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Antarctica (64°69’S 63°57’W)

Date: 2/3/2011
Temp: -12°C at 23:00
Conditions: Overcast to clearing sky
Winds: 1- 3 knots

So, tonight is designated as the night for camping on Antarctica. We head NW for 2 1/2 hours till we reach a small cove on Wiencke Island, which is our destination for a night of camping in Antarctica. The journey is smooth and the snow ceases, which is a signal for good camping weather but conditions here change very rapidly indeed and no weather predictions are taken very seriously, as the continent makes its own weather. After dinner on the ship we head out at 19:30 to allow ourselves enough daylight to set up. The approach through remnants of the ice cliff lining the bay is slow, as it is very shallow. A hill to our left is a small glacier that has covered crevasses, so we pitch camp on a level ground near (or in Phillipe and my case in front) of the Argentine and British Antarctic science huts, to shelter science work parties. Both are left open for emergencies, the BAS one looks antique, with oil burners, old photos on the walls, an old musty smell, old tins of food and books on the fairly well stocked shelves considering its apparent lack of use.

We first begin by leveling the ground for the tent, but keeping enough soft snow to dig our sleeping positions into later. These 3 pole tents are easy to put up and securing the lines into compacted snow with thick iron bars to stand up to unexpected winds was necessary.  We built a pile of snow around the tent, continent side to give extra wind protection as cracks and thundering of calving ice sheets sent volumes of ice into the sea, which getting sights of a well lit boat in the fading blue/grey dusk was surreal. Quiet and yet imposing.

We built an ice cooler for a Macallan 18 year old, single malt whisky and had our first ‘warmer’ of the night, which was a treat. Other guys dug out tables and chairs into the ice and using torches inserted into the tables lit them up into a blue glow. A real ice bar! It is worth pointing out that litter on Antarctica is a serious issue as IAATO and participating countries are aware this is the last real wilderness on the planet, so bottles, cans and everything must not be left (the dumping of scientific equipment is another matter as we saw at Deception Island). So we were instructed not to drink or smoke on the island, but everyone who did was 100% certain they left nothing, not even ash. Everything was disposed of as soon as it was used in the same vestibule.

So we didn’t feel bad all passing around a bottle of rum to keep warm, but this didn’t stop the penetrating cold freeze your ass to the point everyone needed to stand up.

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