by Robert Frohlich
“Every man has his White South.”
– Ernest Shackleton
[Cape Horn, Drake Passage 60 degrees S/60 degrees W]
Peninsula is home to the continent’s greatest wildlife diversity within some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. However, one mammal not found in Antarctica associated with Polar Regions is the Polar Bear. But that’s not to say this noble furry beast of the Arctic is not celebrated down south.
Antarctic surface water, at least the top layer, is the water which most directly affects Antarctic plants and animals. Ice and cold air from the continent constantly chill the layer. In winter it remains below 30 degrees F, but come spring it may warm up to 32 degrees near its northern boundary at the convergence.
Of course, most Ice Axe expedition team members weren’t thinking such things as they prepared for the ship’s Polar Bear Plunge they were just hoping they didn’t have a heart attack. Beforehand, Laurie, our Quark Expedition director, had mentioned that a person had maybe five minutes to survive once in the water. He didn’t have to worry. The 40 or so who braved the refrigerated waters broached out of the sea like Moby Dick after strapping Ahab on its back. It was like Old Faithful sprewing human Popsicle’s back to land. Let’s hear it for Mica, Meaghan, Adrian, Maria and Belgium beauty Excel hitting the water in their bikinis (Thank you, too, Lord). Then there was Keoki and Tucker doing flips off the upper rail and Tal Fletcher doing a back flip. Yes, diving into the Antarctic is extreme if not a bit of crazy. Although attempting defy-defying acts such as leaping into the Southern Ocean for most sane folks would be tantamount to digesting a bowling bowl; to Ice Axe athletes who chase adventure the way a dog chases tires, called and crazy, willing to be hit, extremism is kind of like having groovy sex and nosebleeds at the same time.
By late afternoon, the Clipper Adventurer withdraws with effort from the coast, breaking her way offshore through the Aitcho Channel in search of open water towards the north.
Behind us, ice mesas, white plains without end stretch south and east watch us go. Our small ship becomes a mere blot on the immaculate white napkin of the Antarctic. Snow petrels, Snowy sheathbills and Kelp gull appear and disappear in the golden haze of an evening twilight. On sun-filled wings, like doves of peace, they stir indistinct feelings of faint emotion to those on deck staring back at the disappearing shorelines and tabular icebergs.
It was Shackleton, referring to man¹s romantic dream of great adventure, who wrote, “The longing for ice, the sadness of departure, as if after all we cannot bear to leave this bleak waste of ice, glaciers, cold and toil.”
Aboard the Clipper Adventurer, uncomfortably well-fed, cosseted by hot showers and comfy beds, with Zodiac service and skilled guides ensuring our safety, the Antarctic adventure could appear more than a bit spurious and removed from the great explorer’s words.
Don’t fool yourself. None on board would have missed this voyage for the world. Ice Axe Expeditions Ski Cruise 2009 was a groundbreaking success. So what? Why should those, living thousands of miles away and into their own archetypes of extremity, want to know about any of this? What can people learn from a cross section of mountain folks running around unclaimed icefields in their long underwear?
Down deep, this expedition was really about faith; a capacity lost more and more from our lives.
It is preached that Jesus was a healer and performed miracles. I believe Jesus was a man, and if he could do what he did, then so can all of us. He just had more faith than most. Each of us, however, has a certain amount of faith. And I believe that when enough people give themselves wholly to something, they can bring about miraculous changes. This Ice Axe expedition certainly brought about a miracle in weather, logistics, accomplishment, but most of all learning that Antarctica is a precious place to cherish.
“You can always do more than you think you can. You don¹t know until you take on the challenge,” explained Kevin Quinn to me one windy day high atop an end of the world snowfield.
The morning of the Nov. 18th, the luster of the calm return sea voyage wore off and we became horribly aware of tying up to the pier in Ushuaia. The Drake Passage swells had carried us gently back to civilization.
The next day on land, still in Ushuaia, around seven in the morning, I looked from my hotel room out upon the harbor at the Clipper Explorer. The sun rose with dispatch, as it does at the end of the world. The day was warm, but with a wet, cool breeze. Jagged boulders, piled by sea chop, rested against a distant headland. To the west, across the windswept Beagle Channel, stood cloud-diadem peaks and the Chilean frontier. I thought of Antarctica’s bending winds, the clean, pure spring of icy water and deserted late night sunsets where the sky changes from vermilion to yellow to indigo before burning off into the roof of the world.
Inside our hotel, Dick Banfield and Dave Marchi were gearing up to climb and ski down Cerro Martial above the nearby Aerosilla ski resort before heading to the airport later in the day.
You’d think after 12 days of risky endeavors, the cold and assorted fleeting infirmities that more climbing and skiing towards unforgiving peaks would be the last thing Ice Axe participants would want. Or, maybe, the thing they want most.
THE ICE AXE S.A.T
Q: True or false? If eaten raw, Arctic shark meat makes one feel very drunk, so much so that Eskimos call anyone who is drunk “Shark-sick.”
THE ICE AXE PROFILE
Even Sharks Need Love
5 Questions with Allan Marshall
Ice Ace marine biologist Allan Marshall, 42, might be the biggest fish out of water on the Antarctic ski cruise. The Brisbane, Australian born scientist and Florida Aquarium staff member, doesn’t spend his time bagging untamed peaks like most others. Instead, he’s worked as a Zodiac driver, which allows him the time to get on the wet suit and scuba dive into the Antarctic sea to study seals and other water life that thrives in the frigid waters. His work, much which is occupied with transporting species around the world, has taken him to such eclectic lands as Bali, China, Korea, China, Ireland and South Africa. In January, he heads up the Ice Axe Expedition trip to the Amazon.
ON WHY HE LOVES SHARKS
I grew up next to the ocean. I was always fascinated by the underwater world. Part of that fascination has dealt with sharks. I’m constantly impressed. Like any predator at the top of the food chain, I admire their power and grace.
ON THE BITE OF A SHARK
Bull sharks can grow up to 9 feet and weigh up to 400 pounds. They’re responsible for more attacks on humans than any other sharks. Once, I was transporting a Bull shark to a new aquarium. It was supposed to be sedated. I was in its cage next to him. A split second after I’d moved position next to it the shark awoke. Startled, it snapped its jaws just where I’d been. I mention this because I once saw this same shark split a 500-pound grouper in half with a single bite.
ON HIS FAVORITE AUSTRALIAN SAYING
“Don’t come for raw prawn with me.” It means, “I think you’re lying so stop
the line of bull.”
ON UNDERNEATH THE DEEP DARK SEA
I’ve made 1000s of dives around the world and encountered strange stuff.
Once I got caught on a coral reef at night in a small cave. I’d turned my headlamp off. I was smacked in the face by something very large and very hard. I have no idea what it was. I constantly remind myself to be careful and know my limits. Still, I couldn¹t help but swim with the Leopard Seals down here which can be a bit territorial. Don¹t tell my wife.
ON WORKING WITH ICE AXE
My biggest concern is getting the message out to the public about the environments. Ice Axe Expeditions is very good medium to do that. Doug goes up high. I go down low. It’s a good mix.