In Shackleton's Footsteps
Late summer offers the best chance to chart a course through the Weddell Sea’s shifting pack ice and vast tabular bergs, where Shackleton’s ship Endurance was trapped and crushed. We hope to explore fossil-rich islands, historic huts and set foot on the continent before retracing Shackleton’s heroic journey to save his men – first to Elephant Island, then on through waters where blue, sei and fin whales roam. South Georgia offers nesting albatross, mating elephant seals, the world’s largest king penguin rookeries and a visit to Shackleton’s grave.
• Explore the most accessible and wildlife-rich region of Antarctica
• Daily shore visits and Zodiac cruises offer close encounters with penguins, whales, seals and sea birds.
• Visit historic research huts and working scientific stations
• Be surrounded by massive icebergs and cruise past ancient glaciers
• Enjoy the pristine beauty and vast landscapes
• Witness the endless sunlight of the midnight sun
• Learn about Antarctica’s unique geology, history and wildlife from our expert team
• Kayakers will glide through narrow sheltered waterways and fjords, paddle amongst ice floes and drift quietly alongside wildlife.
• Witness the incredible wildlife of South Georgia, one of the greatest wildlife concentrations on the planet
• Visit some of the world’s largest king penguin rookeries and search for wandering albatross on nests
• See beaches thick with elephant and fur seals
• Cruise past Elephant Island’s dramatic north coast (weather permitting)
• Trace the final leg of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s perilous journey from Fortuna Bay to Stromness
• Pay your respects to the great explorer at a visit to his gravesite at Grytviken.
• A small group will have the opportunity to trek across South Georgia as part of our Alpine Crossing
Note: This voyage includes a flight from Stanley, Falkland Islands to Santiago OR Punta Arenas, Chile.
|Day 1||Embark Ushuaia, Argentina|
|Days 2 & 3||Drake Passage|
|Days 4 to 7||Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula|
|Day 8||Elephant Island|
|Days 9 & 10||At Sea|
|Days 11 to 14||South Georgia|
|Day 15||Shag Rocks|
|Days 16 & 17||At Sea|
|Day 18||Punta Arenas OR Santiago, Chile|
Having made your own way to Ushuaia (we strongly recommend you arrive the day before your voyage departure), you’ll have time to explore the bustling community that lays claim to being the world’s most southerly town. Sitting beneath the spectacular mountains of Tierra del Fuego on the edge of the Beagle Channel, there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied. You could take a trip to the Lapataia National Park by train or bus, or visit the small museum, which has informative displays about the original inhabitants and the current population of Tierra del Fuego.
This afternoon you will make your own way to the port to board Polar Pioneer at 4:00pm. Our expedition team and Russian crew will welcome you aboard and show you to your cabin.
As we set sail down the Beagle Channel, we will settle into shipboard life and enjoy our first meal on board, as the crew set our course for the Falkland Islands.
We sail past Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the American continent.
Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation. But despite its reputation, there are many times when the Drake Passage resembles a lake, with lazy Southern Ocean swells rolling under the keel.
The mood on board is definitely casual. At sea we are totally self- sufficient. The days flow by as we travel snugly in our cocoon. A favorite pastime on board is to stand at the stern watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels following in our wake. They rise and fall skillfully, using air currents created by the ship to gain momentum.
Nearing the tip of the Peninsula towards the end of day three, excitement reaches fever pitch with everyone on the bridge watching for our first iceberg.
The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are below the Antarctic Convergence and are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you forever.
Depending on the weather, we will first approach Antarctica to the north of King George Island or in narrow channels between the South Shetland Islands. From there we will head through Antarctic Sound to the eastern side of the Peninsula.
A host of choices are now open to us and depending on the ice and weather conditions the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use this expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. Because we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18-20 hours of daylight and the days will be as busy as you wish. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home!
We are always keen to explore new territory, so if the opportunity arises, we will! That's why we call our cruises, "Expeditions of Exploration and Adventure" - who knows where we will go?
Once we arrive in the calmer waters of Antarctic Sound, we hope to make landing two to three times a day. To get ashore we will use Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). You will have been briefed on the workings of these sturdy craft and their use, during our Drake Passage crossing. Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or make contact with whales. In these situations we will appreciate the distinct advantage of being on a small vessel, which gives everyone the opportunity to experience these very special close encounters with wildlife.
Western chefs serve hearty meals in our cosy dining rooms. Accompanied by good conversation, they will become a focal point of our shipboard life.
A sample of the many exciting places that we would like to visit follows:
Situated on the eastern side of Tabarin Peninsula, the spectacular 2,500 ft (745 m) promontory of Brown Bluff towers over some 20,000 nesting pairs of Adelie penguins and hundreds of gentoo penguins. Nesting skuas, snow petrels and pintados inhabit the upper slopes and kelp gulls screech overhead. Brown Bluff's volcanic origins have created some fantastically shaped boulders that lie scattered across the ash beach and make colorful nesting sites for some of the penguins.
This tiny volcanic island forms the nesting grounds of some 120,000 pairs of Adelie penguins, and the surrounding seas literally teem with penguins!
There is also a blue-eyed shag colony situated at one end of Paulet's long beach front. Leopard seals are often seen cruising offshore, hoping to pick up a penguin snack. Weddell seals sometimes haul out here for a quiet nap on the beach. Apart from its plentiful wildlife, Paulet is also rich in the history of Antarctic exploration, for it was here that the 22 men of Larsen's ship Antarctic arrived on February 28th 1903 after their ship had sunk. The men wintered on Paulet, living on penguins and seals, until eventually Larsen and five of the men rowed across Erebus and Terror Gulf to be reunited with members of Otto Nordenskjold's geological exploration party.
James Clark Ross Island
Separated from Trinity Peninsula by Prince Gustav Channel, the beaches and rocks of this mighty island are a mix of volcanic and sedimentary; creating a geologists’ paradise. The beaches are populated with kelp gulls while Antarctic terns and skuas nest on the island's higher slopes. Many of the island's rocks are decorated with bright red and orange lichens, presenting fantastic photographic opportunities. Ice floes in the surrounding waters provide temporary floating homes for Weddell and leopard seals. We may walk up to Hidden Lake, following a stream rich in fossilized remains of deciduous trees, ferns and even clamshells. If ice conditions and time permit, we may also circumnavigate this fantastic island; a feat not often accomplished.
This very rarely visited island was named for its two striking peaks or 'horns'. It is the nesting site for some 10,000 pairs of Adelie penguins. If weather conditions permit, we may walk up a scree slope to the top of the island's western peak. At several hundred ft in height, the summit provides superb views into Erebus and Terror Gulf. On the upper slopes we may even see nesting snow petrels and Wilson's storm petrels. For those who are less active, the comings and goings of penguins on the beach and the accompanying skua population provide endless fascination. There are often large numbers of grounded icebergs offshore that we may cruise among in our Zodiacs.
View Point, Duse Bay
View Point is one of the few places where we may be able to set foot on the Antarctic continent proper. A British hut was built here in 1953 and an Argentine refuge hut was established a few years later. In front of the old hut are the remains of crabeater seal carcasses, which provided food for the sledge dogs. Thanks to the cold conditions, the well-preserved hut looks just as it did all those years ago - a fascinating place to get a feeling for the olden days of Antarctic exploration.
Larsen Ice Shelf
Antarctica's most conspicuous geographical feature is ice. Glaciers inch towards the sea from towering mountain peaks and ridges. If conditions permit, we hope to cruise south and along part of the spectacular Larsen Ice Shelf, which runs continuously for some 500 mi (800 km) between Cape Longing and Cape Mackintosh.
In 1995 a massive iceberg measuring 23 x 22 mi (37 x 36 km) calved from the Larsen Ice Shelf and drifted north. We may see some remnants of this spectacular event and perhaps even witness smaller pieces of ice splitting away.
Other places we may visit around the Weddell Sea area and on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula are:
Joinville Island; D'Urville Island; Hope Bay; Seymour Island; Snow Hill Island; Vega Island, Prince Gustav Channel; Beak Island; Crystal Hill; Herbert Sound.
Today, if weather permits, we set course for Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands. En route, our recaps and lectures will resume and there will be time to gather energy for the busy days ahead.
We’ll learn the story of Shackleton and hear how his ship, the Endurance, was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, before he and his men climbed into three open boats, spending 16 months at sea, before finally making landfall on this tiny toe of rock and ice in the vastness of the Southern Ocean on April 14th 1916.
As we commemorate the upcoming century of Shackleton’s fateful expedition, we plan to sail past Cape Valentine to see the beach where the men first put ashore nearly 100 years ago. Weather permitting; we hope to follow the coastline six miles west to Point Wild, where the men eventually set up camp under two of their upturned open boats and some old tents.
We will attempt to make at least one landing on historic Elephant Island.
En route for South Georgia we'll head across the Scotia Sea, following the route that Shackleton and five of his men took in order to find help for the rest of their crew.
On April 24th 1916, they piled into the James Caird, the most seaworthy of their open boats, to attempt this perilous journey to South Georgia, some 800 mi (1,290 km) distant. Shackleton hoped to reach South Georgia in two weeks. There he would enlist the help of the whalers to return to Elephant Island and rescue the men who had been left behind.
We’ll enjoy the comfort of our ocean crossing as we ponder the hardships Shackleton and his men experienced as they crawled about on the rocks used as ballast on board James Caird:
“Nearly always there were gales. So small was our boat and so great were the seas that often our sail flapped idly in the calm between the crests of two waves. Then we would climb the next slope and catch the full fury of the gale where the wool-like whiteness of the breaking water surged around us.” —Ernest Shackleton
To us, South Georgia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The island is a tiny speck in the South Atlantic Ocean, located in one of the most desolate parts of our planet. A 10,000 ft (3,000 m) mountain range traces the spine of this long, narrow island. Between the mountains, shattered glaciers carve their way through tussock grass to the deeply indented coastline.
Though geographically speaking the island lies in the Subantarctic area, as do the islands of Macquarie and Heard, it has a climate more in keeping with the true Antarctic regions. This is because South Georgia lies near the Antarctic Convergence.
South Georgia is a British possession, having been claimed and named for King George III on January 16th 1775 by Captain James Cook, who records in his journal:
"The wild rocks raised their lofty summits till they were lost in the clouds and the valleys lay buried in ever-lasting snow. Not a tree or a shrub was to be seen, no, not even big enough to make a toothpick. I landed in three different places, displayed our colors and took possession of the country in His Majesty's name under a discharge of small arms." —"Antarctic Housewife" by Nan Brown.
Some of the glorious destinations that we plan to visit in South Georgia are listed below:
Originally a Norwegian sealing and whaling station, it was finally abandoned in 1965. Here we must be careful to avoid stepping on sleeping elephant seals as we skirt the ruins of factory buildings peering into the past, trying to imagine what it was like when whale processing was in full swing.
Abandoned ships lie sunken alongside old wharves, while pitted concrete walls remind us of the more recent Falkland's War, which started here.
Sir Ernest Shackleton died from a heart attack during his final expedition on board the Quest on May 6th 1922. His body was laid to rest at Grytviken and we will make a pilgrimage to visit the cross his men erected in his memory looking out across beautiful Cumberland Bay.
St Andrews Bay
The sandy, black beach is a resting place for hundreds of elephant seals that haul out on the shore to molt. Behind the beach, the sight and sound of tens of thousands of king penguins at different stages of their breeding cycle will be overwhelming. The glacial river that runs into the sea here will be alive with penguin chicks and elephant seal pups testing their aquatic skills. If we lift our gaze from the wildlife for a moment, we will glimpse the snow-capped peaks of some of the world's most spectacular mountains.
At 4:00 pm on May 20th 1916, Shackleton, Worsely and Crean arrived here after their arduous 17 mi (27 km) journey across the mountains from King Haakon Bay. As well as examining the ruins of the old whaling station, we may also wander up to the mountains behind the old whaling station to see the waterfall descent that formed the last section of Shackleton's epic journey. We may even get the opportunity to walk from Fortuna Bay across the saddle to the waterfall as Sir Ernest did.
Bay of Isles
One of the wildlife highlights will be visiting the serene wandering albatrosses sitting proudly on their cute downy chicks. We can sit within a respectful distance of these gentle birds whilst they perform intimate courtship dances, feed their young or clumsily launch themselves into the air, bound for a fishing trip.
Other stunning wildlife destinations we may visit include: Elsehul Bay, Royal Harbor, Cooper Bay, Drygalski Fjord, Larsen Harbor, Stromness, Salisbury Plains, Gold Harbor, Right Whale Bay, Possession Bay.
If time and weather permit, we may pass Shag Rocks, six small islands in the westernmost extremity of South Georgia. The fascinating group of jagged rocky islets protrude from the sea and blue-eyed cormorants fill the air; their precarious nesting sites are white with guano.
Polar Pioneer will glide into Port Stanley for our early morning arrival. You will be greeted by our local guide who will assist you with the transfer to Mount Pleasant airport for your afternoon flight to Punta Arenas or Santiago.
Please note that all of our itineraries are at the mercy of weather conditions and not all landings are guaranteed. Our itineraries are flexible and will change voyage to voyage, allowing the best chance to make the most of surprising wildlife displays and unexpected opportunities.
We begin cruising back towards the Falklands Islands (Malvinas). On this leg we are usually traveling into the prevailing weather so it is difficult to estimate our arrival time in the Falklands. Our lecture program will continue and we’ll have ample time to enjoy the rest of our time observing the sea birds that follow the ship, whale watching from the bridge, or simply relaxing in the bar with a favorite book.
A small band of adventurous souls will attempt to repeat the epic crossing of Ernest Shackleton and trek for up to three days from King Haakon Bay to Stromness. The crossing distance is 35 to 50 kilometres depending on the route, and involves crossing large, heavily crevassed glaciers and alpine passes. Experience in crevassed alpine terrain is essential. A surcharge applies.
* Itinerary may be subject to change
|Per Person USD|
Camp, Mountaineering, Photography, Kayak
Camp, Photography, Kayak
International Airfare Not Included. Rates are per person, based on twin-share. Single costs are 1.7 times the twin rate.
Flights included for Fly/Cruise itineraries.
Adventure options must be pre-booked and paid for prior to start of the trip. Space is subject to availability. Some activities require experience.
Optional Activities: Kayaking prices as listed, Climbing $450, Photography Free, Camping Free.
Mandatory Emergency Evacuation Insurance Required. All trips subject to possible fuel surcharge.