Over the great windy waters, and over the clear-crested summits,
Unto the sun and the sky, and unto the perfecter earth,
Come, let us go,--to a land wherein gods of the old time wandered,
Where every breath even now changes to ether divine.
Arthur Hugh Clough
“Amores de Voyage”
On this my thirteenth expedition to Antarctica I am reminded that even with the wonders of modern travel there is a “rite of passage” required to reach the ethereal shores of this continent of ice. This “rite” is derived from a host of obstacles ranging from the long flight from the northern to the southern hemisphere, the rolling days at sea traversing the Drake Passage, and the ample time for introspection.
This sojourn is also ordained with unpredictable gems that set this journey apart from any other. Most memorable on this voyage south were the welcoming legions of Sei Whales that surrounded our ship as we completed our crossing of the Drake Passage, eagerly anticipating our first sight of land, and the translucent blue skies and mirrored waters that greeted us as we sailed along the western Antarctic Peninsula through the peak-studded Neumayer Channel and on to our destination, Palmer Station, on Anvers Island.
Yes, the journey to Antarctica is, even today, truly a rite of passage. My guess is that in some sense it always will be, no matter where technological advances in travel lead humanity. It is a quintessential odyssey of Homer and Tolkien proportions; as if to reach such a mystical world one must first pass through the guarded gates of the Southern Sea.
Metaphorically, it is often said it is more about the “journey” than the “destination”. In the realm that is Antarctica, it is about both. Ask anyone who has embraced its shores.