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Camping Antarctica

Tonight we would be camp in Antarctica, testing our metal on the frozen continent, but of course with the comfort of exceptional gear and guidance. We thoroughly bundled up in anticipation of the sun going down for a bit of the evening, and on us not moving as much as we did during the day excursions. We grabbed our sleeping bags as we boarded the zodiac, and zipped over to the point which was a flat stretch of snow that precipitously rose to a hill and then a mountain a short ways away from the landing site. Flags already marked the tent locations, we just needed to grab a pulka (or sledge) already loaded with our tent, pads, and air mattress, and then head to a flag like a miniature Oklahoma land grab. While we waited for others to be Zodiaced over, we walked around, saw a lone Gentoo that was there to greeting us, and a Weddell seal eying us warily from the water, likely unhappy that we had stole his spot as he had been enjoying the campsite when the guides first arrived. Once everyone arrived, we had a quick briefing and then were off to choose a campsite. We chose the flag furthest from our disembarking point. From there we started to pull out and set up our Hilleberg Nammatj 2 person tent.

Setting up the tent was part of the experience, and the Nammatj is known for being easy to set up, light (only 6.61 lb), able to stand up to high winds, which are common in Antarctica, and linked but separable inner and outer tent for simultaneous pitching. We got the poles inserted to provide the frame and were generally heading in the right direction with our guy lines, but did need a bit of help to fully set up. Maggie, who had been one of our guides in kayaking, came over to help us and we learned she had recently completed a 100 day skiing trek to the South Pole. It sounded amazing and challenging, and we didn’t have enough time to ask her a lot of questions, but she did mention that it cost around $150K due to the logistics and potential need to be helicoptered out of danger. With our tent setup, we added our pads, blew up our air mattress pads, and placed our sleeping bags inside.

The group then did a quick briefing of the toilet situation, which we had been notified of in advance. Only number 1’s were acceptable, no number 2’s. They had dug out a very nice toilet area for us, with two portable camping toilets. These thrones had some of the best views of any toilets in the world I’d wager, but given the cold we weren’t keen to have to use them, which was why we had limited our fluid intake at dinner. 

We then hiked up the nearby hill, silence descended as the group gazed over glaciers, everyone enjoying the magnificence of the moment, the experience of camping in Antarctica overnight. A bit later we headed back down to our tent and a quote from Fridtjof Nansen came to mind, 

“The first great thing is to find yourself and for that you need solitude and contemplation – at least sometimes. I can tell you deliverance will not come from the rushing noisy centers of civilization. It will come from the lonely places.”

During camping in Antarctica, CJ attempted to set up her tripod to test some long exposure photographs, but unfortunately the tripod immediately broke upon trying to set it up. However, given that heavy clouds and fog had moved in after the sunshine and clarity of the day, we probably didn’t miss out on too much. Here are a series of pictures capturing some key moments of the experience:

We wormed into the tent ensuring to leave our boots in the outer vestibule, and then started to get comfy in our sleeping bags, or on them in my case as I was still more than warm enough. It was about midnight, and this was a bit tougher than we thought it would be as darkness had descended on us, even in the Antarctic summer. We had the flashlight on my phone, but only that light, and it was often hard to point the light and make adjustments, but we got there eventually. This is something we felt Hurtigruten had missed in the early briefing, as they never mentioned needing flashlights, but in hindsight it seems obvious. We stayed up for a bit having brought our Kindles along for some reading, but quickly the 360 cacophony of ice quakes lulled us to sleep, and while we had intended to stay up, we slept almost straight through until the wakeup calls from our camping chaperones at 5AM.

CJ did make one journey to the toilet around 3AM, and said after the fact that it was actually an easy experience and not too cold. We packed up all of our supplies a little too quickly. Turned out too quickly as we had about 45 minutes to kill when we were done before the ship picked us back up around 6AM.

As soon as we got back to our cabin we quickly fell back asleep.

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