Life Lessons while sailing and skiing in Antarctica

Antarctica Trip 2017 – Lydia

It has been nearly 4 years and I still find this the most peculiar and exceptional set of sentences to ever come out of my mouth:

We went back country skiing in Antarctica. We sailed 5 days from Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world, to the Antarctic Peninsula and then spent 20 days sailing around, picking mountains to climb up and ski down, all the while hanging out with penguins, seals and whales. Then we sailed another 4 days to get back to Ushuaia.

This must truly be the definition of a “once in a lifetime” experience. Even thinking back about this trip years later, I am reminded it has left a mark on my soul; a connection to nature, a disconnect from daily life and a reconnect to myself as I have never experienced before.

Scale in Perspective

We were 10 people on a 20-meter sailboat made specifically for Arctic sailing for nearly 4 weeks. The entire crew was; the captain, her engineer, a British Ski Guide (with a lot of Antarctica expedition experience, our beloved and well trusted Epique Ski Guide, plus 6 guests. The guests happened to be a group of 5 men (aged 55 – 65) and me, a 42-year-old yoga teacher and yoga studio owner. It was an interesting group nonetheless.

The sailing trip to reach the tip of the Antarctic peninsula took us a full 5 days, which is almost the longest the duration this journey can take. We were unfortunate that there was not much wind to help us, but we did have the amazing conditions of completely still flat waters which gave us front row seats to view a pod of Orcas swimming near our boat. It was amazing to not see any land for a full 5 days, certainly something I have never experienced before. The first time we spotted land it took another 12 hours just to reach it. This was the first of many moments putting the scale of this strange land in perspective, we were so small and the land, the mountains and the icebergs so massive.

Complete Disconnect

Another bizarre but interesting experience to this whole trip is that it was at nearly the height of the summer for the southern hemisphere, January. The further south we sailed we had more and more daylight. After about 2 days sailing and well into crossing the Drake Passage, we had daylight for 24 hours. Each evening there was only a small dip towards slight darkness. Normally we are so programmed by daylight and darkness; when it is daylight we are up and busy and when we have darkness, we slow down and retire to bed for sleep; a somewhat natural circadian rhythm. Then, in this new 24-hour daylight, I experienced a new rhythm; wake up feeling rested and ready, go outside and play until you are dead-tired, then eat and enjoy the company around you and then retire to bed for sleep because your body is asking you to. I used no alarm clock, I had no watch, I just let my energy levels pull me in and out of my bed … and all of this with an empty mind. It was reminiscent of being 5 years old again with no worries; just play time, eat and sleep.

The rhythm was so special also because of the complete disconnect from the outside world. There is a satellite phone on board and you can make contact if you need to or want to. There was the option to have a certain amount of internet contact over the 4 weeks if you wish but I chose specifically not to. To not open a computer, to not see an email, a whatsapp, a social media post, to not even think about my own business – it was an absolute treat. I had my phone with me on airplane mode for 4 weeks; only to take pictures. It was so special to feel this for such a prolonged period of time; 4 weeks!

Giant Playground

And the skiing? How can it be anything but dull if your first drop point is at a beach full of penguins checking out your ski gear and a seal snorting at our futile efforts to ‘conquer the land’. The conditions were spring skiing; mostly corn snow and sometimes some soft slush. We had it all: steep slopes, gentle slopes, wide open snow field crossings, glacier traverses and steep descents directly to the water’s edge. As there are limited landing places that you can actually get on land you are limited to where you can go in this giant playground. But this playground still had plenty to offer that none of us were bored and all of us were left with a sense of challenge and accomplishment.

For all of the nights we stayed on board the sailing boat. However, for 2 nights we ventured on land with tents and food provisions for 2 nights. This way we could go a little bit further inland and ski some bigger slopes. I felt like I was on an expedition and really an explorer now! We had our backpacks and a watertight river bag that we dragged behind us in the snow attached to a harness around our waists. This setup also made it quite an adventure to return back to the landing point (downhill) to reach the sailboat. Try skiing with a slingshot attached to your hips! It made for a fun new adventure. Sleeping in a tiny 2-man tent in the howling wind was yet another experience that made me feel tiny in comparison to the nature around me, a very welcomed experience.

Life Lesson

The sailing trip home was quite a different story. Many experienced sailors will say that the Drake Passage is the roughest sea in the world. I can say for certain this return trip made me understand why. I was fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few that did not experience sea sickness, but what a wild rodeo to experience. With the rough seas and a bit of wind our return trip was much faster; 4 days. It was a bittersweet feeling to return back to civilization. I was excited to see land and land that had buildings, roads, cars, trees and people. But I was sad to know that I was leaving behind this experience of total disconnect from the outside world which gave me a new found connection to myself and the nature around me in whatever form it may be; mountains, beach, dunes, farmland or right in the middle of a city. With stillness and observations beauty can be found in almost anything!

Thank you, Antarctica, for teaching me this life lesson.

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