First Steps

There’s nothing like the prospect of your first landing on Antarctica and, regardless of how much research you’ve done, there’s no preparing for the incredible rush of boots down on this mysterious continent.

DAN AVILA

5 min read

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It has been said the value of an experience is directly related to its intensity. Powerful moments that leave an indelible mark on our minds become memories we cherish for years to come.

Setting foot on Antarctica, one of the last truly untamed wilderness environments, delivers precisely that impact and, like most experiences that hold such gravitas, the preparation, delayed gratification and build-up only sweeten the reward.

As an expedition destination, there’s nothing like it. The purity of its extremes ignites a spirit of adventure, yet no real adventure can be too easy. Leaving Ushuaia and the relative protection of the Beagle Channel in South America’s Tierra del Fuego, the purpose built, hybrid-powered MS Roald Amundsen heads south through the storied waters of the Drake Passage. During this crossing, preparations begin for our journey’s zenith.

Landing MS Roald Amundsen. Photo: Andrea Klaussner

Protecting paradise

Ensuring no foreign species are introduced to Antarctica is the first step in preserving the delicate environment. After boarding, all guests report to cleaning stations for careful vacuuming and inspection of clothing to ensure no seeds are transported during a landing. Likewise, camera bags and backpacks are cleaned and inspected. Beyond the visible, microbial protection is also ensured with everyone on the voyage issued with waterproof expedition boots that are sterilised immediately prior to every departure.

A few penguins bathe in the soft glow of the sun's light. Photo: Dan Avila

Hurtigruten Expeditions is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), an organisation that provides a range of protocols designed to protect Antarctica while affording incredible exploration opportunities for adventurers. This includes a limit to the number of guests permitted at each landing, which also enhances the experience. To manage the process, each passenger is assigned a boat group for the duration of the expedition.

Stepping out

Venturing onto the deck reveals we are leaving the world as we know it. The refreshing bite of cold air and the arrival of our Antarctic escorts, including spectacular wandering albatross and agile Antarctic petrel, signal it won’t be long before we spot our next milestone – the ice.

The sight of the first tabular iceberg ratchets up anticipation and excitement levels. The captain makes a pass by the towering structure that’s like a floating mountain. It reaches heights of more than 80 meters above the ocean’s surface, and has its own ecosystem, including a penguin colony and flocks of marauding birds. We’re getting close.

Icebergs are a common sight in the waters off Antarctica. Photo: Dan Avila

The ever-present purr of the electric engines falls silent. Excitement builds as the ship comes to a halt, using its dynamic positioning system to remain stationary without the use of an anchor. With processes understood and protocols for landings clear, anticipation builds as the expedition crew departs to inspect and prepare the landing site. An announcement comes over the PA: “Wandering Albatross group, please come to the launch area for landing in 10 minutes.”

Finally, our group is up, and the pace quickens. We grab cameras and cold weather gear before descending to the launch deck while trying to catch every possible glimpse of outside conditions on our way. Our group moves into the black box. This windowless, sealed room conjures feelings of being part of an elite military mission, with excited smiles all round confirming the heightened anticipation is universal.

Passengers in the black box. Photo: Oscar Farrera

Passengers in the black box. Photo: Oscar Farrera

Expedition launch pad, MS Roald Amundsen. Photo: Oscar Farrera

Expedition launch pad, MS Roald Amundsen. Photo: Oscar Farrera

The inflatable landing boats allow you to venture closer to shore. Photo: Dan Avila

The inflatable landing boats allow you to venture closer to shore. Photo: Dan Avila

Ready, set, go!

Suddenly, the doors slide open. We move with purpose while trying to process the sensory overload of bright sunshine flooding the launch zone, the brace of the polar air, and the screeching sounds of our seabird escorts over the quiet hum of the rigid inflatable landing boats’ outboards.

With deftness and practised safety grips, we board the purpose-built craft and set off. Just inches above Antarctic waters, we make the final short push to land. Situational awareness is heightened as we adapt from observing the environment to being placed within it.

You'll find yourself right in the middle of the action. Photo: Dan Avila

Rounding the head of a natural harbour on final approach, we watch a relaxing leopard seal. It remains still, refusing to reflect the excitement of the explorers.

Then we make that step onto Antarctic soil or, more precisely, rock. I can only presume this is what explorers of new worlds feel. Having planned and journeyed to experience the extraordinary, there’s a sense of breaking a boundary.

I can only presume this is what explorers of new worlds feel

Explore an icy world very few will ever get to experience. Photo: Dan Avila

The vast, pristine landscape is like nothing you've ever seen before. Photo: Dan Avila

The vast, pristine landscape is like nothing you've ever seen before. Photo: Dan Avila

Want to feel like an explorer? Join us on our next expedition to Antarctica!