Mawlers’ Big Adventure ’06:

The Mawlers Go Bi-polar

Yalour Islands Around-the-World Shot

Mikkelson Harbour or Well It Is Antarctica, After All 12/11/06

The kayakers on our trip didn't put in on the first evening, since the weather was lovely. But the next morning, at our next landing -- Mikkelson Harbour -- they were bound and determined to get in some paddling, despite the Antarctic conditions.

Layer Up

Most of you probably already know that Lea Ann tends to have a broken thermostat. When others are shivering and wearing winter gear, she likes to trot about in short sleeves. Mikkelson Harbour proved to be the core-body-temperature-lowering impetus for something here-to-fore unknown. Lea Ann was cold.

Lea Ann's Layers for Mikkelson Harbour:

  • Long John Bottoms
  • Tights
  • Trekking Pants (bottoms zipped on
  • Waterproof Pants
  • Wool Socks
  • Glove liners
  • Two heavy long-sleeved shirts (of the REI/wicking variety)
  • Fleece Jacket (a.k.a. my fuzzy)
  • Parka Shell with hood
  • Gum Boots
  • Cold-weather gloves (thinsulate) -- these make it IMPOSSIBLE to do anything dextrous
  • Toboggan hat (a.k.a. beannie)
  • Polarizing sunglasses
  • Chapstick (critical)
  • We thought we could forego sunscreen... we couldn't see the ship, let alone the sun.

Stuart was similarly decked out, only with two pairs of socks.

If we considered the weather at Deceptioin Island bad, this was horrible, and it just got worse the longer we were there. The Captain eventually sounded the horn to bring everyone back to the ship because of the conditions, but getting everyone back to the ship proved interesting, since the ship, a mere 200 meters off shore, was completely obscured in fog and snow.

Mikkelson Harbour has another of the common orange huts that dot the islands around the Antarctic Peninsula. We assume the orange is to make them visible from the sea, setting them off from the snow and ice. But the evidence at Mikkelson would lead one to believe that when you really need shelter in a storm, the orange is of little use.

Where we had seen maybe ten penguins on Deception Island, Mikkelson houses and entire Gentoo colony (or two?). The penguins sit on their nests and hunker against the wind and snow. Others go to sea to feed and bring back food for the young. We are told that this is the time when the male penguins are sitting on eggs, and the females are fishing.

Roger, our resident naturalist (with a PhD in these sorts of things, as well as many, many visits to the Ice), prepared us for the wildlife and what we might see. Seeing was a little difficult, but it was neat to be able to watch the behavior that Roger described to us, like penguin mates stealing rocks from other nests to bolster their own, while the other penguin of the pair kept the eggs warm and dry. He also told us about how to tell when penguins were nervous and upset, so that we wouldn't accidentally cause any damage to the breeding colony.

Counting Passengers
So... when you can't see your own feet in the snow, and the boat is something you just trust is out there somewhere, how do you keep from misplacing passengers?

We were free to wander about the island, so long as we weren't molesting the critters, so it becomes rather necessary to have a tracking mechanism to make sure everyone gets back on board. Aurora has two of these.

The first method is the tag board. This is a peg board of sorts, with little annodized numbered tags that say "off" on one side. When you are about to get on a Zodiac, you flip your tag to off, and when you return to the ship, you flip it back. It is strictly verboten for anyone to turn anyone else's tag, so this tells the staff if there's anyone "off" in the not on the boat sense. Clearly, judging from the people waddling about in their Michelin Man outfits in the driving snow, we're all a little off.

The Polar Pioneer Tag Board (note that Stuart (number 24) is "off").

The second means of counting is the life jacket method. Everyone must wear a life jacket to get on a Zodiac. When you arrived at a landing, you put your life jacket in the bag with everyone else's, and then as everyone returns to the boat, if there are life jackets left, there's a problem.

We tried to be careful of the penguin highways -- the paths through the snow and ice that the penguins use to get from the nests to the sea and back, but people make big footprints, and we were distressed over the penguins struggling with the large indentations in the snow.

The "maverick" penguins, which Roger tells us are either unsuccessful at finding a mate or too young to be breeding, wander around the colony and find the visitors quite curious. If you sit or lie in the snow, they come pretty close to find out what you are. Of course, here, at Mikkelson, if you sit or lie in the snow, you might become a snow bank.

We spent a great deal of time this morninig watching the penguins come and go and try to preen the snow from their feathers. At one point, the Penguin Armada arrived from sea and stormed the beach a few meters from where we were sitting.

On our way back to the ship, our Zodiac driver was peering into the fog. Noneof us could see the ship, but of course we trust that our driver knows where he's going. After a few minutes, another Zodiac appears from the mist, and the driver hollers (in Russian) and points in a different direction. Apparently, the ship wasn't where we were headed...

With some cooperation among drivers and the Captain radioing positions (he could see the Zodiacs on radar), everyone got back to the ship safely. The kayakers were put into the oven to thaw, and everyone headed for lunch and warm tea. The cabins were littered with clothing drying out from the excursion, and it looked as if were were seeing Antarctica in her true glory.

It seems so odd that people don't live here...

The previous installment:
Deception Island Pix

The next installment:
Mikkelson Harbour Pix

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All materials © 2006 Lea Ann Mawler & Stuart Mawler