Those who follow this blog may know that I recently achieved a childhood dream of standing on Antarctica, following my great hero, the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. Readers may be surprised to learn that I feel the cold incredibly easily and loathe it but the right clothing layers meant this was not to stop me loving the experience at the real “Down Under”.
Attempting to use language to describe the scenic beauty and impact of the Antarctic continent would never do it justice. Layers of snow icing, streaked with blue food dye, spreads across jutting crags and crevices whilst the glacéed ocean water glistens. But this delectable cake is a deceivingly savage beauty. The stabbing chill slices through cloth and fur. Each disembarkation onto this visual feast necessitates many specialist protective aprons.
Descending into the mud room, located in the boat’s belly, I pull on three trouser layers (thermal tights, jeans and salapets) and six layers on top (two thermal long sleeve base layers, a polo neck, fleece and two ski jackets). Should you make it to the Antarctic Belle, invest in a new wardrobe. Jacket pockets need be be external and deep to provide room for all your image capturing devices; as you will learn, one apparatus is not enough. iPhones capture the blue light on the ice much better than digital cameras which require way more lens adjustment and unless your finger is supersonic then a GoPro or camcorder is the only way to record seals and Wales dancing in the water. Any of these devices’ batteries may also be zapped by the frosty wind or heaven forbid you should drop one in the frozen water so having back-ups are vital to ensure you make souvenirs.
It is the tips of my fingers which suffer the most, it is as if someone is slowly grating the skin off. On a recent ski holiday a fellow chill hater recommended Blazewear heated inner-gloves. These little guys warm up thanks to a rechargeable battery and are worn inside ski gloves. Not sure I wanted to make this investment, I used single use HotHands
hand warmers and I have to say they were far mightier than my expectation. With an outside air temperature of 0 degrees Celcius (tropical by local standards), I happily cruised on high speed Zodiac boats and marched up snowy hills in just my mohair inner gloves and a little warmer bag in each for an entire day, they really due last the nine hours stated. My conscience is not entirely settled on how the bags decompose and that they are one use but I did not want to meet Jack Frostbite. The heating sole liners by the same company failed to work on my two attempt to use them, fortunately I was being over precautious and did not actually need them.
My last ski holiday was in Zermatt which was cripplingly cold. Including the chill factor from the wind outside I was surrounded by air as brutal as -24. Normally I ski with just a muffler over my face but this failed epically to hold back the stabbing snowflakes and sliced through my gloves. After just the first day I did not hesitate in purchasing a pair of inner mohair gloves and a face mask. When it came to the face mask I opted for the balaclava version as this adds an extra layer to my head, can be rolled down to a muffler or the nose/mouth piece can be comfortably tucked in. When on the snow speckled Zodiac cruises, the face mask saved my mouth from chapping and the inner gloves enable me to take photos without my fingers loosing any feeling.
Braving the outside.
To ensure guests were properly prepared, our tour operator G Adventures
supplied the whole group with a thermal waterproof jacket (even though I got a small it was large enough to fit over my ski jacket) and waterproof boots
which were essential as all our landings required some wading through water to reach terra firma, and of course to prevent our tootsies becoming over familiar with snow. Not only did the boots hold back the water but they also kept my feet warm and had enough grip for trekking on snow and rock.
So here is my disembarking kit list:
Regular socks AND ski socks
Thermal tights, jeans and ski salapets/waterproof walking trousers
2 x long sleeved base layers, polo neck/ t-shirt, fleece and 2 x ski jacket (most people are comfortable in one ski jacket though!)
Balaclava and/or woolly hat
Inner gloves and ski gloves
Ski goggles for snowing days/sunglasses for non-snowing days
Waterproof boots with thermal lining