A lot of people visit the wonderful western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. But on the other side there is also a treasure-trove to be discovered. This comes in the form of the northernmost parts of the Weddell Sea, the Engine Room of Icebergs, and its associated islands.
This is an area entwined with two of continent’s greatest sagas of history and exploration.
The name Shackleton is irreversibly connected with the Weddell Sea; from much further south when his wooden-hulled Endurance was initially trapped and crushed in the ice in 1915, his entire group was then carried on the ice hundreds of kilometres to the north before the ice then melted under them. And that was just the first part of their ordeal! Much of that expedition was captured by Australian explorer, Frank Hurley who was to take some of the most extraordinary and emotive photographs ever recorded, often in the most difficult and extreme of conditions, physical and mental.
And there is the earlier, perhaps lesser-known Nordenskjold Expedition of 1901 - 1903. A saga of sailings and sinkings, winterings-over (intentional and unintentional), of exploration and adversity, and ultimately of rescue.
Hopefully you’ll get ashore at Paulet Island with its truly massive colonies of Adelie penguins – “a couple of hundred-thousand” say the people who count these things - where you will also be able to see the remains of a stone hut built in 1903. By the crew of Nordenskjold’s first pick-up ship who were themselves forced to spend the entire winter there after their ship was crushed in the ice and sank nearby!
Snow Hill Island
And further to the southwest is Snow Hill Island. On a clear day – to be hoped for but not guaranteed - you can see forever from the summit plateau. Way, way below, a tiny hut can be seen, originally constructed by members of the Nordenskjold Expedition in which they spent the winter of 1902 (intentionally) and were forced to spent the following winter (unintentionally). It looks almost palatial in comparison with that on Paulet Island!
Matters geological and geographic
But these expeditions are but as yesterday: travelling back rather further there is an extraordinary geological and geographic history to the area.
On Seymour Island there have been found fossilized remains of penguins. “Nothing special about that” you might say, except for the fact that some of these fellas stood about eight feet tall! Perhaps luckily these days the locals are somewhat smaller - and they only eat krill.
There is an extraordinary and haunting sense of timelessness and beauty in the Waddell Sea, perhaps more appreciated when you are based on a modern and comfortable expedition ship. And it provides good chances of getting (reasonably) close to some of the great tabular icebergs more commonly found on this side of the Peninsula. Like any expedition trip to Antarctica, proposed itineraries are just that: a statement of intent, and as always, we are subject to the wind and weather, ice and snow conditions. But hopefully we will get in there to see and enjoy one of the most amazing parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.
But if you can’t get in there, there is always the western-side of the Peninsula to revert to, and there is most definitely absolutely nothing wrong with Plan B!