The idea that I had signed up for camping in Antarctica in a tent was apparently an amusing one to anyone who knows me. I hate being cold more than just about anything, so the fact that I was paying to experience being cold for an entire night was laughable.
The idea to experience this once in a lifetime offer was simply too tempting to resist, and besides, how often do you get to travel to Antarctica?
There is No Tent When Camping in Antarctica
In my typical fashion of booking something and then completely ignoring it, I didn't realize I wouldn't even have the benefit of a tent until a week before I left to visit Antarctica when Jeremy informed me I'd likely be sleeping in solely a sleeping bag.
I laughed this off – Antarctica is freezing, surely they'd provide us something against the elements?
While tents were available if you absolutely, desperately needed one, the expedition staff strongly advised against them and instead presented us with the bivy bag.
I stared dubiously at what looked like a sleeping bag made from a tarp and resigned myself for a long cold night.
Cuverville Island For the Night
After a few failed nights to find suitable camping weather, we finally received the go ahead to camp at Cuverville Island on the fourth night. We set off from our Antarctica cruise ship to make camp at 9pm, the sun still high in the sky.
The location was remarkably beautiful.
We had a small clearing that backed up against a glacier; the ship waited picturesquely in the background for us to return as Popsicles in the morning. Miniature icebergs floated by idly as we set up our bags and had impromptu snowball fights.
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Around 11pm we all began to settle down and get ready for the night. I stripped down to my base layer as quick as humanly possible in the frigid air and practically dove into my bag. It felt odd to be going to sleep with the sun still high in the sky.
In theory, the bivy bag works by cocooning you and your sleeping bag totally. It goes completely over your face, tightening until only a tiny air hole remains.
Keeping in mind that everything you brought with you overnight is shoved inside the bag with you to stay dry and warm, it's extremely claustrophobic at first.
I laid there staring at the bright sky through the tiny hole, trying not to think of my friends finding my frozen oxygen-starved corpse in the morning. Deciding I preferred breathing to warmth, I yanked the hole open big enough to get two fists through. Icy air wafted into my tepid cocoon but I could breathe now.
I settled onto my side and tried to sleep.
No Sleep in Antarctica
An hour later I was still awake cursing my freezing toes. Cold toes had been the bane of my existence the entire time in Antarctica no matter how many socks I had worn.
I had even brought toe warmers to shove in between my sock layers for the night only to find out too late they were duds. I rolled my eyes and resigned myself to staying up the entire night.
In all honesty, there's worse ways to spend a night than staring at the changing colors in the Antarctic sky.
Convinced I would remain awake the entire night, I was surprised when I was startled awake to a crashing roar nearby. I sat upright in my bag, shoving my head through the hole only to be strangled.
As I struggled with the bag, I watched in amazement as the glacier next to us let go of its snowy shelf. The snow came crashing down with a thundering sound and I realized with a sense of awe that I'd been woken by an avalanche.
Eventually I fell back into a gloriously warm slumber and slept until a singsong voice rang out shattering the silence. I stayed cuddled up in my bag trying to discern the words from one of the guides. Realizing he was chattering on about whales, I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. We have whales in Canada; I preferred sleep at the moment.
The guide refused to believe that anyone would prefer sleep to whales breaching in the early morning sunlight however, and thus I was dragged out of my hibernation. I pulled on my clothes, teeth chattering and stumbled down to the water’s edge to see: precisely nothing.
Annoyed, I turned to go back to my bag when a splash caught my attention. I turned to see two Minke whale tails breaking the surface of the water. Transfixed, we watched as they came up over and over to play in the morning sunlight.
When they finally made their way away from our camp, our guide saddled up next to me and asked if I'd ever had a more magical awakening. I wanted to fire back some quip about the early hour and lack of coffee, but instead I stood there mute, watching the whales getting smaller and smaller on the horizon.
Even I wasn't willing to break the magic.
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