Monday, December 15, 2003
Hurray!!! That was the best day yet. The captain felt sorry for us so he gave us a day of vacation at DDU. We took the helicopter at 8am and let me tell you that there is nothing better on earth than flying only a few meters above the ice before spiraling down to the station. Being the only person amongst our group of six to have already been at DDU, I was given the leadership of our morning hick around the island. Our first destination was the wharf. I was curious to see it under the ice. Going down the walkway, we came across the usual nests of Adelie. It is still early in the summer so the fathers were still sitting on their eggs while the females were feasting in the ocean. Further down I pointed to the cliff where the white petrels had their nests. I was surprise to find even more than last year, you could see one under just about every rock. A few meters later we got a clear view at the wharf. It looked so different covered with all this ice and totally desert of activity. We walked off the land and on the ice after a quick inspection of the ice thickness (with a complicated instrument called the foot). It turned out to be the perfect spot for photos. Five seals were tanning where the Astrolabe normally anchors. I believe there were two females, their two young and a juvenal male. The females are huge during this season has they need to fast and feed their babies all summer long.
Still near the wharf, we saw our first colony of Emperor penguins. I didn’t see them last year apart from the last three babies who left the day we arrived. This time there was more of them than I could count. They are about twice the size of the Adelies, around a meter tall. They were organized in nurseries the young already as tall as their parents. We spent the rest of the morning just observing them still in awe in front of the unique and spectacular scenery. At lunch time I was glad to speak with last season’s winter-overs I met during the last trip. They had a lot to tell about the winter. One of them proposed to take our whole group on an afternoon tour. We walked out of the island on what would have been last year the middle of the ocean. We walked amongst icebergs, often touching them and our guide surprised us by taking us into a cave they found in September. It was a good hour walk from the station but truly worth it (a bit scary too maybe…). We got in through a very small opening about the size of my bum. Once inside we found the most remarkable gallery of ice crystals and stalactites. I spent at least half an hour trying to figure out how to photograph ice in total darkness using a digital camera and quite frankly I am still unsure of the answer.
After this show, we got back to the base and had dinner before being lifted back to the boat. We were all very tired from the long day of walk and all got to bed right away with a big smile on our faces