For the past 20 years it’s been a goal of mine to explore all 7 continents, and this year it finally happened. After saving up and doing my research, I found the perfect Antarctic Cruise for me with AdventureSmith Explorations, and they didn’t disappoint! 12 days of cruisin’, snowshoeing, kayaking, mountaineering, camping and full on exploring the most remote continent on earth….it was pretty spectacular!
Coming up off 2 weeks of trekking through Argentina, Patagonia before embarking to Antarctica I don’t think I was mentally prepared to be stuck on a boat for 2 days straight without any escape. I went a little stir crazy I won’t lie, but from what I hear, we got the calmest Drake Passage you could ask for. “The Drake” is known for being one of the most volatile parts of the ocean in the world, since it’s the only place where the ocean circles the earth without hitting land. Because of that fact, it is extra susceptible to multiple storm cycles at once, causing very inconsistent and seriously scary seas. Now while we started off the adventure with what is called the “Drake Lake”, the trip back was not nearly as calm….but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The cruise wasn’t all just sitting around, the amazing adventure staff put on a series of educational programs throughout the cruise days about everything from global warming, to whale identification. Which came in handy when we came across a family of humpback whales who decided they wanted to see what we were all about, and no joke popped up less than 10 meters from the boat. It was quite an epic experience to say the least. The next morning, we woke up at our first port, King George Island and were finally able to get off and go for our first snowshoe expedition atop a snow covered glacier. They even roped us all together, which made me feel like we had reached super hardcore adventure status. A storm started to roll in unfortunately, so we had to cut our trek a little short, but it was still nothing short of awesome. After that we headed to the Chilean and Russian checkpoints, got some Antarctica stamps in our passports, and then got to experience our first penguin encounter...my official spirit animal.
The next few days encompassed explorations I couldn’t have dreamed up if I wanted to. We trekked up the ridge line of Deception Island, snowshoed up a glacier overlooking Horseshoe Island, cruised through ice covered passages, kayaked through icebergs with waters so calm it was as if we were paddling hrough a mirror. Got to camp under the night sky, some chose tents and others slept in just a bivy sac in a snow hole you dig for yourself. (We joked it was like digging your own grave, but luckily we all survived to tell the tale.) Then there was the wildlife. I’ve touched briefly on the penguins already, but I can’t come close to expressing the pure joy of being in their presence. They are the most playful, ridiculous, hilarious animals I’ve had the pleasure to observe, and I couldn’t get enough. They really do make your day. Then there were the killer whales! I couldn’t help by think of Free Willy when we had 2 stunning Orca that just glided through the water on either side of our boat for a good 20 minutes. It was incredible. The birds, the humpbacks, the sea lions, it really does feel like a place where time stands still and animals (no people) control the elements. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience it.
After 6 amazing days of disembarking off onto the ice and snowy land, it was time to turn around and head back through “The Drake”…but this time it was not exactly mellow. We are talking 20 foot swells, to the point that while we were eating in the dining hall, all the windows would submerge under water. Just a little disconcerting….but it did make for some epic boat splash photos, so I can’t complain too much.
Overall I don’t think I could have been luckier with weather, animal sightings, expeditions, fellow travelers and awesome adventure guides exploring epic Antarctica. Considering I’ve been building up this continent in my head for years, it beyond exceeded my expectations.