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Lifelong Learners Travel to the Ends of the Earth

Photos courtesy of Principia Lifelong Learner travelers. See slideshow below for more pictures.

by Richard Crandell (C'82)

(Editor’s Note: Principia Lifelong Learning (PLL) took its first-ever group of travelers to Antarctica in January 2022—marking a major milestone for PLL. Principia lifelong learners have now travelled to all seven continents! Richard Crandell was among the Antarctica travelers and shares this first-hand narrative of the trip.)

In his account of the 1914 attempt to travel across Antarctica entitled South, explorer Ernest Shackleton described the Drake Passage, which is the open water between South America and Antarctica, as “the most tempestuous storm-swept” stretch of ocean in the world. This description was on the minds of all 50 Principia alumni and friends who embarked on a ship for Antarctica in Ushuaia, Argentina. In fact, reading Shackleton’s book was part of our “homework” to prepare for the trip.

Our itinerary would take us across the Drake Passage, not once but twice. Another author, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, entitled his account of exploring Antarctica from 1910–1913 The Worst Journey in the World. After reading these books, we might have asked: what did we sign up for?

However, our circumstances were fortunately a far cry from those of the early explorers. We visited Antarctica during its mild summer and cruised on a comfortable new ship, the Ocean Victory.

We assembled in Ushuaia, Argentina, on January 14, and boarded the ship on January 15. We embarked that evening and cruised through the Beagle Channel into the Drake Passage. Expedition leader Gerard Baker of Albatros Expeditions introduced himself and the guides via live relay on the video screens in our cabins. Every day, Gerard made announcements over the ship’s intercom in the dulcet tones of a BBC presenter, and the guides gave lectures on several topics.

We settled into our cabins, enjoyed onboard presentations, and watched the open waters for signs of sea life and the first sightings of land. Our crossing of the Drake Passage turned out to be much more forgiving than what the old explorers experienced.

January 17—We reached the South Shetland Islands. Zodiac boats ferried us to the sandy shore of Barrientos Island, where chinstrap penguins and gentoo penguins and their chicks entertained us. Elephant seals lolled on the beach, while skuas and southern giant petrels flew overhead, hunting for solitary penguin chicks to eat.

January 18—Our ship headed south through the picturesque Lemaire Channel until the way became too choked with ice. The ship executed a U-turn and cut through ice floes, sometimes disturbing napping leopard seals, Weddell seals, or crabeater seals. We landed at Port Charcot on Booth Island, encountering gentoo penguins, skuas, giant petrels, and snowy sheathbills. 

January 19—On a foggy, sleeting day, our ship headed into the narrow Peltier Channel. We could not reach our destination due to high winds, but we cruised in Zodiacs among humpback whales. Then we headed for Charlotte Bay in the Antarctic Peninsula and dropped anchor at Portal Point. A few brave souls slept outside in the deep snow, protected by nothing more than heavy-duty sleeping bags.

January 20—Some members of our group went kayaking in the snowy, foggy conditions, while the rest of us walked on the Antarctic Peninsula at Portal Point. Then our ship headed to Trinity Island, where we cruised in Mikkelsen Harbour and landed on D’Hainault Island where we saw more of the same type of birds we’d been seeing, plus kelp gulls.

January 21—Our ship ventured to Deception Island, which looks like something out of science fiction, being the caldera of a gigantic volcano with an inlet to the ocean.  At Whalers Bay inside the caldera, we walked on the volcanic cinder beach past the ruins of a British surveying station and a Norwegian whaling station. Some of us took a “Polar Plunge” in the 39-degree-Fahrenheit water.  Our next destination was Livingston Island, where we cruised around Hannah Point in Zodiacs and saw gentoo penguins, elephant seals, imperial shags, and other birds.

After that, we headed back to Ushuaia, arriving on January 23.  Peale’s dolphins and many birds, including black-browed Albatrosses, greeted us. We stayed onboard overnight and debarked the next day, some of us for home and others for Iguazu Falls in Argentina.

As the intrepid Antarctic explorers returned home, PLL was already preparing for upcoming, sold-out trips:
• 2022 Civil Rights: A Journey to Freedom (March 12–16)
• 2022 Bevy of British Isles (July 12–23)
• 2022 Kenya Safari: The Big 5 (July 20–30 and July 30–August 9)

Registration for other trips to Ecuador and Galápagos, The Majestic Great Lakes, and Japan is still open as of publication of this article. Learn more about traveling with Principia Lifelong Learning.

  • Lifelong Learning