Antarctica: The Land That Wants You Dead

Antarctica isn't easy to reach, but for these travelers on the Crystal Symphony, the experience was unforgettable.

Iceberg in the Neumayer Channel
I gasped at my first iceberg sighting in Neumayer Channel. Photo by Carol L. Bowman

Waking at 5 a.m., pulling back the black-out curtains, I gasped at the sight of my first Antarctic iceberg. A blue-hued mass, about the size of Macy’s building in New York, floated by within yards of the ship and I sensed the danger of a sea craft hitting one of these solid-ice forms.  The tilt-a-whirl ride of the Drake Passage forgotten, we had entered the calm and serene Neumayer Channel that snakes with S-shaped bends appearing to have no exits. Weighted down with layers of clothing, parkas, hats, gloves, cameras and binoculars, we lumbered to the ship’s bow to experience this baffling enchantment.

A subtle dawn’s light, a flurry of swirling snowflakes, and a stiff bitter wind that stung our eyes like shards of glass provided a surreal backdrop, as Antarctica’s ice-covered cliffs closed in on both sides. Humpback whales frolicked off the stern, Emperor penguins on the starboard side hitched a ride on an iceberg water taxi, and fifty earless fur seals, stretched out motionless, and glided by on a flat frozen slab. We found ourselves running fore and aft to take it all in.

Earless fur seals take a ride on an iceberg taxi
Earless fur seals, stretched out motionless, hitched a ride on an iceberg taxi. Photo by Carol L. Bowman

With fingertips frozen and noses numbed, we ducked inside to the cozy glass enclosed observation area for some proper 6 a.m. Antarctica ‘viewing’ fare; freshly baked sticky buns, hot chocolate, Mimosas, and Bloody Marys. Revived and re-energized we headed outside to Deck 12 for more ‘wows.’ This activity continued non-stop for two full days.

As we raised champagne glasses to toast the thrill of being among the privileged ones to embrace this beautiful, but dangerous place, Worsley lay in his tent, suffering, unable to push on. Having traveled 913 miles over 71 days, he could no longer put one ski in front of another. Just 30 miles and four days from achieving his goal, he radioed his GPS location to base camp and a helicopter air-lifted him out.

The next day, Jan. 24, 2016, as the Crystal Symphony headed back into Drake’s Passage, Worsley died from bacterial peritonitis. The ship’s 600 exhilarated passengers remained unaware that The Land That Wants You Dead had taken a life while enriching theirs.

Author Bio:
 After a life-long profession of treating the mentally ill at a PA psychiatric hospital for 33 years and also serving as its Director of Admissions, Carol retired to Lake Chapala, Mexico in 2006 with her husband, to pursue more positive passions. Her family thought that she, too, had ‘gone mad.’

She’s been teaching English to Mexican adults for 10 years in a program operated by volunteer ex-patriates, and writing for local online and print publications. Using her adventures experienced during visits to over 80 countries, Carol also dabbles in ‘memoir.’ A frequent contributor to Lake Chapala English Magazine, El Ojo del Lago, she’s won several literary awards from that publication, including Best Feature in 2010 and Best Fiction in 2014. She also netted a story regarding her psychiatric field work in the published anthology, Tales from the Couch.