PhotoTravel: Antarctica 2014 (Part I)


Antarctica has this mythic weight. It resides in the collective unconscious of so many people, and it makes this huge impact, just like outer space. It’s like going to the moon. 

—Jon Krakauer, Mountaineer and Author of Into Thin Air

A year and a half ago while visiting Alaska for the first time, I was taken by the monolithic glaciers. So extreme and so beautiful, I decided then that I had to visit Antarctica, home of the greatest mass of ice in the world!

Buenos Aires Airport w:a bit of baggage_resizedAntarctica, the fifth largest continent, is a very long way down there. It’s a fourteen-hour flight from Miami to the very tip of Argentina via Buenos Aires, and another two days by cruise ship providing the seas are relatively calm – so you need a pretty compelling reason to make the trek. Mine was seeing blue ice through the lens of my camera. On February 22, 2014, I boarded a plane in Albuquerque, NM, and began my three-week odyssey to the base of the earth.

Traveling To The Base Of The Earth

Twenty-seven arduous travel hours later, I arrived in Ushuaia. Situated at the very edge of Tierra del Fuego Island off the coast of Argentina, Ushuaia is the most southern city in the world. Bound in the north by the steep Andes Mountains and the south by the desolate waters of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia was settled by the British in the late 1800s as the ideal penal colony. Feeling like I was on the edge of the earth, I could see how isolating it must have been in those early days. More recently Ushuaia has become the “Gateway to Antarctica”, a port town serving most of the ships headed to the White Continent.

1 Leave Ushuaia1 (arrctc) 032614 2iN c022314p< 1.5 200dpi12%22q100.jpg-0166Other than the modern airport, with its sharp angles and planes of glass similar in feel to the one I frequent in Bozeman, Montana, the utilitarian town of Ushuaia had few man-made treasures. But nestled between stunning mountains and an expansive shoreline, it was the land that captivated me.

Strategically positioned on a wide bay on Beagle Channel’s north shore, immediately across from a chain of Chilean islands protecting it from Drake Passage. The 500 mile wide seaway separates South America from the Antarctic, due south, and as it lies almost entirely within the 50’s latitudes, where no significant land anywhere around the world impedes the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as they meet, these can be the roughest seas in the world.

The Lunch That Gave Me Pause

Two days later while waiting to board the Ocean Diamond, I had lunch at the Albatross Hotel immediately across from the port. Only a couple hours before leaving the safety of land, I was seated next to an Australian couple who with explosive detail recounted an experience that certainly gave me pause.

On the first afternoon of their Drake Passage crossing, 70 mile per hour winds “came from nowhere causing our ship of 91 passengers to ‘hove to’” – turning 45 degrees into the wind in a controlled stall. Then caught by a freak wave that came over the boat’s quarter, the dining room windows were blown out, dangerously exposing the largest space on board and confining all passengers to their cabins for sixteen hours waiting out the tumultuous storm. The next day the ship limped back to Ushuaia.

They told me that the passengers who “had not had enough” drew straws for only six available rooms on the other ships going to Antarctica at that time. The couple was one of the ‘winners’ and would leave the next day to attempt it again.

As I walked out of the restaurant toward the ship, I thought back to my arrival – the storm the Australians experienced at sea happened only hours after I landed in Ushuaia while sitting aboard a large motor coach in front of the airport waiting to be taken to my hotel. We rocked and rolled, tossed by the strength of the wind as though the weighty bus was a mere child’s toy. It was a visceral reminder of how small we are in the face of the weather, and just how dangerous Drake Passage could be. But the blue ice was still calling me.

 To be continued… Join me next week for Antarctica Part II.


  1. John Addison

    Thanks for sharing, can’t wait for Part II.


    • richard swartz

      Nice reporting! I’m anxious to see the blue ice and other sites that catch your eye.
      Exciting adventure…keep us posted.

  2. I love it – like the beginning of a wonderful adventure tale I can hardly wait for the next chapter!

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