15 February, 1998
Today I was treated to a special ride out to Palmer and Loudermilk Glaciers near Palmer Station. With a quick refreshing ride in the zodiac, we arrived on shore about a mile from the new station. We scrambled over lichen and moss covered rocks, over the small glacier making its way to the bay, and on past the old Palmer Station site. As we reached the crest of the hill, a slit in the bottom of the glacier face became evident. We had to walk up a rise to enter into the actual cave. Running water rustled as we walked in, dripping down our backs, flowing at our feet, murmuring tales of old snows and years of ice. Immediately I had the impression of areas scooped out inside. The passageway surprisingly divided into two. Voices of those in our group echoed off the clear, slick, icy walls. The walls themselves were quite unique. The inner face was clear and exposed the many patterns and layers of old ice within. You could see, but not touch, the many strata within the glacier.
As we sloshed through the short cave, a stream led us to a freshwater lake at the foot of another glacial face. The blues in the face of the glacier and in the water were incredible. As we settled down at a rock outcrop to drink in the spendor of this natural display, I turned and looked to my right. Lying about 20 feet away was a fur seal! WOW! He slept fairly soundly for awhile, then he rolled on his back scratching it against the gound a couple of times. He must have become conscious of us at that time because he quickly roused and sat up. He did not appraoch us but we did not wait around for him to do so. As the Boat Coordinator from Palmer Station, who was our guide for the outing, explained, "Fur seals can move very quickly on broken ground. They are very fierce and are like Rottweilers with fins!" Fine. I got my picture and I was out of there!
I came aboard the ship at around 3:00PM. By 3:30, the captain announced that he was firing up the engines and rmoving the gangplanks. By 4:00PM we moved off the station amid farewells to the personnel there. As I write, we are making our way out of the passage area and will be in open water within two hours. I stayed on the bridge for quite awhile, memorizing icebergs and islands and incredibly steep mountains.
The way back to Punta Arenas will be quite rough this time. We got to ride a calm weather break down, but it is my understanding from the captain that we are likely to encounter 20-30 foot seas before the night is through. Ah yes, a new high for the waves, a new low (in the bunk, no doubt) for me. Well, this is for what the Drake Passage is known.
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