As we have learned all too well over the past several months, you never know what life’s going to throw at you. Early in 2019, I had the best-laid plans for the year, but then things changed. Ultimately, those changes left me open for a once-in-a-lifetime, out-of-the-blue wild Antarctica adventure.
A Window of Opportunity
At the beginning of 2019, I had mapped out a celebratory sabbatical to travel to the places I love most. But that didn’t end up happening. I postponed the sabbatical for 2019 and instead focused on what I do best: planning trips for other people.
The months passed. Then on a Friday evening in November, I clicked open an email. It was an invitation to join an over-the-top trip that in my wildest dreams I would never have thought I’d get a chance to experience. The trip was leaving in 7 days—and I had to make a decision within 24 hours.
A week later I’m stepping onto a private jet in the heat of a Cape Town summer morning. After five hours in the air, I start seeing ice in the water, then more ice, and more, until I realize we’re over the continent. As we land on the three-mile runway at Wolf’s Fang, I wait for the familiar tug of the brakes, but the runway is ice so the jet just glides smoothly to a stop.
I deplane and I’m standing in the middle of an icy winter wonderland. It’s incredible, like being on the moon—except it’s the bottom of our own planet.
Meanwhile, the jet’s engines are still running as they quickly refuel. There are no de-icing machines here—it’s not an airport, just a runway on the ice. As soon as everything is unpacked, the jet takes off and we are just there. In Antarctica. I feel a sense of childhood wonderment.
There is no VIP vehicle waiting. Our kit is loaded onto sleds and we march over to a Basler BT-67 propeller plane. This is a modified DC3, a very old WWII aircraft, and the transport workhorse in much of Africa. There are no cushy leather seats here. The front wheels have skis on them. The gorgeous Gulf Stream we flew in on simply isn’t practical in these conditions. We land half an hour later, on what seems like another planet, and pile into huge oversize trucks for the drive to camp.
Luxury, Necessity, and Conservation
At the camp, we stay in spacious private pods overlooking a frozen lake. They are simply beautiful inside. Nearby are larger pods for dining and relaxing. After a day hiking inside a glacier, we make our way to the main pod and the guys go out to chip ice, bringing us back cocktails with blue glacier ice with bubbles in it. It’s surreal! It’s amazing! That’s exactly why we all feel stoned. You can’t help but be happy.
We can see the same care in choices about which luxuries would be too hard on the environment. The “bathrooms” have no running water because pipes would freeze. Turning ice into water uses precious fuel and although there is a dedicated shower pod, let’s just say the toilets are, well, really conservation-based.
It took amazing will, vision, fortitude, and commitment from the founders to make this all happen. The quality of the people who are committed to being here, that are dedicated to conservation, that spend four months on the ice here, is amazing. The passion they have for this place, the love they have for it, is clearly felt.
We all know what a privilege it is to be one of the few people to see this. It’s absolutely pristine, there’s no plastic, no plastic rubbish. There’s no pollution, there’s no gray grit on any of the ice and glaciers, and that’s as inspiring as it is beautiful.
I continually experience wonderment here. From the level of this place being a part of our planet, the bottom of the earth, and conservation-wise, I understand how critical it is that this not go away.
None of us has ever done anything like this. It’s a total adventure!
There is nothing familiar here. It’s hard and slippery like a giant ice-skating rink. The sun is up 24 hours a day. I never take off my sunglasses, even at two o’clock in the morning. There’s no awareness of time. I can see forever. It’s just 360 degrees of white ice. All of it leaves me kind of giddy, it’s just so remote. Before coming here, I thought I knew what remote was, having traveled to many off-the-beaten-path places, but this redefines remote.
We rappel into ice tunnels with now-frozen rivers running under them. Some of the openings are the width of our shoulders. I squish through—this is hard ice, not snow—and land in a huge tunnel. Then we’re going through these crevasses which are really, really narrow and we have to take off our backpacks and slide in sideways. The blue color of the ice is crazy! We all feel like we’re on LSD.
And we hike! Every day is physically challenging with five- or ten-mile hikes. We have our crazy level-four hiking boots on, like we were headed for Mount Everest, and we carry all our gear so we can layer things on and off. We go a couple hundred feet down the rocks to the start of a frozen lake, which the camp overlooks, and then we put on our crampons and walk across the lake. Then we take them off and walk through the snow a bit and then we put them on again, having to slam our feet into them so they’ll hold us on the slippery ice. We climb up 90-degree-angle rock faces and ice glaciers and go down them. Under the glacier as well as above it. That’s just something you do.
It’s all otherworldly like this. At the start of this trip I felt uncertain about my physical condition, but doing this, keeping up with everyone, definitely makes me feel like a badass.
One thing I learned: You have to just trust. Trust in yourself, understand your limits, but push them. That’s really at the end what travel is about. It’s about exploration, but it’s both an external and internal experience. We challenge ourselves, it works out, and it’s just awe-inspiring. Every day we feel happier than the one before.
After a few days that feel like a few weeks, I return home with a renewed sense of how lucky I am to be here and to do this. I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of GeoEx, and realize once again that this is a choice and a privilege.
Then I recall the sabbatical I ended up not taking, and think: Who needs best-laid plans anyway? Sometimes the best plan is to follow your heart—and let fate do the rest.
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Kate Doty has viewed many spectacular places in her career as a trip-designer-extraordinaire. Earlier this year, she was recognized by Condé Nast Traveler as one of their Top Travel Specialists for the 8th year in a row—singled out for her prowess in planning Private Jet Travel. But even this veteran globe-trotter was awed by her most recent adventure into the wild white heart of Antarctica.
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