Vega Island (False Island Point) and James Ross Island (The Naze)
In a strong contrast to yesterday's windy conditions we woke up today to a beautiful calm morning with magical and colorful sunrise. Saturated warm colours of the early sun rays contrasted with pastel blue shades of icebergs and snow covered hills surrounding our anchorage. All that beauty doubled up in a nice reflection in a calm almost mirror-like waters of a bay at the West coasts of False Island Point, our next landing destination. Many of us chose to have breakfast or enjoy the morning coffee on the deck admiring the beautiful set that the Nature prepared for us this morning. The almost dead silence of the morning was occasionally interrupted by distant loud growling of elephant seals lying on the beach.
We dropped anchor here yesterday evening after transiting from Devil Island. The site has a lot to offer, the narrow, flat mile-long peninsula with beaches at both sides, with cliffs and headland at the end of it offering possibilities for extended hikes and climbs to gain a higher vantage point for observing the area from a little different perspective. Usually scattered ice floes and ice fill up the shoreline, however today the west-side beach was ice free.
We dropped the zodiacs around 8:30am and after scouting party explored the landing site, we started with the shuttles, landing nearby the area of the group of young elephant seal males we heard on the deck earlier in the morning. The sun kept shining on the beach although there was some cloud coverage in horizon. After setting foot ashore we moved a little closer to the elephant seals and observed from a distance a little brawl between two while the others kept lying around showing no interest towards the two contestants. Some of us however, took the the opportunity to take photographs of this exciting action with Europa and icebergs in the background that completed the perfect composition. For those interested more in landscape and ice there was a surprise on the other side of the land-spit that was littered with icebergs and growlers of all sizes and shapes. Among those, a solitary Weddell seal found a refuge for some rest, offering us another wildlife photography opportunity, soon joined by another smaller younger one. We observed and photographed their interactions and listened to their "seal chatter" before we moved. We made our way towards the cliffs where we split the group into two. Some of us were ready to face another challenge walking up the steep hill with lose rock but with great visual reward at the top. Views were magnificent, Herbert Sound, James Ross island, tabular iceberg and many more visual treats waited there to be seen and admired. Like many other geographical features in the area, these were first sighted and charted in 1902 by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition under Nordenkjold.
In the meantime the other group took up a less challenging and more comfortable approach, first walking carefully alongside a patch of green mossy area providing a nice colour contrast to dark grey ground or a white snow, and then descending to the coast. A little further there was an easy access to climb down to the beach and walk amongst hundreds of growlers and icebergs. The tide was at its lowest and many of them got grounded on the shallows and were easy to explore from all sides.
As we finished our walk and started to move to the landing site again we noticed that the still lowering tide left an exposed reef along the coast. It took some time to find suitable place for the zodiacs to be able to come and pick us up. As the last of the first group left for the ship, the hiking group descended from the hill and continued to this new embarkation site. Although the waters were still very shallow, the slowly rising tide created some swell. It was manageable and soon the whole group was back on board in time for lunch.
Just 8 miles ahead of us lay the destination for the afternoon, The Naze, the conspicuous large land spit on James Ross Island. A very exciting landing. Already from the ship this site looked a bit different. There were lots of warm orange tones in the landscape, made more vibrant by a sunlight that made the rocks glow just a little bit more. The whole of Terrapin Hill shows this coloration, with its 545m high rounded peak standing at the Southern end of the peninsula, while the two tops attaining 105m in height of the so-called Comb Ridge, just at the head of the isthmus presents a darker colour.
The ship anchored quite a distance from the landing site so it took a while for the scouting party to reach the shore. Zodiac glided on extremely calm and clean water. We were able to see ground already a quite distance from the shore but it was deep enough to approach the beach safely with engine half-way up about 50m from it. Due to the distance the landing operation took a while but eventually everybody made it ashore including some permanent crew member joining us for a short hike.
The sky was blue without a single cloud, the warm colours were accentuated by sunlight. With all the sun energy reflecting back from water and ground the temperature felt quite high. We made our way up the hill, slowly climbing up the first ridge that revealed the scale of this beautiful Martian-like landing site. But unlike the dry Mars surface, we come across a few freshwater ponds and running streams. There were many hill-tops to climb, many rock formations and shapes to admire. Although the geology of the place is quite similar to the surrounding areas, here comes to surface in the most spectacular way. Black volcanic boulders lay scattered all over the orange landscape, product of the oxidation of eroded and burned out sediments and fine-grained volcanoclastic rocks. Over our heads the skies were dramatically evolving, taking a grey-bluish tone that very nicely contrasted with the warm colours of the rocks. Walking across the to the other side of the peninsula, it revealed a fairly large sized tabular iceberg lying calmly in the waters beneath us.
This landing is also special because it allowed us to walk little more freely and explore the surroundings, perhaps enjoy the little quiet and peace little further away from the group. A perfect opportunity to reflect back and the past few days and think about more exciting days ahead.
As the clock is ticking and we have to get back on board for dinner, we slowly walk down to the beach. The only thing that evaded us on this landing were the fossils which our guides told us about. Although we were aware of their existence on this location, we didn't find any. Only on our way back the luck blessed us and we found our first one. As it happens, we didn't find just one, we came across a whole "fossil site".
Walking the beach, we came across a snoozing Wedell seal. Other than that, and a few skuas the place seemed to be deserted, but even more beautiful and colourful as sun has dropped closer to the horizon. Since weather was great and the beach a perfect spot, few brave soulstook the opportunity and enjoyed a polar plunge one last time before we leave Antarctic waters in day or two. By 7pm everybody was back on board, zodiacs hoisted and deck washed. Just in time for the delicious meal prepared by our amazing galley crew. It was time to heave the anchor and move the ship about 37 miles further south to the Southern most destination for our trip, Snow Hill Island.
Photo by Jordi Plana Morales