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You may think camping in Antarctica sounds like a rugged, cold and uncomfortable night with little rest.

Well, frankly, it is, but my night camping in Antarctica was also one of the highlights of my 12 day trip there. With Antarctica itself being such a mysterious and magical place, I could hardly resist the opportunity to spend as much extra time on land as possible!

Kite Flying in Antarctica
Kites are an absolute essential on every Antarctic Traveler’s gear list.

Overnight camping in Antarctica was one of the options offered by our expedition, and the offer came with a preparatory speech that was full of at least a dozen disclaimers. Some of these included but were not limited to:

  • You will probably only get about 30 minutes of sleep.
  • You will be very cold.
  • You will be miserable.
  • There is nothing to keep you entertained out there.
  • You are not allowed to drink for 24 hours beforehand (OK, maybe one shot of vodka at the southernmost bar in the world).
  • You will be sleeping in holes that you dig yourselves.
  • You will have exactly 5 minutes with a shovel to dig these holes.
  • Once you are at the campsite there is no going back to the ship except in emergencies.
  • We will come to get you at 5:30 in the morning whether you slept or not.
  • There is only one metal bucket that the all campers must share as a restroom.

Despite this wildly inspirational speech, roughly two-thirds of the passengers on the ship opted to continue with their plans of camping in Antarctica, myself included. Who could turn down an adventure like that?

Digging Our Own Graves

Digging Snowy Graves in Antarctica
I went for the King Size model.

After our daily activities concluded, all campers were whisked off to land where we were given our camping kits consisting of a sub-zero bivouac bag, foam mat, bag liner and outer shell. Shovels were thrust into our hands and we were told it was time to dig our Snowy Graves. There were only a handful of shovels to go around, so each person had approximately 5 minutes to furiously dig the shallow trench in which they would sleep.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous as we quickly dug our graves and prepared for the evening. By the time I was done digging, I barely needed any layers anymore with the sweat I worked up! We finished our preparations by laying our mat and bag liner inside of our sleeping bags, and presto! We were ready for a great night!

Antarctica Snowy Grave
Camping in Antarctica is exactly as luxurious as it sounds.

For the final portion of our orientation, we were shown around the campsite and warned of the crevasses on the other side of the nearby hill. Most importantly, we were introduced to Mr. Yum Yum, the lone metal bucket that was to serve our entire camp site’s restroom needs. Now we really felt rugged!

Winding Down

We spent the remainder of the evening hiking, kite flying and hill climbing while we explored our area. Across the bay we could see Vernadsky Station where we visited earlier in the day, and just above us was a hill with several large crevasses on the opposite side. I wandered about to see what I could see, and before I knew it nearly everyone was tucked into their snowy graves and trying to get some sleep!

Not feeling tired whatsoever, I opted to explore a bit more and take in the scenery, noting the beautiful weather rapidly disappearing and giving way to an extremely thick fog. Soon the visibility became so poor that it was too dangerous to continue wandering around, so myself and the remaining holdouts retreated to our snowy graves and did our best to sleep through the night.

Antarctica Camping Weather
What happened to that beautiful weather?

Catching Some ZZZ’s

As I shed my outer layers and deposited them into my waterproof bag for the evening before shimmying into my bivy bag, I couldn’t help but think about the obligatory shot of vodka I had earlier that day and the warning that those who drank would be more likely to freeze due to the thinning of their blood.

My fears turned out to be unfounded as I continued shedding more layers after coming up to temperature in my bag. I even ended up leaving a small part of the zipper cracked open to get some fresh air. Despite the horrible weather outside of my bag, I was warm and toasty, although not quite as comfortable as I was in the cabin bed I had become used to.

A Surprise Wake-Up Call

I awoke in the morning to the sound of rustling outside my bag. Looking towards the zipper, the first thing I noticed was a layer of ice surrounding my ventilation hole with a roughly 3 inch radius. Good thing I only left a small hole!

Penguin-Wake-Up
Don’t mind me, just passing through…

I unzipped my bag and the first thing I saw upon poking my head out of my bag was a lone penguin wandering through camp! A few sleepy campers had also noticed the sight and  everything came to a halt to let our new-found friend find his way through. It was the perfect Antarctic wake-up call and right on time to remind everyone that we had to wake up and get ready to head back to the ship.

In the end, camping in Antarctica was an unforgettable adventure and a big notch on my adventure travel belt. Nobody ended up getting acquainted with Mr. Yum Yum, but we did organize the zodiacs going back to the ship in order of whom had to use the restroom most urgently.  Strangely enough, it seemed like a 60 person tie! If you make it down to the 7th continent, you would be remiss not to consider camping in Antarctica and joining in on a once in a lifetime experience.

Yes, you can camp outdoors in Antarctica! Find out how to an and what it's like to spend an icy night on land in Antarctica.

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