready for the evening’s events; cocktail party, an amazing five-course meal and, of course, the New Year’s celebration. Three, two, one; “Happy New Year”! What an end to an amazing day!!