Did you know that you can camp in Antarctica? I didn’t until I researched my trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. My trip to Antarctica was the fulfilment of a life-long dream: to visit all seven continents. I wanted to make it an official visit by spending the night on the ice. Could I really claim that I’ve visited all seven continents without spending the night on the physical ground of Antarctica? No.
SETTING UP CAMP
It wasn’t an easy camping experience. We had to hike up and around the Gentoo penguin rookery, loaded with our heavy duty sleeping bag, liner and sleeping mat. I was sweating and out of breath before we reached our designated spot in Neko Harbor.
The difficult hike was the result of the steep hills that form the harbor. The penguins had created their rookery at the top of one hill for safety against predators. I watched them waddle up and down the grooves, known as penguin highways, as I struggled to hike up the human highway.
Our guides gave us the overview of camping. We had to stay in a certain area that was determined to be safe (i.e. stable ice). There would be a constant watch for weather changes and ice calving. We would be alerted in case of an emergency evacuation. Mother Nature reigns in Antarctica. A fun camping experience is more dangerous than you think. After all, we were camping on a glacier.
And they reminded us that the toilet was for emergencies only. And after looking at the bucket dug into the ice, it looked like an unpleasant experience anyway. I’m not afraid to admit this—my roommate had brought adult diapers for the occasion. We both wore them, but didn’t use them.
After the rules, we were told to start shoveling! The camping area was on an incline so we had to dig out a flat sleeping space to avoid rolling down into the freezing sea. Again, this was not your typical camping experience.
I picked a spot near the rookery so I could watch the penguins but also admire the harbor. It was a tough task to dig out and flatten the ice. I didn’t expect to have a tough climb followed by tough digging! The camping was more arduous than I had anticipated.
BASKING IN THE AWE
It was hard to tell when day became night. It’s rare to see the sun in Antarctica even in the summer. A grayness permeates the continent with low clouds blocking the sky. The only lights were that of our ship anchored a bit outside of the harbor. It seemed so small from high up on the hill.
My eyes tried to take it all in. I watched life unfold in the penguin rookery. There were two penguins that were fighting, squawking and chasing each other. Other penguins stood as tall as possible to call to their mates while flapping their flippers. Eventually, the penguins settled in and laid on their bellies to sleep.
I also watched the glacier at the round part of the harbor that sat on the top of the mountain. Without warning, we heard a cracking noise and all of sudden pieces of it tumbled into the dark sea below. The roar and splash of the fall hung in the icy air for what seemed like an eternity. It was another reminder that this wasn’t a typical camping experience. My mind tried desperately to remember each detail to savor forever. And my body, well, it tried to be as comfortable as possible to get some sleep at some point.
SETTLING IN FOR THE NIGHT
I had been camping in cold climates before and I knew the key trick was to not get any ice into my sleeping bag. That would make for a miserable, cold sleeping experience. I slept in all my clothes, tucked my cameras near my body to keep them warm and carefully took off my boots to cocoon myself into the sleeping bag.
A BEAUTIFUL MORNING
We had to wake up early to rejoin the big ship. The faint sun cast a soft glow on the rookery and brought the blue in the glaciers. I watched as the penguins started their day, traversing the penguin highways and feeding the chicks.
I lingered as long as I could to soak in the beautiful morning in the most exotic destination in which I had camped. It wasn’t the best night sleep that I’ve had, but it was one of the most magical nights.
Have you been to Antartica? Please share your experience in the comments below! Read Next > How To Survive A Patagonia Winter Trek