Sleeping on Ice

I will come right out and say it – I wanted the bragging rights.   If I was going to come all the way down here, then there was no way I was missing out on the opportunity to camp out overnight on the continent.   So when planning the trip, I was on the look out for voyages that offered us the chance to leave your heated cabin with a bathroom, bed, and hot food to sleep on ice in a cramped tent for two.

My wife wanted to have nothing to do with this and left me to my own devices.  To me it was adventurous, to her it was stupid – especially since I had to pay extra for the “privilege.”

We don’t usually camp out much.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spent in a tent willfully.  So I was extra attentive in the briefing of camping on the Antarctic continent.

Sensor: Sony A7R
Location: Hope Bay, Antarctica
Sleeping among the penguins.  My tent is the one on the right

One of the primary topics was how to stay warm.  Our camp master told us to fill our water bottle with hot water and put it in our sleeping bag when we set up our tents so that the bag would still be warm later that night.   I bought a water bottle from the commissary on the ship, filled the bottle with hot water and screwed the top on nice and tight.  After setting up the tent, I followed her instructions to the letter and then left to join the others in activities.

Sensor: Sony A7R
Location: Hope Bay, Antarctica
Midnight ascension to the top of the mountain

Being a photographer, I’m usually first up and last to leave, and so I was one of the last to get back to my tent.  In fact my tent mate was already fast asleep.  Being careful not to wake him, I quietly and slowly took off my winter gear and began to open my sleeping bag removing the empty water bottle from the bag before getting in.

Sensor: Sony A7R
Location: Hope Bay Antarctica
A penguin whiteout

It felt like it took me literally a minute to comprehend what this meant.


I frantically began searching the bag up and down, and eventually got to it.  There it was, a nice big puddle of cold water right in the middle.  I weighed my options at 1 AM in the morning.  A) I could just get out and spend the time outside by myself alone until 7AM when the ship would send the Zodiacs to pick us up.  But it was getting colder and windier by the minute.   I don’t think I would have lasted long, and I was already pretty cold.  B) I could be the jerk who woke up a few people aboard the ship to pick me up.  None of the staff would like me very much though, and in general I like being well liked.  C)  I could take the sleeping bag out and try to empty and dry it out, but as I said my tent mate was fast asleep and I didn’t want him to not like me if I woke him up too early.  See point B above.  D) Suck it up and deal with it.

I chose D.  I told myself, I just had to last 5 hours in the tent.  Despite the tent, it was still really cold.  I tried to get some sleep, but after an hour I knew the effort would be in vain.  I didn’t have enough body heat left in me to keep the sleeping bag warm, so I lied there shivering for a good 4 hours.   The wind and the penguins were howling, hooting, and hollering.  Eventually I couldn’t stand it any longer and left the tent at 5AM and romped around to keep warm until we left back for the ship.   At this point I literally crashed for the next 6 hours in my bed and had to miss the excursion to Esperanza Base that morning.

In the end, I’m still glad I did it.  I overnighted on the continent, and how many people could say they did it in a wet sleeping bag?

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