Each year 30,000 people visit Antarctica out of those 30,000 people only two thirds actually land on the continent and of the 20,000 people that actually step foot on Antarctica there are a handful of crazy people that are foolish enough to camp at the bottom of the world.
We were one of those people.
Did we get to sleep in tents like these? No way! These luxurious beauties were filled with our emergency gear. Oh, no when camping in Antarctica you do it like a real man and sleep in nothing but a bivy!
When Quark Expeditions told us that we had the option to camp on the continent we jumped at it. Being able to say that you slept on Antarctica under the stars with nothing but you, your sleeping bag and a small bivy sack is the ultimate camping experience. Plus, it makes for some darn good bragging rights as well.
It had already been a day to end all days. We had survived the Polar Plunge, paddled through brash ice and mesmerizing scenery of Neko Habour, landed on the shores of Neko Harbour to visit a penguin colony and ended the afternoon paddling in Paradise. It had the makings of a perfect day and now we were topping it off with ultimate adventure.
Thirty one other people were as crazy as us and together, we took up the challenge of making it through the night in sub zero weather while sleeping in snow on the shores of Paradise Bay.
There are a few rules that one must take into consideration before deciding to camp on Antarctica.
- No food or drinks are allowed. This is a very strict rule. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot bring a nip of Vodka to warm your bones and you cannot bring a snack to get you through your midnight cravings. You are only allowed to bring a bottle of water.
- You will be picked up at 5:30 am sharp.
- No Going to the bathroom. You are in no way allowed to get out of your sac and find a private spot to do your business. Relieving yourself on the continent is strictly prohibited. Quark Expeditions brings one emergency disposable toilet, but it is to be used for absolute emergencies only.
We couldn't have asked for a more perfect night. The wind had died down and the weather felt almost balmy. Between our layers of clothing, extra warm Quark Expedition signature yellow parkas and our polar sleeping bags and bivy sacs, I had a feeling we were all going to be quite comfortable.
The first thing we had to do was set up our camp. We trudged through the deep snow to find the perfect site and began to stomp out our bed for the evening. We only had to flatten a space as wide and long as ourselves as we'd be snuggling up in our sleeping bags covered with a nylon bivy sac to keep out the wind.
After stomping out our spots, we put down a foam mattress to protect us from the chill of the snow, hopped in our sleeping bag and bivy sac and settled in for the night. Just before heading to sleep, one of the guides Solan snapped us out of our little dens to watch the moon rise. We had the pure luck of sleeping under a full moon and as we drifted off to sleep it rose slowly over the mountains.
The sleeping bag and sac had draw string pulls that closed directly over your face to keep out the cold and wind, and while this kept us warm, it also caused for a few other complications. Every couple of hours I woke up to the feeling of claustrophobia and had to claw my way out of my sac to catch a breath of fresh air. It was an awful feeling. I felt as if I was suffocating and couldn't open up that sac fast enough. Of course it was never an easy task as I coudnt' find the draw string, I couldnt' get it to fly open fast enough and couldn't decide how I wanted to sleep. Do I suck it up and leave my face exposed or go back into my nylon coffin.
I felt so much better in the morning when I told Dave my feelings and he replied that he felt the same way.
For the most part, we were both quite warm for the night. The biggest mistake that we made was to forget our down booties on the ship. We had bought some amazing North Face down booties in Nepal and they would have been perfect to keep our tootsies warm for the night. Alas, our toes froze and I beat myself up all night knowing that I could have had a toasty sleep from head to toe had I not forgotten those booties.
It was 5:10 am sharp when Solan, Karin and Miko yelled our morning wake up call. “There are beautiful things to see today everyone! Time to get up!” “We leave in 20 minutes”
I didn't waste any time as I had to pee and I packed up my sleeping back in record time to be on that first zodiac to reach the ship. Luckily, as others awoke groggy from their slumbers, Dave and I hastily packed up. Apparently he had to hit the toilet too. And in 20 minutes flat, we were on the zodiac and back on ship in time for breakfast.
Are we glad that we camped on Antarctica?
Of course we are. It's the ultimate Antarctica experience and a great story to tell for the rest of our lives. We survived a night on the continent and it gave us a taste of what the early explorers had to go through to pave the way for expeditions like ours. I can't imagine the hardships that they faced and the strong will it took to survive these conditions day in day out without today's modern technology.
As for camping on the continent.
It is a short and methodical experience. You land on shore at 8:30 pm and take about an hour to set up the camp. You chat and mingle with your fellow campers and then after grabbing photos and videos and taking in the view, it is straight to bed. The temperature drops quickly and you want to be in your sacs before the chill sets in. After a restless night of sleeping you are back on board the ship before the experience even has a chance to sink in. You are exhausted and when asked by everyone on the ship how it was you reply “It was definitely an adventure!”
Your not quite sure how you feel and like everything in Antarctica, it isn't until you get home and digest what you actually did that you realize, wow! I just did something that very few people in this world do and I am so glad that I signed up to be one of 31 people to sleep on the continent with Quark Expeditions.
Check out Quark Expeditions for planning your own Antarctic Expedition.