This month, the Huffington Post will run weekly blogs from a diarist launched on a most extraordinary journey. A crew of 24 people, including scientists, artists, and humanitarians, are aboard the "Hanse Explorer," a motor yacht, venturing to the most remote southern islands, on an itinerary that has never been done by any ship before. You can read more here.
THE SUN HAS gone down on the Hanse Explorer. We made history today. We reached Bouvet Island, the most remote land on Earth -- a place where fewer people have walked upon than the moon -- to climb to it's summit.
While no one can ever take it away from us (as there can only be one first), as I headed down the mountain I felt a hint of regret. This was one of the last untouched places on the planet. I wonder how many will be driven to visit Bouvet now, and climb the extinct volcano as we have?
Bouvetoya is Norwegian territory. It is a World Heritage Site, and it's been a personal project of my father's to visit every one of these sites. When he mentioned Bouvet to me, the first thing that came to my mind was whether anyone should reach this island at all.
That the ship would be leaving from Cape Horn reminded me of an old dream of mine: Sail from Cape Horn to Cape of Good Hope. These are both known as the toughest seas on the planet. We are 25 on the ship, 11 of which are passengers, the rest being crew. It's a German ship, but a lot of the crew is from South Africa, and most have been traveling with the ship for close to six months now so they are very happy that our final destination is their hometown of Capetown.
The landing on Bouvet was rather difficult, but not as difficult as we expected. Two days before our arrival, the weather forecast cleared up, putting the island -- usually surrounded by a heavy mist making even clear photography a rarity -- between two fronts. We arrived in the early morning, with the rising sun, to discover a beautifully open sight at the island. We may have had the best two days of weather in years. It was plain odd.
Nervous, we set off with two zodiacs to find the right place to land. Aaron Halstead, our mountain guide, had been studying the only map of the island available, as well as Google Earth, not only to find the best way to the summit, but most importantly, a good place to bring our zodiacs in and get us on shore.
Ten of us reached the shore that first morning, quickly emptying the zodiac of all of our climbing gear without getting it wet. While we had water up to our knees and some of us up to our waist, we all managed to land without injury or suffering unbearable cold. We had planned for this after all, and had spare clothing and climbing gear ready.
The volcanic sand was utterly black, a very special sight. The 50-foot beach was just gorgeous, but it was filled with huge fur seals. We knew from experience at South Georgia that they can be rather aggressive so we approached the ice wall behind them we extreme caution, eyes all around the group, ready to snarl back at a seal daring enough to come charging.
It's not dangerous if you don't run: You just have to stand your ground and appear superior. Get bitten though and you may just leave your life here, especially considering that we are over a week away from any other ship or island. That's the real danger of this situation: We are in the most remote place on the planet, and we don't want to be reminded of what that can entail.
Aaron had decided to first attempt the summit with the four most experienced climbers, meaning Will Allen, our cinematographer, my father, and myself. We geared up and headed up the ice wall that would bring us over the glacier. Within 20 minutes we were above the beach, ready for the long day ahead of us. Bouvetoya is only 774 metres high, but it is not well mapped, so one of the challenges is the element of the unknown. It's hard to conserve your energy when you don't know what's ahead.
Furthermore, and most difficult in my case, the time capsule we were planting was actually very heavy once we had printed out all of the visions from readers that we'd received. Made of stainless steel, it weighed 18 pounds, empty. I hadn't realized what that would represent once we'd be climbing, but all I could think after the first hour was how heavy a burden the future was.
It didn't take long for the visibility to considerably drop, to the point where we could barely see 10 metres ahead of us. Fifty kilometre winds came in, as well as snow, and there we were following the GPS up the volcano, walking into the unknown. It was a seven kilometre walk up a steady hill. We weren't halfway there when my legs started giving in under the weight of my pack. It was extremely hard, and perhaps having not moved much over the past few days on board the ship might have made it even harder.
With about 150 metres of elevation to go, I exchanged packs with my father, leaving him the heavy weight for the rest of the way. I don't know how I could have brought the capsule to the summit without him, which says a lot about the place my father still holds for me.
However, my mind was not on my father as much as my own daughter, and even more on the one that's yet to be born. In May I have a second daughter due, and I thought of her more than anything else during my climb up. She'll be 50 years old in 2062, and if someone returns to the island to retrieve the capsule, it may very likely be her. That's what crossed my mind as I planted the capsule into the ice.
We are now sailing westward toward the Prince Edward Islands, hoping to have permission to visit an island whose wildlife is virtually untouched. That will mean checking all of our clothing for any possible seeds or dirt from any other destination that could contaminate this Eden.
Once again, as much as I hope to see this incredible place, I know it isn't mine to see. None of this planet is mine to see. I am a passenger here, a blessed one at that for reaching such foreign shores.
We look to the stars for alien life, but lately I see myself as the alien.