Antarctica

Antarctica Noir: A New Photo Series

Over the last few months, I've spent a great deal of time away from my photos of Antarctica. Having taken over 9,000 shots, I decided to close up Lightroom for a while and let them rest. There were just too many.

Recently however, I started experimenting with the tone of my photos — playing with mood and mystery over the usual bright and colorful shots that I tend to focus on. And suddenly, I was inspired to relive the adventure — in black and white.

In doing so, I discovered many shots that I had overlooked, hidden moments I didn’t see and epic landscapes that came to life in new ways through various shades of gray.

So with that, I give you something new, something different, something on the moodier side... A new series I’m incredibly happy with that will continue to grow as I continue to discover new moments from Antarctica.

Antarctica Noir
A brooding journey through the Antarctic.

Inspiration Talk on My Visit to Antarctica

I was recently asked to give an Inspiration Talk on my experience in Antarctica. Of course, I'm always super happy to talk about all things Antarctica, so I jumped on this right away. Though it’s quite a bit less compelling without my exuberant voiceover and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, I thought I would share the slides from my presentation regardless. Hope you're into it! 

Solo Traveling: Don't Sweat It!

Travel companions make things a whole lot easier. You get to go from place to place leaning on each other as you make your way through unknown places, language barriers, confusing directions and tricky situations. Pals make it comfortable, stress-free (mostly) and provide laughs and company out in the middle of nowhere.

But traveling alone opens up a whole new world of awesome. Nothing puts me outside my comfort zone (in a good way) like solo adventures — from meeting new, now lifelong friends to total self-reliance, traveling alone makes me feel scared and alive. And I need to do more of it.

Luckily, Antarctica is one of the easiest places to visit as a solo traveler. Here are some reasons why:

  1. You’re on a ship the whole time, with lots of crazy people, just like you.
  2. There are many other solo travelers too, all friendly and looking for other people to hang out with.
  3. These solo travelers come in all ages. No matter where you are in life, you will be able to make a new friend. Everyone has a story.
  4. If you’re going alone, the ship will set you up with a cabin-mate(s). Depending on your ship, this will be 1-3 other people of the same gender. Instant companionship!
  5. You're constantly so absorbed in the magical world of Antarctica that you get totally lost in it all. In that state,  you actually want to be on your own, in your head, taking it all in. These moments of introverted reflection were absolutely priceless and a critical part of my experience.
  6. Ushuaia, the port of call for Antarctica, is filled with lots of English-speaking adventurers, making their way to and from Antarctica or Patagonia. Hostels and Hotels are everywhere and the town is easily walkable and easy to for non-Spanish speakers to have a good time.
  7. It’s super easy to get from the airports to Ushuaia, to hikes, to the port, and it’s likely that the tour company will have done everything to help you get from A to B with little thought from you. 
     

I’m telling you, it’s really, shockingly easy. 

So, if you’ve been dying to go to Antarctica and nobody will go with you (because they don’t quite get why’d you go in the first place), just go! Go on your own. Plan it now! 

It will always seem harder than it is, but trust me it’s a breeze — and you might just have a better time than you ever expected.

allison-mccarthy-solo-antarctica

Photos & Stories, Now on Exposure

I really love Exposure. It's a photography blogging platform specifically designed for photographers to share their images and their stories in deeply engaging ways. Every story I post shines so bright on Exposure. The photo formats are gorgeous. The design is top notch. I always spend a great deal of time crafting my photo narratives there, in ways I really can't do anywhere else. I like to keep my writing short and let my photos really take over. 

Antarctica was a photo adventure for me, so I couldn't be happier with the outcome of my Exposure story on Antarctica. The feedback has been incredible! Thank you to everyone whose supported me so far and to anyone else in the future who throws a thumbs up my way. It means so much! Check it out. 

Antarctica: A Most Legendary Adventure

Antarctica: A Most Legendary Adventure

I'm so excited to share the full recap of my trip to Antarctica with you! I genuinely hope that the love I have for this place shines through in all of my posts and hopefully inspires travel in you! 

A Brief Introduction

It never occurred to me that you could visit Antarctica. The Antarctic in my head was filled with science and research stations and relics of explorers past. On my long list of places to travel, Antarctica didn’t even make the cut. But, in 2013, I met a family while in Peru who regaled me with tales of the great white continent siting Antarctica as the best place they’d ever been. The idea had stuck with me ever since. Why was it so great?

In July 2014, I was laying in bed at night thinking about life and travel and suddenly, without warning, Antarctica popped into the forefront of my mind. I had to go. I had to take pictures of the ice. I had to see for myself. I was booked and paid-in-full a few weeks later. Friends often asked why I didn’t just go to Iceland or Alaska, or some place easier to get to. I didn’t have a good answer. Only that for whatever unwritten reason, it had to be Antarctica.

Read More

Antarctica Photos, Coming Soon

I’m so, so close! Nights and weekends have been dedicated to reviewing, editing and organizing photos. There’s so many gems! I’ve gone from over 9,000 to roughly 400 pics. I am thrilled to show you the final set — The goal is early next week.

I’m a bit hesitant to finish my posts and stories, pictures and recaps. It will mean the trip is fully wrapped and the adventure will feel completely over. Hopefully I can continue to bring the spirit of Antarctica in my every day life, tapping into the energy and excitement that was so strong while I was there. 

Or perhaps I just need to plan another trip to the great white continent — to build on my photos and continue the immense respect and love I have for its epic beauty... 

In the meantime, get ready for some photos! And some stories. And some lessons and tidbits in the future.

Contact Sheet of photo selects from the Drake Passage aboard the Sea Adventurer.

Contact Sheet of photo selects from the Drake Passage aboard the Sea Adventurer.

A Quick Preview of Some Top Shots

Since it’s taking me so long to sort through my photos and tell the right stories, I’ve decided to share a little teaser of my favorite images so far. I’ve also posted photos from Ushuaia to Flickr as a bit of an appetizer to the Antarctic main course. I’m psyched to reveal the rest! For now, enjoy these few gems.
 

Nick and Marie waiting for the rest of the group to launch into their kayaks. This photo was taken at  Salvesen Cove,  our first time out on the water. The morning started with mysterious, quiet snowfall and freshly forming sea ice all around us. Within an hour, the sun revealed an incredible glacier cove. The weather changes fast in Antarctica, and my was it magical.

Nick and Marie waiting for the rest of the group to launch into their kayaks. This photo was taken at Salvesen Cove, our first time out on the water. The morning started with mysterious, quiet snowfall and freshly forming sea ice all around us. Within an hour, the sun revealed an incredible glacier cove. The weather changes fast in Antarctica, and my was it magical.

Ahh, Paradise Bay, where the sun was shining and the air was uncharacteristically warm. I took this photo while we were cruising around the bay, exploring the ice and glaciers from the zodiac. This is the only time I opted for the zodiac over the kayak, and in the case I'm glad I did. I was able to use my fancier lenses and capture this moment when the engine was off and the water was still. 

Ahh, Paradise Bay, where the sun was shining and the air was uncharacteristically warm. I took this photo while we were cruising around the bay, exploring the ice and glaciers from the zodiac. This is the only time I opted for the zodiac over the kayak, and in the case I'm glad I did. I was able to use my fancier lenses and capture this moment when the engine was off and the water was still. 

A proud chinstrap penguin watches over Orne Harbor. These guys are not afraid of people and it was such a delight getting fairly close to them, observing their behavior.

A proud chinstrap penguin watches over Orne Harbor. These guys are not afraid of people and it was such a delight getting fairly close to them, observing their behavior.

This is a crazy iceberg with a hole and slide at Charlotte Bay, one of my absolute favorite places on the Antarctic Peninsula (so far). We spent the afternoon kayaking through the icebergs and hiking up to Portal Point for an expansive view of the entire bay.  I took this photo as we were leaving the area, just after an epic outdoor BBQ on the ship.

This is a crazy iceberg with a hole and slide at Charlotte Bay, one of my absolute favorite places on the Antarctic Peninsula (so far). We spent the afternoon kayaking through the icebergs and hiking up to Portal Point for an expansive view of the entire bay.  I took this photo as we were leaving the area, just after an epic outdoor BBQ on the ship.

This was a lucky moment for me. Every night, I woke up around 2:00am to catch the "sunrise" (even though it never gets dark) and every night, the light was just OK. This night, I gave up on the dream and decided to get a full night's sleep and go to bed at 12:00. But not without checking outside first! The sky was a gorgeous pink hue - just what I was looking for. I spent the following hour enjoying the light and snapping photos, of course.

This was a lucky moment for me. Every night, I woke up around 2:00am to catch the "sunrise" (even though it never gets dark) and every night, the light was just OK. This night, I gave up on the dream and decided to get a full night's sleep and go to bed at 12:00. But not without checking outside first! The sky was a gorgeous pink hue - just what I was looking for. I spent the following hour enjoying the light and snapping photos, of course.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Baily Head on Deception Island. It's a pretty tough beach landing with the shore completely exposed to the elements. Our expedition team was amazing, so of course they were able to get us there and allow us to spend so much time with an insane amount of chinstrap penguins on a snowy morning. Here's a curious pair who got up close for a while. I loved it.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Baily Head on Deception Island. It's a pretty tough beach landing with the shore completely exposed to the elements. Our expedition team was amazing, so of course they were able to get us there and allow us to spend so much time with an insane amount of chinstrap penguins on a snowy morning. Here's a curious pair who got up close for a while. I loved it.

A gorgeous view of the Antarctic Peninsula as we were leaving Charlotte Bay, making our way to Orne Harbor for the night. The light, the landscapes, the wildlife in Antarctica was always changing, making it nearly impossible for me to peel myself away from the decks and the windows. I was often leaving early or arriving late for meals, skimping out on sleep, or missing lectures and programs to take it all in. Every moment was filled with amazing things to see. 

A gorgeous view of the Antarctic Peninsula as we were leaving Charlotte Bay, making our way to Orne Harbor for the night. The light, the landscapes, the wildlife in Antarctica was always changing, making it nearly impossible for me to peel myself away from the decks and the windows. I was often leaving early or arriving late for meals, skimping out on sleep, or missing lectures and programs to take it all in. Every moment was filled with amazing things to see. 

Coming Home & the Plan for Sharing

Hey guys! 

Antarctica. Wow.

This experience will be sticking with me for a long, long time…

Anyway, I wanted to give you an update.

It has been so exciting having you guys follow along with me and now that I’ve returned, I’m thrilled to tell the stories, share the moments and unveil the photos I’ve taken (9,369 in total!). 

I’ll need some time to process this epic and transformative adventure, so bear with me while I get organized and try to find the right words and the best photos to describe it. We live in an incredible world and I hope to be able to somehow give you a tiny glimpse into my utterly legendary experience of the Antarctic wilderness.

It will probably all come together after the holidays while I take the time to let it sink in and attempt to adjust to regular life. 

Until then, have an amazing holiday and a happy new year. 

PS - I updated the hero image on my blog with my own shot! I love Antarctica. 

I Leave Tomorrow...

Dearest friends and family, followers and fans. It has finally arrived! I depart for the great adventure to the bottom of the world, tomorrow (insane). At 7:30am December 4th, I board my first flight from SFO and head to LA to Panama City to Buenos Aires and finally to Ushuaia.

I’ve spent that past several months ruminating over options, practicing kayaking and photography, making tough decisions about gear, figuring out how to take underwater pics, answering a lot of questions, and generally over planning for this journey of a lifetime.

I’ve spoken with dozens, learned from many and have amazing people to thank for all the advice and lessons they’ve bestowed. 

On this eve of adventure, I am calm yet filled with anticipation. Eager yet filled butterflies. Butterflies of the unknown, of traveling alone, of the unexpected. But more than anything, I'm ready.

Let’s do this.

Reminder: Follow along! I'm aquinnm Instagram.

The Packing Post

I have an iterative approach to packing and it goes a little something like this:

  1. Pack
  2. Sleep on it.
  3. Unpack and remove stuff. Repack.
  4. Sleep on it.
  5. Sleep on it. 
  6. Unpack and remove stuff. Repack.
  7. Sleep on it.
  8. Unpack, remove stuff, add stuff. Repack.
  9. Depart.

I started with a pretty large list, laid it all out on my floor, rolled it all up and packed it all into 1 suitcase (checked), 1 backpack (overhead), 1 small gear bag (under the seat), 1 tube (checked).

packing

Here’s what I’ve got in those bags:

  • Lots of winter clothes/layers. Breathable, tough, polypropylene and fleece. Rolled.
  • Smallish winter coat (to hold me over in Ushuaia, Quark gives passengers a big parka). Poncho, Rain layers.
  • A few comfy lounge clothes for ship meandering and sleeping.
  • Snow(Ski) pants & Waterproof pants. Hiking pants. Rolled.
  • Socks galore. Wool, waterproof, regular, cozy, etc.
  • Gloves & Hats. Multiple. Diving gloves for the Kayak.
  • Polarizing sunglasses. Two. With straps.
  • Waterproof boots (I don’t want to borrow), hiking boots, sneakers, flats.
  • One nice outfit. Rolled.
  • A swimsuit. Though, I doubt I'll "polar plunge."
  • An insane amount of sea sickness remedies like Gravol, Gum, Ginger Chews and Sea Bands (enough for two, in case my cabin-mate is ill prepared).
  • Sunscreen, lotions, chapsticks, Advil, Vicks, cold medicine, general beauty care and travel laundry. Doubled. (Apparently vicks is a helpful tool because penguins are stinky and rubbing a bit under your nose can help.)
  • Super light travel tripod.
  • Camera Gear (see photography post).
  • Packable Herschel Bag in case I need to check another bag on the way home.
  • File folder with every possible confirmation document, shot list, notes, itinerary, etc.
  • A nautical chart of Antarctica to chart locations visited. In the tube.

Some logistics:

  • All camera gear (aside from the tripod) will travel on the plane with me.
  • A change of clothes, hats and gloves will travel on the plane with me.

And that’s about it! I think... When I return, I plan to post some lessons about what I packed -- what I used, I what I didn't need, what I wish I had, etc.  

The Thanksgiving Special: A Great Big Thanks to this Great Big List

It’s Thanksgiving and I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for. 

I have an amazing family, so many supportive friends and colleagues, and have met a ton of people along the way that have shaped the vision for this trip. To all of you I say, thank you! So much.

I wanted to call special attention to these people who have played a pivotal role in making this crazy trip real. Your help, guidance and support has been invaluable. 

Sam! Who has heard me talk about this thing every day and offered so much support. And his mom for the gloves.

Melanie! Who shared many tips and stories, introduced me to her friends and let me borrow lots of gear.

Ian! Who gave me the best advice ever and all the inside pro-tips one could hope for. Amazing stuff.

Sarah! Who booked it all for me and listened to me ruminate endlessly on which trip to pick.

 
group-thanks

Of course, my parents whose support and early Christmas gifts will be amazing during the trip!

Ira who has given me many tips and words of wisdom. And Karli who introduced us. See you there!

Kyla and Danny whose use of travel points is mind boggling and amazing. Thanks for the tips.

Emily, a friend for life whose own adventures serve as a constant reminder to live freely.

Chris and Linzi who are just such great friends and have been forever. Thanks for listening.

My team at Nurun who will be busy while I'm gone. I’m looking at you Stacy, Tim, JT, Jordan, Trey, Larry, Albert and so many more.

And the list goes on!

  • The greater NurunSF office. The place that keeps me gainfully employed with enrichment programs and a generous vacation package, all crucial to this trip.
  • Scott and Paul of Aperture Academy whose photography instruction in Big Sur helped me hone technical photography skills. And fellow student, Brian who shared many tips.
  • The Sea Trek crew who taught me how to kayak and how to rescue myself if I fall out (let’s hope it doesn’t come to that).
  • Angie, who is always up for something big and always down to hearing about this trip
  • Steve, an old friend from Philadelphia who shared some wise photography wisdom
  • The Machu Picchu trekking crew from 2013, especially Peggy whose world travels, climbing tales and Antarctica stories were particularly inspiring.
     

And some more folks I've never met:

  • Martin Bailey whose podcast I love and photography tips and gear recommendations will come in handy.
  • Crystal & Ben and Marnie on Etsy who are made me the most amazing Antarctica inspired creations. 
  • Everyone who contributes regularly to the forums on Tripadvisor so I can read and learn from all of your amazing experiences. 

Finally big thanks to everyone out there reading this blog, liking these posts, or following me on Facebook and Twitter. You make me happy too. 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
(Exactly one week to go...)

Antarctica Inspired Etsy Creations

When I first started thinking about this adventure, I was targeting December 2015 (and even December 2016) as the time to go. In those early days, I was so crazy excited about a trip yet to be planned, that I took to Etsy to have two wonderful women create ice-inspired paper and felt pieces that would help keep me excited about a journey well into the future.

However, since I commissioned these custom creations, I decided to pull the trigger on 2014 (10 Days!), making the original purpose totally moot. But who cares! I am thrilled to have these pieces right now and to see them when I return, serving as a constant reminder of my obsessive excitement to travel to the bottom of the world.

Antarctica Peninsula by Marnie of  Crafterall   |  Tabular Iceberg with Penguins by Ben & Crystal of  VintagebyCrystal

Antarctica Peninsula by Marnie of Crafterall  |  Tabular Iceberg with Penguins by Ben & Crystal of VintagebyCrystal

Practicing for Antarctica: Photography Edition

My trip is coming up fast -- 14 days, fast! I'm still in practice mode, switching focus from the kayak to the camera.

Part 1: Travel Photography & Storytelling
To start this phase, I enrolled in Travel Photography & Storytelling with Bob Krist put on by National Geographic at the San Francisco Art Institute (not to be confused with the more generic Art Institutes).

This was a four-hour, indoor, no-window lecture session where he simply talked about photography. This event could have been totally boring, but it was an absolute joy. Bob was hilarious! I learned the basics of what kind of pictures and themes make up the best kind of stories -- all drawing from cinema.  

The lecture was designed to help transform my travel photography from “first I did this and then I did that...” to a narrative that says something about me and my journey. He shared tips on how to step away from the expected and the linear and focus on finding the thread that brings it all together. I can’t wait to put this into practice!

Travel Photography & Storytelling with Bob Krist

Travel Photography & Storytelling with Bob Krist

Part 2: Landscape Photography Workshop in Big Sur, California
Next, I wanted to get out in the field and learn more technical aspects of photography, so I joined a landscape photography workshop in Big Sur, hosted by the Aperture Academy. We drove from iconic location to the next, photographing the gorgeous California coast.

I let go of my Av crutch and embraced manual mode, learned how to use ND graduated filters, and got even more comfortable with polarizers, tripods and all the gear that makes landscape shots shine. What a blast!

Planning and prepping for this trip has been amazing -- I get excited about all the pre-travel details and have been so proud of everything I’ve learned and practiced leading up to the big departure. (I’m even ready to dedicate a blog exclusively to planning trips! Maybe even plan for others?) 

All that’s left is to pack… repack… and do it again a few more times, and then I’ll be on my way.

WOW.

How I'm Getting to Antarctica

It will take me 23 hours and 45 minutes to get to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. It will take me 23 hours and 45 minutes just to get to the starting point for my trip to Antarctica. That's four flights from San Francisco and three flights back home. The journey is long, there are many legs, and I'm not in love with flying. But, that's what it takes, and that's what I'll do - all for the spirit of adventure.

Getting to Antarctica: SFO : LAX : PTY : EZE : USH   |   Returning Home: USH : EZE : IAH : SFO

Getting to Antarctica: SFO : LAX : PTY : EZE : USH   |   Returning Home: USH : EZE : IAH : SFO

Photography Gear: What I'm Packing

First,  a disclaimer. 

I have no idea what I’m doing. I take a lot of pictures, so there’s some lessons learned and some getting better by sheer, brunt-force practice. But, I’m not a pro. I’m an enthusiast. Or rather, a very enthusiastic novice.

Now that that’s out of the way… Here’s my gear plan:

Lenses (Renting):

lenses

Body:

  • Canon EOS 6D Digital SLR 
  • Backup: Yikes, I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll rent a 5D MKIII and use the 6D as a backup...


Additional Cameras:

  • iPhone 6 + Moment Wide Lens 
  • Fujifilm Quicksnap 800 Waterproof 35mm Disposable Camera 
cameras.png


Accessories:

 

I picked this gear based on lots of research and talking to people who are legit photographers (thanks, Ira Meyer, Steve Boyle, Martin Bailey, and many more!). Ultimately, taking too much stuff makes travel cumbersome and difficult, so I’ll have to choose a small subset of this gear each day for a happier me and happier photos.

What about you guys? People who have been and people visiting soon… what are you bringing?

Let’s Talk about the Drake Passage

The Drake Passage, to the unfamiliar, is the body of water between Argentina and Antarctica where the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean meet. And it’s where things get nuts. Think wild weather, sea sickness, and all around epic-movie-storm ugliness. 

Part of me is thinking:
"Good God! The Drake Passage is going to destroy you." 

But a bigger part of me is thinking:
"Eh… You got this. It might be rough, but you can handle it."

I feel like I ought to be more terrified, but I’m just not. I think it’s going to be easy. I’ve got the pills, the ginger chews and the wrist bands. I know what to do... I think.

So, I’m coming for you Drake. Give me all you got.

A Drake Passage Storm by Conrad Louis Charles.

A Drake Passage Storm by Conrad Louis Charles.

Can I take Underwater Shots from a Kayak?

Last weekend, I designed another kayak practice session and gear test for this trip. The biggest question to answer was: Can I take pictures in my underwater bag from a kayak? 

I’ll set the stage:

I’m paddling along in my kayak. I’m wearing a lot of *bulky gear and look pretty ridiculous. (Spray skirt, PFD: aka life jacket, a drysuit, winter parka, hat and gloves).

I’ve got a DSLR inside an ewa-underwater bag around my neck (or resting atop the skirt), a protected point and shoot and/or an old iPhone shoved into my PFD and a lens cloth -- also jammed in wherever it makes sense.

Then, I'm dipping the camera in and out of the water from the side of an unstable boat...

So, can I manage all that stuff and take a decent picture? 

The short answer is a resounding, YES!  
The long answer is… it’s complicated.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. You get wet. Which is fine in the warm California waters… but in the ice? Hmmm...
  2. The kayak is wobbly! It takes some getting used to, but manageable with time.
  3. Getting a shot is a big guess. You stick your camera in the water, fire the shutter and hope for the best.
  4. You’re constantly in motion. Between the kayak and moving subjects, I’m not sure I’ll get anything…
  5. Shooting pics on the left side is impossible since I have to cross my body in awkward ways. All the cool stuff better happen on the right, Nature!
  6. It’s much easier to shoot in portrait since I have easier access to the shutter this way.
  7. The big neoprene gloves make it awkward, but it still works!
  8. Paddle management is also super awkward and laughably inelegant. Like eating spaghetti on a first date. It’s all doable... Albeit very dorky.

In sum, I’ll keep practicing! Though, I’m sure I’ll just forget everything when I get there, fumble like crazy and just wing it. Isn’t that how it always goes?

*Note: I didn't actually wear all the warm weather gear for this test. It was 80 degrees out and I just wasn't up for excessive sweating.

Test shots with my DSLR inside an ewa-marine bag from the side of a kayak in Tomales Bay, CA.

Test shots with my DSLR inside an ewa-marine bag from the side of a kayak in Tomales Bay, CA.

Antarctica: Frequently Asked Questions

Friends, family, co-workers, tweeters and facebookers have all asked me lots of questions about this trip. Here are the ones that have been coming up the most.

1. Why Antarctica?
I get this question the most - which surprises me! Why not?! For me, Antarctica represents a huge adventure into the unknown. But mostly, I really want to take pictures of ice. And for some inner and mysterious reason, it has to be Antarctica. It's not as dangerous, extreme or cold as you think it is. But it certainly sounds cool!

2. Who are you going with?
The short answer is: I’m going alone. But really, I’ll be with a huge group of people who will also be on the same ship as me. I’ll be matched up with a roommate in my double cabin so it won’t ever feel like I’m actually alone in the middle of nowhere. Don’t worry, Mom.

3. Where will you stay?
I’ll be on a ship the whole time - The Sea Adventurer. It’s relatable if you think of it like a cruise. Cruising around the ice. Only less luxe with fewer amenities. 

4. What will you do there?
Go ashore, look at ice and observe the wildlife - at the bottom of the world! That’s just amazing in and of itself. I’m also kayaking, but that’s an optional add-on.

5. Will you see polar bears?
Nope, Polar Bears live up North in the Arctic. Penguins are in the Antarctic. I will see lots and lots of penguins!

6. Isn't it *really* cold?
Actually, not as cold as you’d think. I’ll only be visiting the Peninsula in the summertime, which means we’re talking about 20-32 degrees fahrenheit. I think that's pretty manageable. Much better than -80 as it can reach in the center of the continent in the dead of winter.

7. What ship are you on?
I'm going with Quark Expeditions on the 11 Day Antarctic Explorer. Quark specializes in travel to the polar regions and have pretty good rates and itineraries. I booked through Freestyle Adventure Travel, a small company based in Ushuaia, Argentina. Sarah Scott (of Freestyle), was amazing to work with, especially through my many mind changes and endless questions. Work with her!

8. How did you decide where and when to go?
Planning a trip to Antarctica is tough. I talked to people who have been there, got tips from expedition leaders, looked into many forums and asked Sarah a lot of questions. I went back and forth a lot and ultimately made the choice based on some things a mix of folks shared with me. More on the how hard it was to pick here and my decision making process here. As for when: basically, November has the most ice. December is ice and wildlife. January is less ice. February and March have the most wildlife. 

9. Did you see the John Oliver Video on Antarctica?
Yes, it's hilarious! The ice-eating bit is particularly damning. Am I going to cancel my trip because of it? No way! Luckily, Quark and others have strict requirements to keep Antarctica protected, which means lots of rules while I'm there. I certainly felt pretty guilty, though!

10. Can I go with you?
A couple of people have asked me this, and yes you can! Talk to Sarah at Freestyle from the link above. Looks like it’s nearly sold out though, so act fast!

 

Not Dying in Antarctica Step 1: Learn to Kayak

I've never properly learned to kayak... didn't even realize there were multiple types of kayaks that require multiple types of skill and safety knowledge. Apparently, you can't just get in any ol' kayak you want and go off on your own.

Which brings me to my first practice session, Introduction to Sea Kayaking class. I learned the basics of traditional sea kayaking (these are sit-in kayaks that have a spray skirt overtop) including wet exits, how to get back in if you fall out and how to rescue someone else if they fall out. Simple enough here in California. Maddening to think about doing in Antarctica.

Some lessons:

  1. Voluntarily flipping yourself upside down into the water while strapped to a kayak is terrifying.
  2. After a few times, it's pretty easy. More practice means more confidence.
  3. Kayaks are heavy. In the assisted rescue scenario, it's tough to flip these guys over and make sure they're not full of water. All with a freaked out person in the water (and most likely, you freaking out as well).
  4. Developing upper body strength is a must. I'm very sore.
  5. Managing gear is a awkward! I can already see how hard it will be to manage my huge camera and underwater bag. I used an underwater case for my iPhone during class and it definitely took some getting used to. More practice required!
  6. Paddling is straight forward. Torso rotation is critical to proper form, speed and efficiency.
  7. I had naive ambitions to go from intro class to advanced class pretty quickly. Turns out, this is a bad idea. My instructor told me I could probably "get by" in the upper level, but really, I need to be clocking more hours covering the basics, getting used to wet exits and getting back in the boat, and developing strength and confidence to paddle in scarier waters.

In sum, I'm sticking to the basics over the new few months. I'll go out and practice, flip myself over a few hundred more times, work on dealing with my camera(s) in context and generally hope that none of those rescues will actually be needed in the icy Antarctic waters.

Kayak basics class at Sea Trek in Sausalito, CA. 

Kayak basics class at Sea Trek in Sausalito, CA.