“You guys want to do a landing?” asks Peter Szyszka, the leader of the Antarctic Waterproof Expeditions dive from which we were only just returning.
I try to move the floating pieces of ice as I make my way back to Peter and the Zodiac dinghy we used for our dive. But the blocks of ice are formidably heavy. Once I haul myself back on board Peter takes us to the pier, near the cliff. Just above the pier is Almirante Brown, an Argentine research station, and some gentoo penguins. A hill rises up behind the station.
Of the seven continents Antarctica is without doubt the coldest and the driest. It almost never rains here, and is so cold it is permanently covered in snow. The constant snowfall has created a sheet of ice that in some places reaches four kilometers thick. Only the nunataks – the rocky peaks of the mountains that are buried beneath the ice – are exposed.
The ice sheet is in fact a glacier, but so massive and widespread that the topography of the continent doesn’t limit its course. The glaciers we know are formed by the shape of the mountains, where they flow under their own weight, much like a river.
In Antarctica the glaciers form ice shelves at their margins, floating on the sea but still attached. From there they carve icebergs into the water, sometimes with ferocious intensity.
As the sun prepares to set we have to hurry to reach the top of the hill above Almirante Brown. Restricted by dry suits we clamber upwards, slipping and stumbling as we go. Still sodden from the dive that morning, the water freezes on my face.
Exhausted, I make it to the summit and look out over Paradise Bay, hidden between a 2,000 meter-high mountain range and an awe-inspiring glacier. I stretch out my arm and catch the wind. Tears roll over my cheek; I am at world’s end.