In the wee hours of the morning, many among us enjoyed a spectacular sunset, bathing the waterfalls of Vega Island in glowing pink. Just a few hours later, the most ambitious among us awakened and turned to the skies once again as the sun rose on a new day of exploration. And today was full of just that – exploration! As we awoke this morning, we recalled Expedition Leader Jon’s promise that we would be, “doing something…somewhere…in this general circle,” and we eagerly awaited news of what our ice pilot had scouted overnight. The site selected did not disappoint! A light breeze was in the air, fluffy snowflakes were falling, and all were ready for an Antarctic adventure.

This morning, we set foot on the Antarctic mainland for the first time and had the unique opportunity to visit Pitt Point, an area of the peninsula that has remained almost entirely unvisited since it was last used by Argentinians as the site of a small refuge. Amongst the remnants of a sledge, once hauled over ice that is no longer present, we were treated to some of the most fascinating geology and plant life we’ve seen yet. A winding hike over crumbling slate with swirling slivers of white intrusions led us along light brown “rhyolitic” rocks thought to be affiliated with the opening of the Weddell Sea. Eventually, we came to a small lake surrounded by bright orange lichen, delicate moss, and a panoramic vista of the Prince Gustav Channel. Those who opted for a Zodiac excursion got close-up views of one of Antarctica’s top predators, and curious leopard seals peeked their reptilian heads up to take a look at today’s unusual visitors.

Speaking of top predators, the excitement didn’t end there! As we wrapped up morning ops and were just getting ready to settle into lunch, the ship’s speakers came alive with news of orcas right ahead. We scrambled to put on jackets, raced for our cameras and binoculars, and ascended upon the bridge and decks. Dozens of type B2 orcas proceeded to spend the next hour swimming amongst the brash ice of Prince Gustav Channel beside National Geographic Explorer. Even as we finally put down our cameras and submitted to the cold, descending once more to eat, glimpses of the orcas could be seen from the windows of the restaurant deck.

After a morning full of excitement, we cozied up to fascinating talks by Naturalist Jim Coyer (on ice shelves) and National Geographic Expert David Wright as stunning views of the Prince Gustav Channel continued to sweep past the windows outside. Tonight, we headed toward the Western Peninsula, passing enormous tabular icebergs along the way. If today was any indication, we can be sure that there is much more excitement to come tomorrow!