Antarctica: It’s “hotter” than you think

“You’re’ crazy. It’s way too cold there!” is a refrain many potential Antarctica travelers hear. However, the myth of brutal cold deserves to be debunked, at least in the Antarctic summer when expeditions occur.

After I read the book, “Endurance,” visions of Schackelton’s ship frozen in the Antarctic ice and 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?

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.

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. 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!

I started with a simple base layer (a t-shirt) and added some nice merino wool thermal underwear. For my legs, all that was 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 easily stowed in a pocket or a pack when it’s too warm. A warm beanie to cap it all off, and I was all set.

The ship provided rubber boots for the landings, so I didn’t need to pack hiking boots or anything special. The only shoes required are the ones I wore on board. A couple of layers of thick wool socks were great for keeping my feet warm 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 in the fantastic wildlife and landscapes surrounding 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 onshore.

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!

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