A bit of Antarctic Silence on Danco Island

By the time we anchored near Danco Island in the Gerlache Strait on January 12th, we had been on the ship for four days straight. We were itching to move after a series of cancelled landings. The steady hum of the ship had started to seep into our bones and we had become accustomed to occasional rocking of the world beneath our feet. On Danco Island, we were promised a hike.

Last week I had an article published in UNC Magazine about our experience on Danco Island, so if you’d like to read the details, please follow this link to the online version of the article. Below are some photos and bits of the story that were not published.

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Danco Island is a popular stop for tourists ships on the Antarctic Peninsula. The Gentoo penguin rookery is definitely an attraction. But it’s also one of the few places where you can stretch your legs for a bit. The crew scouted out a trail for us to hike to the top of the island, and we made our way up the 400 feet or so of elevation through slushy, warm snow.

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A Gentoo rookery on a rocky outcrop on Danco Island.

Danco was named for a Belgian geophysicist who died on trip to Antarctica in the late 1800’s. There was a British geological research station on the island in the late 1950’s for a few years, but that was dismantled in 2004 (according to my friend, Wikipedia). Now, you’ll simply find penguins on rocky outcrops dotting the hill that shapes the tiny, 2-kilometer long island.

We hiked up in what felt like exceptionally warm weather for Antarctica. I was roasting in the multiple layers of fleece that I wore on every landing. We were careful to stay out of the way of penguins going about their business. Most of them follow well-trodden paths back and forth from their nests down to the water. We found the egg in the photo above quite far from a nest – clearly someone got ahold of it well before it had a chance to hatch.

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Further up the hill, we started to spread out a bit.

One of the things that I appreciated most about visiting Danco Island besides being able to stretch my legs, was our group intention to experience silence on this landing. Beyond the swishing of our rain and snow pants, and the cawing of penguins, we tried to be as silent as possible.

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Gentoo penguins on their nests.

Despite being in one of the most remote places on Earth, silence was often hard to come by on the ship. For the first half of the trip, I lived in a cabin on one of the lower decks near the engine room where I grew accustomed to hearing sirens going off at any hour of the night. (I relaxed once I learned that these didn’t signify anything serious. They were simply one of the ways that the bridge communicated with the crew.) But it was never really quiet on the ship.

The center of Danco Island is the top of a broad, flat hill. There was a trail of well-packed snow circling the dome of the island. Here, we found ourselves spreading out along the trail, staking out spots to sit and listen. With 360 degrees of jaw-dropping views, I found myself moving to several different spots during our hour or so on the hilltop.

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Looking across the Gerlache Strait from the top of Danco Island.

It was hard to leave Danco. We visited many places on our expedition that made me feel as though I was walking on another planet. On Danco, I felt clearly grounded on Earth. Maybe it was the sweltering, sunny day (my little Kestrel weather meter measured 50+ degrees Fahrenheit at the top of the hill). Or perhaps it was the opportunity to do a hike in slushy snow that reminded me of springtime in Colorado. Climate change was at the forefront of my mind during our visit here. I thought about how we were only getting a glimpse of the full range of moods that can encompass this place – from fog and ice and wind and snow, and now, hazy sunshine. But despite the moody nature of weather here, climate is shifting in one direction, and that impacts every inch of the Earth.

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Way too warm for a fleece cap…But I was bummed that I hadn’t taken a UNC buff with me – this one give a bit of free advertising to the University of Wyoming.

For more details on the thoughts running through my head during our visit to Danco Island, you can read the full story at UNC Magazine!

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On the bow of the ship, in a rare moment of free time after a barbecue lunch, capturing a few more moments of near-silence. The bow was one of the quietest spaces on the entire ship.

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