Few people can say they have stepped foot on Antarctica. Even fewer can say that they have camped on the White Continent!
Many ships will offer adventure activities for travelers looking to enhance their Antarctic experience and take it one step further. Among these activities are kayaking, snowshoeing, mountaineering, and camping. Most of these activities require special permits, which are limited, so if you are interested in adding an experience to your Antarctic adventure, book well in advance and let your trip planner know right away!
I had some hesitations about camping on the ice. After all, I don't even winter camp back home in Montana. But my travel partner "twisted my arm," and I found myself signing up a few months before our journey. It was absolutely worth it - thanks, Kelly!
Camping is one of the most sought-after activities on any Antarctic cruise, and yet even those who sign up have many questions.
Do I need to bring any gear? Only warm layers and yourself! Three-season tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and all the accoutrements are provided, including a portable toilet (see below). You will have a briefing prior to the camping excursion during which your guides will tell you what to wear for camping (read: layers, a hat, warmest socks) and what to bring (not much: water, some hand warmers, a headlamp).
How does the camping program work? Your captain and expedition leaders will monitor conditions at each landing site, choosing the one with the most ideal conditions. So, you will not know on which night you'll be camping typically until the day before. In the afternoon during your PM excursion, your camping leader will take the group of campers ashore to set up camp. As a group, you will set up the tents and bivvies. Shovels are provided to dig out a space for your tent and make it as level as possible. Once all is set up, the group returns to the ship for an early dinner. It is recommended not to have too many beers or sodas to avoid having to use the restroom several times throughout the night! Then, you'll change into your sleeping layers, don your waterproof outer gear, and zodiac back to your campsite to spend the night! In the morning, you rise early to break down camp and head back to the ship for a hot breakfast and an even hotter shower.
But...what if I have to use the restroom? Have no fear, a portable toilet is provided. One of our lovely guides even dug out a partial igloo with a wall tall enough to block anyone from watching you do your business. "A loo with a view," he called it. It is primitive and quite possibly the coldest potty break you'll ever take, but it is there. Pro tip: don't wear a onesie to sleep in. The WHOLE thing has to come off in order for you to use the toilet. Not ideal.
We camped out at Portal Point, and it is one of the most stunningly beautiful and serene camping experiences I've ever had. We climbed the nearby hills to see the ship nearby, her lights shining to look out for icebergs. A few fur seals plodded around our camp and came quite close a few times. It slowly got darker and darker, and we gathered around for some epic storytelling from our onboard historian, Seb. Once it got too chilly, we settled into our tents to sleep. With the help of a few strategically placed hand warmers in my sleeping bag, I was quite cozy.
For those brave enough to sleep in a bivvy sack, the stars came out around 2AM and put on quite a show. With absolutely no light pollution nearby, the stargazing is phenomenal in Antarctica if you are there at a time when it actually gets dark.
Overall, this was one of my favorite experiences in Antarctica. 10/10 would recommend.