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9. My House is a Van in Montana;

But it's in Alaska Now

overcast 32 °F

Low clouds offered us a different day as the sun was obliterated but Expedition Director Mike made it clear that we should “lather up” with sunscreen nonetheless.


After donning our stylish lifejackets—we wear them everywhere but can, on occasion, take them off for hikes ashore—was off with the first of two Zodiacs to Ronge Island for a snowshoe excursion. The windchill was greater than before on our voyage out but calm seas prevail so no spray complicated our trip. Arch.JPGWe passed by a beautiful arch berg en route to our penguin guarded destination.

Gentoos own the island which is small but high. Our harbor was inhospitable compared to early landings; we had to negotiate rocks in the water and could not beach the Zodiac as we had previously done. The Zodiacs—one of which was laden with snowshoeing gear—were drifting secured by anchor lines once we disembarked.


We wear boots and as long as we don’t step into water taller than their 18” height, there is no problem. Our disembarkation water depth was no more than a foot so all was well.

The snow on Ronge was crusty and contaminated with lots and lots and lots of frozen penguin poop. Walking involved locating a spot where it would seem that the crust would support the walker’s weight. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t.

Bonus Video:

As we reached higher ground we paused to don our snowshoes. That made the walking much easier by a factor of four or five as our human feet became the size of duck feet, spreading the weight over more of the crust ensuring that sinking up to one’s knees was no longer a risk.


found the hike up the hill difficult and opted, about half-way up, to pause and commune with some penguins on their nests while the rest of our party continued to the peak. My stop offered up some drama between a penguin and a predatory bird who had taken up watch on the penguin nests hoping for a chance to poach an egg.


The view was different due to the low grey cloud cover; not better or worse, perhaps best described as a bit eerie.

We were stuck aground on our departure from Ronge but after a bit of tugging this way and that we were free and sailed back, past the arched berg, to Hebridean Sky and another wonderful lunch. One of our expedition crew, Stella, during a conversation where we asked where home was, offered that she was from New Zealand but really was aboard ship most of the time so her home was described thusly: “My House is a Van in Montana; but it’s in Alaska now.” She is here with her other half Ewen and is living her dream. Conversations such as these are had only aboard expedition ships. To experience one, you must go on one.


After lunch, I noticed that head waiter Israel was serving ice cream. Six feet away I saw a bowl of luscious bananas. I asked Israel if he had any toppings. “Yes, we have whatever topping you might like.” I said I was thinking of making a banana split. “Sir, I will make it for you.” Israel peels a banana in the exact same way that a waiter in a Michelin star restaurant might bone a branzino. His elegant strokes removing the peel with knife and spoon, his deft slices bisecting the banana, the halves delicately lifted into an oblong bowl. But he was not finished. After dipping his scoop into warm water, he wafted ice cream; then he, reminding me of Pollock painting, splashed first this topping and then that. Never have I seen a presentation. At least since last night when sous chef Elle carved penguins and other animals from the rinds of fresh fruit. Hebridean Sky apologizes for nothing when it comes to style. The hotel staff is to be commended at every turn.


While we ate, the crew motored us up the Gerlache Strait to a spot where we, rather than anchor, will engage in a manual process of “hovering” in the same spot while our expedition parties go ashore once more. That means the helmsman will be constantly adjusting our position so that we, in effect, remain stationary. It’s a bit tricky and they do it manually.


This afternoon’s adventure is to Orne Harbour, technically our second continental landing. This is my first opportunity to leave the Gentoos behind and study the Chinstraps at their rookery. But a surprise is in store as we pass a small iceberg with a lone Adelie penguin perched on top. We circled the berg; he/she was alone and far from home nesting grounds.


Continuing to shore we are quickly aware of the zig-zag hike that will be required for us to reach the rookery of the resident chinstraps. I grab a ski/climbing pole and get busy. All along the way, Lauren—who is in front of me—stops and turns. She hears cracks of thunder-like sound from the glacier across the bay. We look but see nothing. I think, somewhere in the back of her mind—of Dianne. She is out kayaking. A large falling chunk of glacier ice creates a wave. We had just discussed the swamping of boats by waves over lunch. I didn’t ask, but I think her heart was with Dianne and not on the task ahead of us.

Bonus Video:

Arriving at the top, passing our 16-strong Chinese contingent who were all, one by one, posing with the red flag of China, we made our way to the Chinstrap rookery. These penguins are smaller and their call is nothing like the Gentoo’s trumpet. Chinstraps sound more like blackbirds and call they did: predator skuas soared overhead looking for eggs. I spotted one skua with an egg in its beak streaking over a ridge. The Chinstraps raised holy hell, all the while focusing on their own treasures, progeny at risk. The Chinstraps have chosen high ground to breed and their daily trek for food is an arduous one. They scale the back side of this “hill” and, given how short each of their steps is, a Fitbit count would be impressive indeed. They go down to feed and come back up to mind their nest.

After my descent, I made my way back to Hebridean Sky to prepare for my polar plunge. It is what it sounds like. The older I get, the colder I get. I should have taken the plunge as a much younger man: I'm Salt Water Daffy.

Bonus Video:

Posted by paulej4 16:55 Archived in Antarctica

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It' really the magic of your words that puts us at the scene...like "phantom" passengers!

by nancy baker

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