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Paradise Bay, 65S, 62W

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21 Feb 2011
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Sublime: “…of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.”

The word echoed in my mind as I sat beneath the massive front of a glacier in Paradise Bay, at the end of Andvord inlet. We arrived late this afternoon after a cruise in the brilliant Antarctic sunshine. The water was flat and dotted with icebergs and bits of broken ice. In some places it was a mirror, perfectly reflecting the towering peaks and glaciers in front of us.

The light is deceptive here. The Antarctic Peninsula is so vast and the mountains and ice caps so massive that you have no idea of distance or scale. Mount Français at 9000 metres pokes out of a cloudbank in the distance. The Gurlasche Strait is dotted with icebergs laced with deep blue that shimmer in the sunlight. Crabeater seals sleep on ice floes barely raising their heads as we pass. The sun is warm but the wind off the water is cold. In the morning, it snows, even though this is summer in Antarctica.

We grope for words. Language fails us. Even members of the group who have been here dozens of times are left speechless.

Antarctica makes you feel small, insignificant. Its beauty takes your breath away. And its silence, broken only by the sound of glaciers cracking and calving into the sea, is a rare commodity in our world.

The only word to describe it is sublime.

We have this feeling on top of a steep cliff behind the small, shuttered Argentinean base we visit in Paradise Bay. Located in a Gentoo penguin rookery, the site has the familiar fishy smell that comes when these birds congregate. It also comes with what we now see as the requisite Leopard seal, stationed just off shore to make sure the penguins’ lives either a little more exciting or a little shorter.

It was a slippery climb through the snow to the top of this narrow redoubt. From 200 metres up we had a spectacular view of the bay, and the mountains and glaciers that frame it. We called for five minutes of silence. The only sound that reached us was the thunder of ice splitting in the glaciers. And the hum of the M/V Ushuaia, our ship.

But it was still sublime.
 

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