Bowermaster’s Antarctica — Port Lockroy

I spent the afternoon at the small island of Pt. Lockroy, where I’ve been many times before. We stopped in a couple times last January, during our sea kayak exploration, and hung out on the beaches and its protected bay. When we left Antarctica late that month, we actually left our kayaks tied down to big rocks on the island; they were picked up in February by the “National Geographic Endeavour” and carried back to Spain; from there they were shipped in a container to the U.S. and now sit happily in my Hudson Valley backyard.

Rick Atkinson, a Scotsman who first came to Antarctica more than thirty years ago as a 21-year-old dog sled driver for the British Antarctic Survey, greeted us on the penguin-crowded stone beach. The black and red refuge hut on the hill behind is surrounded by Gentoos (and an oddly out of place pair of Adelie penguins). An overpowering whiff of guano fills my nostrils … Aaaaah, Antarctica! Like elsewhere along the Peninsula this season, the hut is surrounded by still-deep snow.


He’s been coming here for thirteen years and has done and overseen the renovations during that period that have turned the hut into a British historical site. Part museum, part souvenir shop, Pt. Lockroy is today a must-stop along the Peninsula both for its recreation of life and work here fifty years ago, and also to stock up on Antarctica books, t-shirts, stickers and stuffed penguins. It’s an admittedly odd thing to stumble upon here in this remote place. But Rick and his three assistants wear their work with a smile, greeting on average one tourist ship a day, often hosting more than three hundred people in and out of their tiny work/living space.

The boom in tourism is evident everywhere along the Peninsula. Last season more than 46,000 visitors arrived by cruise boat. About 32,000 of them put their feet on land (or ice); the rest arrive aboard giant cruise liners too large to offload anyone. Rick’s experience is the frontline in how tourism is impacting the Peninsula and he’s the first to point out that you cannot come here, no matter how careful you are, and not make an impact. Though he cites a scientific study that shows that penguins, rigged with heart monitors, showed absolutely no change in rate as hundreds of red-coat clad tourists stomped by.

It was with Rick last January that we endured one thing we’d never expected in Antarctica: Horrific rains. We sat inside the hut then and watched the rain pour in buckets off the roof, soaking the penguin chicks still-covered in down. “That was the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he remembers. “But given that we’ve just experienced another very warm winter, I won’t be surprised if we see it again this year. Every year, it seems, there’s more and more rain at Lockroy.”

He and his team have been here a month and will stay until early March. Recording tools left on in the hut over-winter suggest the temperatures only dropped to -12, which for Antarctica, even inside the small, unheated cabin, suggests more warming.

We leave Rick some fresh water, baking soda and peppermint tea, assuming we’ll see him again soon.

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