There is a beautiful isolated silence in this place of mysterious stunning beauty. Though it is so beautiful, it is also very foreboding being one of the most severe natural environments on Earth. There is a unique danger that lurks in this place where temperatures can drop to -80°C that make you truly respect the wonderful elements of this amazing place and those that have visited and explored here.
It is a place that through history people have wanted to conquer, to explore, to be the first!
One of the first explorers being Captain James Cook on his ships HMS Resolution and Adventure, he came within 75 miles of the coast of this mysterious place in 1773, he got no closer because of the field of ice and retreated, not even sighting the coast of this magical place. The first sightings happened in 1820 by captains on three other ships.
One of the most famous firsts in this place happened in 1911 when two famous explorers took on a “race” across this magnificent continent. A story of great success, great exploration, and also a story of great sadness. It was a dream that ended with one of the teams losing their lives. It is a story that captures the imagination of great explorers and non-explorers alike. It also captivated the two nations of the explorers at the time. The leader of the team that succumbed to the elements refused to treat the expedition as a race, believing he was travelling a better route and would reach their destination first. Unfortunately this team reached it four weeks after the first; on their return journey they were pinned down by a prolonged blinding blizzard on an ice shelf, where a combination of scurvy, dehydration, and hyperthermia took their lives. One of the most famous quotes from this expedition came from Captain Lawrence Oates –
“I am just going outside and may be some time”
With this statement he left the tent in this blizzard as an act of self-sacrifice as he believed he was slowing the team down, this man was never again seen alive. The four others all knew their fate, wrote letters to loved ones and succumbed to the elements of this harsh environment soon after.
The environment can be so harsh and unforgiving, taking the lives of those ill prepared, or it can beautiful and amazing, so dazzling, drawing you in to want to explore this fascinating place. Don’t be fooled though by its beauty as it one of the most inhospitable, dangerous and harshest places in the planet.
Many a person has travelled here since those very first explorers, most wanting to reach that highly acclaimed spot. The place to be. To plant their nation’s flag. To stand at the bottom of the world. To see its beauty. People have died making that long trek across the continent. Some have lost their lives in the ice floes in the sea around this continent. Ships crushed when the pack ice closed in, or stuck so tightly in the ice there was no escape with the crew eventually dying through starvation and other ailments – whisking away the dreams of those on board. Taking their lives. Uncaring. Unforgiving with no remorse. You are where nature does not want you, where you should not be, in the most inhospitable place on the planet. No wonder the forces of nature conspire against the human visitors to this land of ice, but we still go, we go in our tens of thousands in this modern-day. There is something that draws us to this place – the beauty, the splendor, the wildlife, the scientific studies, the travelling in the footsteps of great explorers, I don’t know what it is that captivates me – probably a bit of all these.There is an abundance of wildlife more suited and adapted to this harsh environment than us mere humans. Wildlife that has evolved since time began to be able to survive the extremes of this wonderful place. Fish with a natural anti-freeze chemical that allows them to survive in the sub-zero temperatures. Killer whales that employ some clever techniques to knock their dinner off the floating ice. Some wildlife are visitors at certain times of the year; others remain all year. Then there are my favourites – the ones that dress smartly in their tuxedos, boy and girl alike, and make an annual pilgrimage across the ice. They travel for miles to the same spot each year where the cycle of life starts again. Where they huddle through seemingly endless storms. Where their eggs freeze within moments of touching the ice. Where the only shelter they have is that of themselves. Their bravery and will to survive this harsh environment is unbelievable, but they do, and year on year they make the same journey to keep their species going. Battling not just the elements that the weather throws their way but also the dangers that face them from predators when they are in the sea. They are of course penguins. There are only two species of penguins that make this continent their true home – Emporer and Adelie penguins. There are others though that are only found on the northern tip of the continent’s peninsular where conditions are less harsh and they include Gentoo, Chinstrap and Macaroni penguins.
Oh how I long to travel to this place. It has lured me for years. To see the stark natural beauty. To travel in the footsteps of some great explorers. To reach the bottom of the world. To see penguins in their natural habitat.
One day I will travel here. One day I will get a ticket to go.
My dream would be to travel there on a tall ship like the explorers of old.
This place that I yearn to be?