An Eagle Scout in Antarctica: Icebergs, penguins and unbelievable views

On the bottom of the world right now, Eagle Scout Alex Houston is having an experience that tops all others.

I already introduced you to Alex and told you about his time in Ushuaia, Argentina, as he prepared for the journey by boat to Antarctica. As a reminder, he’s the Eagle Scout selected to join an expedition called 2041 that’s exploring the Antarctic Peninsula to research its ecology, wildlife and the importance of renewable energy in shaping the future of Antarctica. When they return, Alex and the expedition founder will share their findings with the BSA at the 2014 Sustainability Summit.

Alex and the explorers arrived safely to Antarctica and got their satellite uplink working, meaning we get our first chance to hear from the Lawrence, Kan., Eagle Scout about his first few days in the world’s most-remote continent.

Despite an environment that seems practically unlivable, Alex had some fascinating encounters with wildlife, including humpback whales, leopard seals and Gentoo penguins, which were “considerably louder and smellier than one would imagine.”

He even got the chance to take some incredible hikes, and on one his group was the first to reach the summit — no big surprise for a Scout.

Read Alex’s latest report and see more photos after the jump. 

Alex’s Antarctica journal

antarctica-2After two especially topsy-turvy days on the Drake Passage, which had a good portion of passengers (myself included) confined to their bunks, the waters calmed and we emerged to see our very first iceberg floating into view.

Soon icebergs and mountains of every shape, size and shade of blue surrounded us. Upon emerging to the ship’s deck as we entered our Antarctic scenery, the wildlife of Antarctica arrived to greet us. A mother and calf humpback whale surfaced off the ship’s bow welcoming us into the unfamiliar land. This incredible moment was capped off when the mother whale performed a full breach, leaping out of the water and turning 180 degrees before splashing back into the sea!

That evening, we heard exceptional speakers on the topics of sustainability, adding a new perspective to our understanding of the precious ecosystems that exist in Antarctica and the rest of the world, and the important role humans play in interacting with them.

Today we woke at the break of dawn and made it up to the deck to watch the sunrise and witness our ship enter the Lemaire Channel. This channel is a famous Antarctic landmark, notable for its magnificent rock cliffs that extended hundreds of meters high on each side of the ship.

The channel was full of both amazing geological scenery and marine life. As we pushed along through the ice that clogged the channel in places, the boat witnessed its first seals, penguins and more whales! At the channel’s end is the thinnest point, less than a half-mile wide. Additionally, because of a recent storm, icebergs have been blown back the avenue, clogging the final passage. After scoping several paths, our captain proceeded with caution through the larger ice chunks, and we emerged intact!

antarctica-3We then entered Pleneau Bay and boarded our zodiac boats for our first cruise around Antarctica. Right after leaving on our zodiacs, a massive leopard seal approached the boats. This incredible animal swam from boat to boat, curious and playful, acting very much like a dog!

As we cruised around the bay, we entered an area known as the “Iceberg Graveyard.” Here the currents and wind patterns pushed mammoth blocks of ice into a small cove where they would run aground and eventually break apart. This place was littered with massive icebergs that were carved into intricate and incredible shapes, each a different shade of blue.

We shut the motor of our boat off and took time to sit and revel in the scenery of the place we had finally reached. During this time, you notice not only the scenery and marine life that this place has to offer but also its silence.

Antarctica is solitary. Once the sounds of our motors died, total and utter silence crept over the bay, only interrupted by a penguin squawk or the creaking of an iceberg ready to break. The wildness of this place is fantastic. I’ve been to many backwoods locations, but none of them compares to the solitude or magnitude that this place has to offer.

antarctica-4As the cruise around the bay concluded, the sun emerged from behind the clouds, turning the chilly day into a more comfortable climate, perfect timing for the hike we were about to go on.

The zodiacs steered us towards Port Charcot, where we made our first landing on the Antarctic continent. Once on land, we formed our hiking groups and proceeded to make our way up the steep hill in front of us. My group was the first to reach the summit, and the view over the land was incredible.

The sun made the temperature nearly balmy, and we had perfect visibility as we saw the mountains rising to one side and a massive penguin rookery beneath them. On our other side was a massive expanse of deep blue water sprinkled with icebergs.

We slid down the massive hill on our packs and got up close and personal with some friendly Gentoo penguins, which were considerably louder and smellier than one would imagine. This incredible day is now coming to an end as we’ve returned to the boat and the sun has just set, I am beyond excited for our hikes and cruises tomorrow, capped off by our survival night spent sleeping outside on the Antarctic continent!

– Alex Houston, Eagle Scout

(Reprinted from the 2041 Expeditions site)

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.