Camping in Antarctica!

1st January 2017

What a way to start the new year! Another landing a Damoy Point in the morning for more snow, ice and penguins where I had my first experience of show-showing. I was surprised at how easy snowshoes made the trek up the hill, although I needed a quick lesson on how to put them on, very easy as it turns out, with 3 straps over the front and one behind the heel, just like a pair of sandals. Sadly, I took my small camera this morning, then on the last night of the cruise stupidly removed the SD card to download something from the laptop on board and consequently lost it! So no photos from here, but can’t resist adding others from yesterday!

I’m not sure if it’s the weather or I’m just layering extremely well but I keep having to take my big outer jacket off every time we land, even before I get to the top of a hill. The weather though is just beautiful, still around 4 degrees I think, but sunshine and no wind makes it feel much warmer.

I must say though, as a group, we have vastly improved our lifejacketing skills!!!! Who’d have thought a few days ago it would be a simple 2 second task now, even grabbing the “tail”to bring up between your legs to clip in front – amazing creatures we are, lol.

Tag board on Plancius

Tag board on Plancius

Mind you, the tag system still has some way to go before we all remember to turn our cabin number over when we go off and on the boat! There’s always a call for the “card game” as they call it – these cabin numbers please go and turn your tag if you’re on-board, we won’t be moving until everyone is here!

Another fabulous lunch and it was off to our dual landing. After checking out the penguins for a while at Jougla Point I perched on a rock and sketched the view across the bay towards the buildings of Port Lockroy.

Then the exciting visit to the old base where we could explore the museum, buy souvenirs and post mail! The base was used in WWII by the British but abandoned until 1966 when it was renovated and now researches the effect of tourism on penguins as well as serving us tourists.

Penguin Post at Port Lockroy in Antarctica

Penguin Post at Port Lockroy in Antarctica

The penguins weren’t at all worried about us, there were so many of them with chicks it was just wonderful. Looking back I feel I didn’t take enough pics of the wildlife, but at the time I was so mesmerized by the landscape, they took second place. Of course, I took my passport to have it stamped, bought some souvenirs and postcards and posted them in the Penguin Post box.

At 9pm we got the call to head off for our night camping at Lefévre Point where there was a lone Adelie penguin waiting for us. He patrolled along a high ridge of snow just behind us all night and was still there to farewell us at 5 the next morning.

Well, what an experience, just getting from the zodiac on to dry land, or at least ice and snow, was a bit precarious and then sinking knee deep with some steps and finding hard ice with others was a tad challenging. Then the fun really began, find your spot and dig your little grave they said, it’ll be fun they said! Yeah right, I was having trouble keeping upright without trying to dig a bloody grave, lol. Nacho spent the night in the open like us but Christophe had a little tent; because he was camping 4 nights a week he wanted some luxury! These guys are amazing.

One of the funniest sights was a porta-potty sitting on the ice in front of a lone rock near the shore, not much privacy there. No wonder the guides kept stressing the lack of facilities and importance of “going” before we left Plancius.

The ‘grave’ is really just a shallow one, enough so you’re laying below the rest of the snow around you as protection from the wind. Having heard from last night’s campers the difficulty they had filling them in the next morning, most of ours were pretty shallow. Looking back at photos now I realize mine was nothing like a grave, my top half may have had some protection, just, but the other half was well and truly out in the open. I doubt I had any chance of doing it right.

If you thought that was difficult, just imagine this. You’ve got a big waterproof bag with all your dry sleeping gear and a bivvy bag to organize and the instructions for what went where had gone in one ear and out the other what seemed like days ago.

First you lay your bivvy bag in the grave and open it up, then a base mat, then blow up your next mat and lay it down, then lay down one sleeping bag, then another sleeping bag (hoping you have them in the correct order) and you’re done! Except, I kept walking, or more correctly falling, on things because of the soft snow and awkwardness of it all – and they’d done an amazing job of scaring me silly again about how if things got wet you’d end up freezing cold. But then you had to somehow get your knee high waterproof boots, outer jacket and waterproof pants off and get into this nest without getting anything wet, – and keep them dry too, and put them safely away in the big waterproof bag.I also had little packet hand-warmers to put between my 2 layers of socks and inside my gloves, I managed the feet ones then couldn’t find the hand ones, gave up looking as I was just getting more twisted. OMG it was so hilarious watching other people, I just can’t imagine how bad I looked, but it really was immense fun.

I eventually managed to plop myself down in the middle of my bed and was vainly struggling to straighten everything so I could get into it all when one of the young Swiss girls came along and asked if I wanted her to help tuck me in, must have looked pretty hopeless! She was lovely though, I said I’d be right but we both laughed and she helped with all the zips. By the time I’d got that far I was boiling; mind you, I had 2 pairs of socks, thermals top and bottom, windproof long pants, light merino top and down jacket on, so it’s really no wonder I didn’t feel the cold.

I’d lost my glasses case with the hand warmers so slept with glasses on all night, all the better to peek out with every now and then. Was just settling in when I felt drips on my face. What the? Pulled my bivvy bag further up over my face. Next thing was pitter patter on the bivvy bag, pulled it back for another peek and, guess what? It was snowing!!!! How exciting – what more could I ask for? It was just perfect, not too much, just a little every now and then.

I tried rolling on to my side a couple of times but kept getting twisted in my sleeping bags so slept like a board most of the night. By about 2 though my butt was so sore I persevered and got on to my side, next thing I knew, Nacho, one of our camping guides was waking us up – 4:30 had arrived and we had to pack up and leave.

So, it was all done in reverse, not quite as difficult or hilarious but entertaining all the same. Thankfully the ice wasn’t rock hard and filling in the graves didn’t take long or too much effort at all. A sad goodbye to our campground and Adelie penguin, quick trip back to Plancius in the zodiac and it was all just a memory – but what a memory, camping on the ice in Antarctica, with falling snow and patrolling penguin thrown in for good measure. Priceless!







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Filed under Antarctica, Mid-life travel, Solo female travel, Travel

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