Senior takes plunge into the Antarctic



Senior Maria Zhu poses with penguins at Half Moon Island. She visited the continent for six days with a tour group.

Ted Yarmoski, Asst. Opinion Editor

Strapping on her all-terrain boots, Diamond Bar High School senior Maria Zhu prepared for her day of walking among penguins and gazing upon icy cliffs at the frigid bottom of the world. As she steps outside, the unforgiving yet serene glacial landscape stretches before her.

No, this wasn’t your usual winter break vacation. At her request, Zhu visited Antarctica as well as several nearby islands on a six-day excursion with her family.

“My parents say that before I turn 18, they want me to be able to see the world and cover all the continents,” Zhu said. “So far, I’ve covered six and am only missing Australia.”

Zhu’s group began their journey in Punta Arenas, a city on the bottom tip of Chile in South America. A small plane took them to King George Island, located 75 miles off the coast of Antarctica, where they boarded a cruise ship along with 48 other people from all corners of the Earth.

“Snow, Ice, and Water. There was never a time that we weren’t looking at one of those.”

The expedition visited various different spots  off the coast of the frozen continent, traveling to sites including Cierva Cove, Paradise Bay, Whalers Bay and Half Moon Island. The islands ranged from barren rocks to homes of hordes of penguins. Some housed research stations such as The Great Wall, a Chinese Antarctic research station.

Much of the tour was spent sightseeing from small, rubber motorized boats. The group gazed at staggering arctic bluffs and unending horizons of ice.

At Whalers Bay, Zhu participated in the Polar Plunge, in which she quickly walked into the Arctic waters off of the edge of the island’s beach. After signing a waiver, she approached the freezing water as the heavy wind blew against her. During the Plunge, the participants were not wearing their usual layers of winter coats and took the dive in their swimsuits. Zhu gathered the courage to enter and quickly stepped in.

“The water was so cold it completely numbed my body. While running, I felt like I wasn’t moving.”

In addition, Zhu took part in continental landings, hiking on the land. Even though December through February are summer months in Antarctica, the group wore waterproof outer layers, additional inner layers and all-terrain rubber boots to shield themselves from the 30-degree weather while exploring the terrain. On the hikes, Zhu saw plenty of wildlife, including large groups of birds, seals and penguins.

“This trip showed me a different side of life, undisturbed by pollution, society and people. I felt like I was in a different planet at times because it was so quiet and pure,” Zhu said. “It was a wonderful, eye-opening experience.”


Seniors Krystal Mach, Mandy Wu and Tiffany Wu visited Coldfoot, Alaska for a week over winter break.


Junior Cyrus Hung spent winter break inside an ice cave in Iceland.