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Showing us out, Tavrov tells us the exact date and hour he’ll return to Kiev. It has been a long ten months, three weeks, four days, 12 hours, and 37 minutes since he and his 13 comrades were dropped off last March. For nine months they were completely frozen in, unreachable from the air or the sea.

Where the World Ends

Our camping experience is, in a word, wet, thanks to the rain and sleet. Most mornings, the inside of our tent walls are covered with frost; outside, the kayaks anchoring the tents are covered with ice. We had hoped to climb several of the 4,000 peaks we passed along the Peninsula, but the rain makes crevasses hard to identify and avalanche danger high.

But a few days after paddling away from Vernadsky, the skies clear. And on a sun-filled day, we reach nearly 68 degrees south, at the southernmost point of Crystal Sound. We are almost two degrees south of the Antarctic Circle, and the temperatures climb into the 40s; sunburn is our biggest concern.

Our map shows a pair of channels leading to Marguerite Bay. Our goal is to sneak through one to reach the grave site of a good friend of mine, British polar pilot Giles Kershaw, whose gyrocopter crashed near there in 1990. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his flying derring-do (among other feats, he once rescued a pair of South African scientists from a floating ice floe), Giles was integral in starting the Antarctic tourist boom, if unwittingly. He was one of a trio of explorers who set up the very first tented camp in the interior, to serve climbers headed for 16,050-foot Vinson Massif and trekkers going to the South Pole. I can’t help but think that if he were still alive and flew a Twin Otter low over a gaggle of red-coated tourists, he’d keep on flying, seeking out an undiscovered land.

We attempt to thread our way through the two-foot-thick pancake ice before running into a frozen barrier. Through powerful binoculars we see that the two channels we’d hoped to navigate are shut off. Clambering onto an ice floe, we pull our kayaks up and consider our options. One is to drag the kayaks 30 miles over the ice to Marguerite Bay, which might allow us to keep paddling south to Giles’s grave. But we would most likely have to drag them back again, requiring a weeklong journey we simply can’t afford. Sadly, like every visitor to Antarctica, we’ve reached our turnaround point.

At the edge of the big floe I look back toward the 600 miles we’ve floated over the past month. Spiky mountain ranges covered with snow lead to glacial skyscrapers running down to the edge of the ocean. I recall a conversation I’d had with Rick Atkinson, caretaker of Port Lockroy, a station that welcomes more than 17,000 tourists a year. He first came to Antarctica 35 years ago as a dogsled driver and has overseen the renovation of a small hut turned museum. Surveying the whiteness around us, I told him I couldn’t imagine this place truly warming, its ice vanishing anytime soon. "This rain," he countered, "is the worse thing that can possibly happen. It’s a triple whammy: It falls into the crevasses, lubricates the bases of glaciers so they move even faster, and eliminates the insulating layer that keeps the snow solid. Ice has a horrible habit of disappearing fast when you get to a critical point, and I think we are at that point now."

We dig a red cabbage out of the hold, jump up onto a sheet of floating berg, strip to a single layer of fleece, and play a short game of cabbage rugby. It’s our way of toasting the ice before the long, slow, beautiful ride north.

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