Libellule. Sailing and Moutaineering in Antarctica

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It took five weeks to get Libellule from New Zealand to Tierra del Fuego, in the heart of the “Roaring Forties”. At Ushuaia, the “French” crew made up of Yves German, Sylvain Martineau and Pauline Roques-Pentoy, was joined by the “Swiss”, Philipp Cottier and his mountain-climbing friends, who were hoping to be able to summit a few virgin Antarctic peaks as yet untouched by human feet. So there were 7 of us aboard. Having got through the Drake Passage, between South America and Antarctica, in early January, the first stop was Deception Island. On arriving in the White Continent, the temperature, which had still been relatively mild in Patagonia, was now rapidly falling: it rarely climbed above 5°C, and dropping to -10°C at sea level and -20°C in the mountains. On our first arrival in Antarctica, the climbers donned their skis for a trek with sealskins. On a hillside across from the anchorage there was a colony of chinstrap penguins, estimated to number 40,000 individuals. We approached them at a reasonable distance, but then a delegation of a few penguins detached themselves from the group and came a few meters towards us. With an astonishing cry they seemed to be addressing us, and discussing among themselves, in a way we would imagine extra-terrestrials would, when meeting the inhabitants of planet Earth for the first time. This process was repeated each time we came across a colony of penguins, especially further south.

We spent 24 hours there, before setting off again towards the Antarctic Peninsula, in search of a landing place, and somewhere to attack our first virgin peaks. We rounded Cape Kjellman, then further south, the Whittle Peninsula, as far as Cape Andreas. The land in Antarctica doesn’t allow itself to be easily approached, everywhere there are nothing but rock walls, white and black, or gigantic glaciers which produce enormous seracs (a pinnacle or ridge of ice on the surface of a glacier) and icebergs as big as a house, as though they were coming from a gigantic ice-maker. We eventually anchored in a little bay at the south of Trinity Island, where we had to battle our way through numerous small drifting icebergs, known as growlers, which were coming and tapping the hull. This was to be a constant feature of our whole time down here. In anchorages, as well as the anchor itself, we often used four big warps, each 100 meters long which we got before setting off. It was in this bay that for the first time we were aware of the feeling of the enormity of everything around us. Whether it was the rocks, the pack ice, the glaciers, or maybe our view out over the Antarctic Ocean. It was really only the friendly penguins who seemed small and gentle. It was from here we organized our first land expedition in real conditions. The first peak had been a modest one: the summit of Trinity Island, at 540 meters, was just a warm-up for what was to come.

Libellule in Antarctica

Visiting our penguin friends.  ...

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