Antarctica: It’s “hotter” than you think

Debunking "You're' crazy, it's way too cold there!"

Having read the book, “Endurance,” visions of Schackelton’s ship frozen in the Antarctic ice, and of penguins huddled in unbearably cold conditions, struggling to protect their eggs, came to mind as I prepared for my first Antarctic expedition. How would I deal with the bitter cold of this foreboding land?

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Flash forward to the December day we landed at Hydrurga Rocks, with the sun shining so strongly, I had to peel off layers to avoid overheating! All those fears of a brutal chill quickly vanished.  

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Indeed, Antarctic expeditions are not as cold as you might think. Sure, weather conditions will vary from day to day and minute to minute, but most visitors benefit from the moderate temperatures, typically in the 30s, Fahrenheit, and even warmer. Sure, it can get a bit colder on a ship’s deck, or as you cruise the bays in a zodiac. Rain or snow can make things feel a bit colder, too. But there’s no need for special

expedition gear. All you need is to think in layers. And then let the thrill of photographic possibilities provide added warmth!

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I started out with a simple base layer (a T shirt), and then added some nice merino wool thermal underwear. For my legs, all that was really needed beyond that was a pair of DWR (durable water repellent) pants. Waterproof pants, or a rain pant shell, for the occasional spray of water or wet seat while on the zodiac, DWR is fine. (By the way, rain is highly unlikely. Did you know that technically, Antarctica is a desert?)

Up top, I went with a sweater (fleece is good, too), topped with a down jacket and a rain shell. The shell helps break the wind, providing warmth on the zodiac rides. A neck gaiter is nice for colder weather, and is easily stowed in a pocket or pack when it’s too warm for it. A warm beanie to cap it all off, and I was all set.

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The ship provided rubber boots for the landings, so I didn’t need to pack hiking boots or anything special. The only shoes needed are the ones I wore on board. A couple of layers of thick, warm wool socks were great to keep my feet warm while onshore or on the zodiac.

With this, the weather and temperatures were such a non-issue that I had no trouble immersing all my senses into the amazing wildlife and landscapes that surrounded me. Like penguins hopping from rock to rock, tending their nests, or waddling to the sea to feed, clean themselves off, and play in the water. It’s a mesmerizing display.  Or two humpback whales, as they played right next to and below our ship for well over an hour. Or seals sunning themselves on shore.

Visiting and photographing Antarctica was a life-changing experience, and now I’m looking forward to the next expedition with even more excitement. What will be different this time? I’ll worry less, and enjoy it more!