WHO’S GONNA TELL HIM?
Atka Bay, Antarctica 2022
Travelling to Antarctica is not easy at the best of times, but during Covid it has been a bridge too far for most sensible people; the 2020 season was impossible and 2021 was extremely challenging. In the last 24 months there have been very few visitors, but even that did not stop Covid infections at some of the scientific bases. Visitors have been unable to get in and some have been unable to get out. It’s been the perfect storm.
We finally made it there last week after our plans in late November were scuppered due to Omicron concerns. My son and I camped for four nights in a modest tent near the German research base at Atka Bay, but the sizeable 25,000 strong Emperor Penguin colony near the base had dissipated with the majority of the adult penguins returning to fish the open sea. The remainder of the colony had moved to the sea ice and unfortunately to a place inaccessible without ropes and harnesses. This would have been a long way to go for nothing.
Fortunately, we had been made aware of this development by the wonderful team at White Desert, so at their recommendation we were joined in Atka by Chamonix mountaineering legend - Sam Beauguy - who would keep us safe on the hazardous treks to the colony. To be fair he “base jumps” for fun, so this was never going to be a challenge for him.
For our part, we did not expect to be in a tent and crossing crevasses to film penguins in Antarctica this January but when the opportunity arose we had to grab it. The 24-hour days were long and occasionally cold, but we kept our spirits up with card games, Sam’s cooking, loads of laughter and a bit of whisky.
This is a lucky image; the light is kind, there is some decent iceberg context in the background and perfect symmetry at both layers. Emperor Penguins can behave in the most human of ways, especially in the duty of care. There is very much an adult conversation going on here and as a result it is a photograph I think we can relate to.
I am in awe of the men and women that spend a whole year on the ice in Antarctica. It is the world’s last great untamed place and their commitment to helping preserve its beauty is very humbling.
We also raise our glasses to the logistical tenacity of Patrick Woodhead and his team at White Desert. This was not an easy assignment and the scale of operation they run from the ice at the bottom of the world is quite remarkable. They have daily challenges that are really difficult to relate to and they tackle them with humour, experience and common sense.