Thursday, August 16, 2007

Into the Caldera

Below is part of a travel journal I wrote on my experience in Antarctica in December 2004. This one is about hiking Deception Island.

Deception Island is a dormant volcano. The most recent eruption was in 1991-92. The water filled caldera was formed when the volcano’s cone collapsed. The caldera provides one of the world’s safest harbors, except during the occasional eruption. At Bailey Head, where we started our hike, we encountered a lot of guano, penguin droppings. Guano is very smelly; during the first part of our hike it was everywhere. I was part of the majority of the group that ended up with the product that produces one of the strongest scents in Antarctica on my boots. Guano also added to the colors of Antarctica being available in red and green. Perfect for Christmas some said. In the middle of our hike at the edge of the Chinstrap Penguin rookery we stopped for 10 minutes of silence to listen to the Chinstraps sing. They may be flightless birds, but they sure can sing. By being able to sing I mean they are loud, but most would not consider it harmonious. I found it a delightfully loud sound to hear in the ever so soft-spoken Antarctica. Whaler’s Bay is named for its use in the days of whaling in Antarctica. Floating factory ships use to work in the Bay. After WWI a shore-based station was set up to process the over 3,000 whale carcasses that littered the beach. Whaler’s Bay, where our hike ended, offered another of the strongest scents in Antarctica. The steam from the water smelled like sulfur. It did not fully hit me that Deception Island was a volcano until I got a whiff of the sulfur when I reached the beach of Whaler’s Bay. It was also a pleasant surprise to step into warm water with my boots instead of cold. Although my boots were waterproof, often the cold or warm temperature of the outside penetrated them. The hike begins among the half a million Chinstrap penguins of Baily Head on the Penguin Highway. The hike is over three ridges, the highest being 1900 feet, through snow. Over the last ridge appears the abandoned whaling station. The best way down is sliding on your bottom. Most in our group who tried to walk down ended up on their bottoms anyway. The view of the water-filled caldera from the last ridge was worth the guano-scented boots I ended up with.

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