If I had to decide what the most badass thing I did in Antarctica was, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be camping.
Yep, that’s right, I got to camp on the fricking frozen continent! Not only that, it wasn’t your typical type of camping.
We had no campfires, no marshmallows, no true nighttime and we didn’t even have a tent.
Nope, instead we dug shallow graves in the ice and quite literally slept while surrounded by ice; how bloody cool (no pun intended) is that?
I was really lucky to be given the opportunity to camp. There were five nights of planned camping on the voyage (the first four nights for each of the four groups, one night as a spare) and in the end, only two groups were actually able to do so, as the weather didn’t allow for people to camp on the other three nights.
Our small group arrived to the landing point via zodiac, and once ashore, the work began.
Digging graves may sound morbid, but actually, it’s pretty bloody smart.
By digging a shallow grave just deep enough for yourself to fit inside, you effectively shield yourself from pretty much all of the freezing Antarctic wind. Sure, tents would do the same thing, but you can hang out in a tent pretty much anywhere. The effort of the digging and the sheer ridiculousness of it kinda made it more special.
I am a fairly useless human being when it comes to manual labour, so my attempt to dig a grave was rather appalling. I gotta give a big shout out to my father for not just digging his own grave, but also for digging at least half of mine.
Once the grave was dug, it was time to assemble the bedding, which was actually trickier than you’d expect.
There are lot of layers that have to go in a specific order, and you have to work quite quickly to get everything in place, otherwise it will go very cold before you get in, and this is turn makes it take longer for your body heat to warm the bags up.
When your bedding bag is assembled, the time comes to hurriedly ditch your outer layers and scramble into said bag, and get yourself comfy…
…but not before taking a few ridiculous selfies of course!
Soon after, my dear dad (Papa Burne to those aren’t familiar) settled into his ‘grave’ a few metres away from me.
Soon I was ready to try and go to sleep, but this turned out to be a little easier said than done. During an Antarctic summer the sun never truly sets, and it remains bright pretty much always. After about five minutes I remember talking to Papa Burne and saying that I thought I’d need to go back to the ship as there was no way that I’d be able to fall asleep. Papa Burne promptly told be to stop whinging (fair call to be honest) and within a few more minutes, I was out like a light.
I woke up a while later to the sounds of water lapping, the rustle of wind and even of penguins chatting nearby.
Thinking that I’d only been asleep for an hour or so, I pulled my phone from it’s spot between my feet to check the time, and to my complete and utter surprise, I had slept like a baby for over 5 hours!
I emerged from my bedding bag and quickly got myself dressed before starting to fill my ‘grave’ back in. My daddyo soon emerged too, and he informed he that he hadn’t slept all night! I would have been a grumpy bastard if I had been without sleep, but it was such a cool experience that he was still in good spirits.
Whilst waiting for the rest of our group to emerge and to begin dutifully filling in their graves, I hung out with a couple of curious gentoos who were chilling out nearby.
It was then time to head back to the ship. For this, I was glad – I was busting to pee! Despite the near debilitating need to empty my bladder, camping in the ice was an experience that was truly like no other, and one that I was exceptionally lucky to be able to have.
Shackleton, eat your heart out.
Getting to Ushuaia: Ushuaia is well connected to Buenos Aires and El Calafate
Oceanwide Expeditions: An 11 night Basecamp Ortelius voyage starts at around $9650 USD
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with a M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens
Remember: The weather rules in Antarctica and even if camping is an activity offered by a cruise company, it may not always happen