Hiking in Antarctica isn’t quite the same thing as taking a trek up to your local scenic hiking trail. There’s getting there in the first place of course, but there are some further things to keep in mind to max out the fun factor for your adventure hikes. Here are 5 quick tips to make your hiking life easier as you trek across our southern-most continent.
Pick the correct Antarctic cruise.
One cruise probably won’t take you to everything you want to see. There are various historic sites dealing with, for example, whaling history or the Heroic Age of Exploration. Icebergs are another big draw. And there are the various kinds of wildlife – ocean-going turtles, different species of exotic bird to check off of your bird list, scientific posts, and of course all the different kinds of penguins.
If you’re just excited about the Antarctic in general, then you’ll do just fine. However, if you do have specific things that you want to see during your hikes then you should consider making yourself a list prioritizing your must-sees and use that to figure out which cruises are going to help cross the most items off of your list.
Practice with your camera before you embark.
It’s okay if you’re a completely amateur photographer when you set sail for Antarctica. Some cruises offer on-board photography courses with pros. And it’s pretty darn difficult to take a completely bad picture when you’re constantly surrounded by amazing landscapes and inquisitive penguins.
That being said, it will still pay off if you put in a little bit of practice before you set out on your hiking adventure. For example, get used to your camera’s exposure settings – you’re likely going to have to deal with some glare off of the surrounding snow and ice.
Also, start figuring out how to put something into your pictures that help display scale. A photo of a majestic snow-covered mountaintop or the Southern Lights is automatically going to be beautiful; but to elevate that picture into the realm of the breathtaking it can help to have something in the frame that displays the scale of the scenery like your cruise ship, a tent, or a fellow passenger.
Oh, and bring a lot of storage for your camera. You are going to need it.
Bring stuff to protect you from the sun.
This one may seem kind of obvious to you seasoned hiking pros, but some people seriously underestimate just how much sunlight can be kicked up off of the snow and ice. Even just an hour-long hike can result in some pretty sore sun-burned nose-tips and cheekbones.
Be in decent shape.
Antarctic cruises generally offer a variety of hikes of different difficulties. That being said, you should still be in reasonably decent health to take on the easiest of the hikes.
First, there are no paved walkways or even basic dirt trails. So even on the easy treks you’re going to have to deal with at least a little bit of rugged and uneven ground, sliding beach pebbles and rocks, and the like.
Second, you’ll have to get in and out of the Zodiacs, the rubber out-board engine boats that zip you from your cruise ship to the shore. Some cruise ships will require you to get in and out of the ship via a gangplank walkway which can take a little bit of effort.
Third, there are no readily available medical facilities in Antarctica. So if you do happen to have a medical problem, things can possibly get a bit dicey before you can finally be transferred to a proper facility.
So if you’ve been stuck behind a desk for the past couple of years get out and take a few walks around your neighbourhood before you set sail.
(This will also give you the chance to break in new hiking boots.)
Layers are your friend on hikes. You’re going to want a lot of temperature control as you march along. You’re going to be dealing with your own body heat, sweat, wind-chill, and of course the ambient temperature which will probably be around the freezing mark (but no promises!). Layers will suit you much better than only one bulky jacket and/or sweater.