Editor’s note: You can read about the start of our camping trip here.
Remember how excited we were when saw our ship come in? Well, it is not exactly the opposite feeling to see your Zodiac boat motor away as you stand on the snow with what looks like not enough gear to keep you alive all night. But it is close.
As the giant leopard seal eyed us from the water, we made our way single file to our camping spot. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it or not, but leopard seals look a little reptilian. In fact, I can imagine a pretty scary movie being made with them as the bad guys and us as the unsuspecting campers who get picked off one by one throughout the night.
Perhaps I’m letting my imagination get carried away here.
Setting up camp
We stopped at the other side of the beach to make camp. Our camping master Matt had hoped to find a spot with a windbreak, but there was none to be had.
A group of about 12 gentoo penguins curiously watched us learn how to set up our 2-man tents and wind flap. It made us laugh to think that they were probably talking amongst themselves about our odd nesting habits and pairings just like we do when we observe them from afar.
The tents themselves are fairly easy to set up with just 3 poles, but the trick is that you can’t stake it to the ground because it is all snow.
The wind made it a little difficult to set up, but we got it together in just a few minutes and then put our sleeping bags and gear inside to keep it from flying away.
As we finished up, we noticed a fur seal about 20 yards away. These seals can be aggressive, and the crew has instructed us to always stay at least 15 feet away. I wondered if he would get curious and waddle over for a visit, but he just lazily lifted his head and then went back to sleep. Some tough guy, huh?
Matt set up a small chemical toilet outside of our camping area behind the only rock he could find. What’s funny is that at dusk a sleeping seal and a rock look very much alike on the snow. We chuckled thinking about the potential for error in a midnight run to the john. That and the idea of sitting on a ice-cold seat kept most of us on water restriction for the night.
We spent our evening exploring the area, watching another fur seal slowly make his way to the water, and then discovering more whale bones near the shore. The vertebrae on a whale can be the size of small tables, and it is quite an amazing sight.
At about 9 p.m. the radio crackled to life and it was the expedition leader from the ship. He had everyone wish us a good night from the lounge of the ship, and we responded in kind. It was nice to hear their voices in the still of the night.
People who camp in Antarctica
As dark descended, everyone put on their headlamps and we stood at the shore talking as the waves crashed. It was a pretty interesting group of people of various ages and nationalities, and it was neat to see a father/son pairing and a father/daughter pairing. Can you imagine having an experience like that with your parent?
So, what kind of people camp in Antarctica? There were students, retirees, couples like us, and solo travelers. Some people were there for the adventure of it, some to take the kind of pictures they couldn’t take in the group excursions, and some to “check off” Antarctica on their bucket list. There was at least one doctor, a couple of students, a nurse, and a few long-term travelers like us. Our favorite bartender from the ship also joined us. He has been coming to the Antarctic for 5 years and this was his first time to camp.
We were lucky to be camping with a few people we have gotten to know on the trip already. Sharing experiences with friends is always more fulfilling, and it made the experience that much more memorable.
At about 11:30 we headed to bed, and this is where the comedy started.
The tents are very small and shaped like a triangle leaning on one side. To get in, you first have to take off your boots and rain pants without getting snow and ice in the tent. This is even harder than it sounds.
Then you have to find a place to put them inside the tent because leaving them outside is not an option. First, they would probably blow away, and second, they would be frozen solid by morning.
Once this awkward dance is complete, you have to insert the liner into the mummy bag and get yourself inside of it. Again, these are very small tents without a lot of maneuvering room, and you can only stand in it if you are a leprechaun.
After you make it into the mummy bag, you then have to find the zipper and seal yourself up. Once this is done, the second person can start the entire process for themselves, and your responsibility is to stay out of the way and watch out for flying elbows and knees.
When we finally got settled, we realized that were probably in the tent upside down because our heads were at the narrowest part. But at that point it was too late and too cumbersome to change, so we just slept nose-to-nose and hoped our morning breath wouldn’t be too offensive.
All through the night the wind howled, and at many points it sounded like someone right outside our tent. I was convinced it was a fur seal waiting to bite our heads off, and Warren thought it was curious penguins. Apparently I’ve seen more scary movies than him.
The next morning
We reversed our clumsy process from the night before by unzipping from the mummy bag and getting dressed before crawling out to a beautiful cold sunrise. We unmade our tents and gathered our belongings for the walk to the shore where our zodiac boats were waiting.
The seals didn’t stick around to wish us goodbye, but the penguins did. We took one last look back at our campsite as we sped away, thinking all the while about the expeditions of people like Shackleton and Amundsen (sp?) who didn’t have a hot shower and delicious breakfast waiting for them after just one night on the White Continent. It brings about an amazing appreciation for those explorers.
It was a very special moment as everyone quietly reflected on the experience we had just shared. Then Warren spoke up and asked the driver the question we all wanted to know: “So, what did you guys have for dessert last night?”
See, we really aren’t cut out to be adventurers after all.
When we got back to the ship we were treated to the site of 2 humpback whales breaching just a few meters away. I’m pretty sure G Adventures didn’t arrange for that to happen, but it was the perfect end to our camping trip on the ice.