Antarctica – Itinerary & Experience

After seeing my photographs from the Antarctica trip, a number of people asked me to share details on how I even got there. So here’s a long overdue post on what my itinerary and experience was like.

So first of all, how I got to Antarctica will perhaps be very different from how someone else will go there. The reason is that I went there as part of something called the “Leadership Ventures” program run by The Wharton School (where incidentally I am a student). The program aims to teach leadership by putting students in hard and stressful conditions (such as Antarctica :)).

Our trip was organized in conjunction with an external organization called “Vertical“. It is a Chile based organization, that specializes in adventure education. They organized our tents, food and were responsible for managing “risk” during the trip (So even though I signed a legal document saying that Wharton has no responsibility if I die in Antarctica, they atleast had someone trying to minimze the chances of that happening!).

Here’s a rough schedule of what our trip looked like –

Day 1,2: Arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile. The flight to King George Island (the Antarctican island we went to) leaves from Punta Arenas (DAP airlines).  Due to very variable weather conditions in Antarctica, the fact whether your flight can land there or not remains debatable till the last moment. Our flight was cancelled twice before we finally landed. Therefore, it makes sense to build in some buffer time in Chile, both before and after the time in Antarctica.

We used our time in Punta Arenas to get used to our backpacks, buy any remaining gear, and get to know our team mates.

Day 3: Land in King George Island and hike to first campsite. The first glimpses of Antarctica from the flight were of course amazing (lot of snow). The main challenges of the first campsite were figuring out how to set up our tents (very hard in the cold, the snow and the gloves). Each team was assigned two barrels of food. We needed to figure out what to cook, which required going through the contents of the barrels, and deciding quickly. Cooking in the cold was not fun. There was no running stream, and melting ice to get water was again long and painful.

Another issue was the washroom. We had makeshift tents, where we had to use polybags to do our thing, and then dispose off the polybags. Antarctica is an environmentally protected land – what goes in, goes out. Including your shit.

This day was also New Year’s Eve. We welcomed the new year in Antarctica! 🙂

First night in the sleeping bag is always painful. I was cold, and slept in bursts. Recommendation: Carry toe warmers, they can make life very comfortable. If not, keep your Nalgene filled with warm water inside the sleeping bag. Can work wonders.

Day 4: We had to hike to our next campsite. Getting ready in the morning required getting out of the warm sleeping bag, putting on gazillions of clothes, rolling up your thermarest (mattress) and sleeping bag, packing your bag,  brushing, making breakfast, going to the loo (if possible!), and packing up the tent. Very time consuming.

This day was all hiking as it snowed. We reached the second campsite, and barely had energy to set up anything. Later, we visited a Ukranian research base nearby. It was so warm!! How we wished we could stay there forever! Or atleast use their washrooms 🙂

Day 5: Hike to next campsite. Two special things about this day – the hike was across a glacier. The reflection was a lot, so googles were necessary. The hike of course was beautiful (or as beautiful a white expanse can be…). The other special thing was that this campsite had no “washroom tents”. Which meant we had to carry our own poop! Each team was given two poop tubes where the team members deposited their poop bags. I will not get into more details here 😀

Day 6: Day trip to observe wildlife – seals, penguins, birds. This day also happened to be my birthday, and the most sunny day in our entire trip 🙂 My birthday was celebrated with a cake made of Snicker bars 😀

Day 7: Hike back to second campsite.

Day 8: Hike to airport and leave.

Overall, the trip was spectacular. I got a scholarship and so did not have to spend a lot. For others, it cost $10,000. However, our trip was more expensive as there was also an element of education to it. I’ve heard it is much cheaper to go otherwise.

I can share the gear list for the trip if there is enough demand. You can also email me at sonali.mangal@gmail.com if you have any other questions.

The trip is worth it and a once in a lifetime experience 🙂

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