Antarctica, the fifth largest Continent on our planet!
A reservoir of the world’s 90% freshwater and 70% freshwater ice!
A very isolated and remote place with no permanent human residents, the only inhabitants being whales, seals, sea birds and cute little penguins!
Sounds Adventurous Right?
Every year around 40,000 tourists can travel to Antarctica. Statistics say that out of the forty thousand, just one-third get a chance to step foot on the continent. Only a few hundred crazy adventurers actually get to do camping in Antarctica. I feel so lucky and proud to be among those few hundred mad adventurers who slept under the Antarctic sky last year.
Only a few expedition companies offer tourists with the option of camping in Antarctica. I did it with Oceanwide Expedition and had an awesome experience of sleeping under the Antarctic sky. I would like to highlight a few things which every tourist should know before signing up for camping in Antarctica.
- You are not allowed to take any kind of foods or drinks on the land of Antarctica except a bottle of water.
- Relieving on the continent is strictly prohibited.
Antarctica is not owned by any single country or government. In order to protect Antarctica’s environment and wildlife, there are very strict rules & regulations pronounced by the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators)
All tourists and tour operators have to remember that:
- Do not dispose of litter or garbage on land. Open burning is prohibited.
- Do not disturb or pollute lakes or streams. Any materials discarded at sea must be disposed of properly.
- Do not paint or engrave names or graffiti on rocks or buildings.
- Do not collect or take away biological or geological specimens or man-made artifacts as a souvenir, including rocks, bones, eggs, fossils, and parts or contents of buildings.
- Do not deface or vandalize buildings, whether occupied, abandoned, or unoccupied, or emergency refuges
For me, it sounded even more adventurous as I had never done any kind of camping before in my life. I knew that camping in Antarctica was going to be an entirely new and challenging experience for me. Like others, I had many questions running in my mind. For example: “How am I going to put up my tent? How am I going to sleep on that freezing cold surface? What would happen if snowfall occurs? What if the wind goes fast?” And so on…
Like an amateur camper, I went to my camp leaders Mr. Benjamin (Ben) & Ms. Gracie to tell them that it was my first time and I did not know anything about camping.
I said, “I don’t know how to put up my tent. I don’t know how to make my bed.”
Ben smiled and said, “Don’t worry; you will be good as you are not putting any tent there. We will be camping in a sleeping bag (Bivy Sac).”
I said, “What? In this freezing cold, you are telling me that we are camping in a sleeping bag in Antarctica. You must be joking.”
Both smiled at me again and Gracie said, “No, we are not…”
Oh My God! Her Smile did the magic! I got convinced.
Having made up my mind about sleeping in the sac, I was very excited. A bit worried too, as it is very hard to predict the weather in Antarctica! One batch of campers had already got cancelled the other night. Therefore, our group was simply praying and hoping for clement weather.
Thankfully, luck was with us that day. At the last moment it was announced by our expedition leader Ms Lynn that all campers should layer themselves, collect all the camping gear from the storeroom and meet at the gangway by 9:30 pm.
Our team of twenty campers and two leaders got ready for its lifetime adventure. We left the ship by 9:35 pm. With our excellent zodiac driver, we made it to our campsite ‘Leith Cove’ before 10:00 pm.
I will never forget that 15 minutes zodiac sailing from our ship to the campsite. We were freezing as the temperature was far below zero. All campers were motivating each other, singing songs and cracking jokes to keep the spirits high.
Our campsite for the night had an awesome panoramic view of stunning icebergs, the massive mountain at our background and a glacier coming out into the sea from the front. I can’t explain it in words. It was so epic!
Upon our arrival at the campsite, the real work began. Our camp leaders Ben & Gracie gave us a shovel, and everybody started digging their pits, sharing the shovel and helping each other.
Digging a pit was not an easy task. It was more challenging than I expected it to be. It demanded a good fitness level. The conditions were hard as the snow was fresh. We were finding it difficult to even walk on the surface. Some of us are were walking like penguins and falling after every 5-6 steps on our stomach. It was a very funny situation.
Ms Valeria, one of my fellow campers fell twice on the same spot. It was a cute moment. She was so obsessed with her own photos that instead of asking for help, she asked me to click her picture. (I wish I could share that snap!) Everyone was laughing and enjoying that moment. She, along with her son Marcos, had come from Argentina.
After this short funny incident, everybody got back to their work and started digging their pits. The hardest part for me was to dig 3 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 6 feet long pit for myself to keep me safe from the cold winds and snowfall.
While we were busy digging our own pits in that freezing cold, suddenly we heard a creaking sound of the iceberg. An avalanche, one big crevasse was falling from the heights. Tom, my fellow camper, and I wanted to go further to see the iceberg out of curiosity. But, due to safety reasons, Ben asked us to come back as the edges were very sloppy and slippery.
It was so scary that all of us panicked. But our experienced leaders Ben and Gracie calmed the situation by saying, “Guys it’s normal here… go get your shovels and continue digging your pits before the weather goes hard”. After a few minutes of pause, we continued.
When everything was set up for the night, all of us got busy taking pictures, mingling with each other and going around, feeling the campsite.
After the individual photo shoots were over, all the campers scrambled around working out how to spell Antarctica with our bodies. That was a fun part, especially making the letter ‘N’ as it needed three people. Two people each were needed for making the letters ‘C’ and ‘A’.
Finally, we managed to create this unique one.
By then it was 11:00 pm. We were set to say Good Night Antarctica.
Before going to bed, our camp leader Ben wanted to do the final check whether each one of us was comfortable or not. I requested to accompany him, and he took me along
We saw some funny things outside the pits of fellow campers. A few had made snowmen. One couple had made a double bed luxury pit for themselves. A Chinese couple had made the shape of The Great Wall of China around their pits. There were many more such funny things.
After a few minutes of inspection Ben asked me to go back to my pit.
I returned, removed my snow boots, snow pants and jacket. I kept the stuff outside in a sac and quickly crawled into the sleeping bag. The temperature was falling briskly.
As it was my first experience in a sleeping bag, I just lay down in three layers. After a few minutes, I started sweating and feeling suffocated.
“Why am I sweating in Antarctica?” I got panicked, crawled out from my sleeping bag, took some fresh air and I asked Tom who was sleeping next to my pit.
“How are you man?”
In a low voice he replied that he was feeling uncomfortable.
Me: Why? What happened?
Tom: Feeling suffocated in this sleeping bag.
Me: Me too. That’s why I came out from it. I am feeling better now.
Tom: Okay! Let me come too.
One other camper was hearing our conversation and said, “Guys, please remove your layers, sleep comfortably and let me also sleep.”
I must say that after removing two layers, I felt normal and had a very cosy experience. Oceanwide had provided us sleeping bags of the best quality, which kept us warm throughout the night.
To be honest, first because of panic and then out of the excitement I couldn’t sleep till 03:00 am. I plugged in my earphone and started listening to my favourite playlist while watching the Antarctica sky.
When everyone else seemed to be asleep, I heard the noise of two adorable penguins very close to my pit, playing with each other. I wanted to go closer, but snow was falling. I had already removed two layers. The temperature outside was freezing. So, I decided to watch them from the distance.
After a few minutes, they walked away and again I was lost in Antarctica’s beauty, listening to the enigmatic noise of melting ice, the sound of creaking icebergs and avalanches from the mountain. Besides, puffy snowflakes fell on and off throughout the night. It was truly heaven.
Around 4:30 am, we heard “Happy Campers Good Morning” from our leaders Gracie & Ben. I woke up with a nice camping experience. Now, it was time to depart back to the ship. Our zodiac driver was already waiting for us at the shore.
Our camp leaders asked us to take all the belongings before leaving the campsite and to cover our pits (to ensure that no penguins would fall inside). Ben and Gracie were such kind-hearted human beings that they cross-checked again, ensuring that no suspicious objects were left behind (which could cause threat to the local wildlife).
Finally, when we returned to our ship, our most humble crew (including the manager Ms Zsuzsanna herself) was waiting for all the happy campers with hot chocolate and hot coffee in their hands. I have never met such an amazing crew in any of my travels so far.
We congratulated each other for the awesome camping experience in Antarctica. I felt so happy! Once again, big thanks to the full team of Oceanwide Expedition for giving me such a memorable camping experience. I will cherish it forever.