Antarctica is overwhelming, terrifying, beautiful and fragile. It's a place that touches your soul. I've had the privilege of visiting it twice now. Each time, my trip was comfortable and safe. Nevertheless, it is a forbidding environment. Many men have perished here. Many more have had close escapes. One of the most heroic escapes was that of Ernest Shackleton and his crew.
Short version: Shackleton's expedition ship, Endurance, became trapped and eventually crushed by ice in late 1915. His crew salvaged three lifeboats and set off for Elephant Island, 160km north. Once there, Shackleton and a small group left the main party behind and sailed on to South Georgia in search of help. A 1,300km voyage in an open boat across horrendous seas.
They succeeded and landed in King Haakon Bay on South Georgia. It must have been some moment for them.
From here, Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley walked for 36 hours across hazardous terrain to the whaling station at Stromness.
Eventually, Shackleton was able to arrange the rescue of the party left behind on Elephant Island.
South Georgia and my father
My most recent trip to Antarctica was in November 2016, when I spent three weeks cruising the southern reaches of the planet as an instructor with a Luminous Landscape photography workshop.
On this particular trip, I had an experience that made a deep impact on me. It happened when we visited South Georgia.
When Shackleton, Crean and Worsley hiked across South Georgia, all three commented on the same thing. Each man had felt the presence of a fourth—somehow helping them conquer the harsh terrain. They all commented on it afterwards.
Antarctica can do that to you.
I had a similar experience.
Deep in the night, our ship, Ocean Nova, glided towards South Georgia and King Haakon Bay. I feel I've known this place all my life. My father would tell me about it. He loved stories of the Antarctic.
I was out on deck, the cold on my face, marvelling at the sight of the island ahead.
I wasn't alone. While part of me was in awe at the splendour, another part of me, Photographer Peter, was insisting I get my camera. He wouldn't shut up. I reasoned with him that it was too dark to take anything approximating a good photograph. Instead, savour the moment, I said.
So, we did.
And I thought of my father. He would have loved this moment. This view. This place.
I wished he could have been standing there with me. That will never be possible. So, I felt I should enjoy it for the both of us.
There the three of us stood. Me. The Photographer. My father.
Eventually, the Photographer got out a camera and took the picture you see below. Maybe not the greatest he's ever taken, but certainly one of the most emotionally-laden.