How Antarctica challenged and changed me

written by Michael Sadowski December 17, 2014

In 2014 I set out on the adventure of a lifetime to the coldest, highest, driest place on the planet: Antarctica.

This 10-day expedition challenged me every step of the way. From bouts of seasickness across the roughest waters in the world to exhausting treks to the top of glaciers and mountains.

It is as much a mental test as it is a physical one. You confront fears, overcome adversity, and in return, are treated to a truly unforgettable travel experience. Nowhere in the world are the journey and destination so inextricably linked. It is, in every sense, a life altering endeavour in the world’s last great wilderness.


The Journey

Saying “yes” is, of course, the first step. For some, this is the hardest part, but it shouldn’t be. Always say yes to adventure.

You pack your warmest clothes and head for the southern-most city in the world: Ushuaia, Argentina. For me, this involved 12,000 km, six airports, two lost bags, two taxis, a bus and a train. And this was just the beginning.

Ushuaia is a beautiful city in its own right, where brightly colored homes and shops skirt the base of the Patagonia Mountains as they slope abruptly toward the sea. This is where you catch your boat. It’s where the real journey begins, and it’s the last solid ground you see for two and a half days.

It’s time to cross the Drake Passage. Widely considered the roughest body of water in the world, the Drake is not to be taken lightly. We encountered a storm on the first night, and I awoke to a loud crash as a chair flew across the room and then slid back against the desk. Cards, shoes, papers, all scattered across the floor as forty-foot waves tossed our little boat across the 1000km passage.


Seasickness can be severe if not managed or prevented, and many people on our excursion were bedridden. But even in the throes of a storm, as glasses shatter in the dining room and an overwhelming nausea compels you to lie down at all hours of the day, you never lose sight of how worthy the journey is. There’s never a moment of, “why did I do this?” You already know the answer.

The Destination

As soon as I stepped foot on the continent of Antarctica, I was treated to an array of sensory firsts. Never have I seen icebergs or mountains or sky so large, blues so blue or whites so blindingly white. Never have I heard the distant crunch and rumble of a glacier calving, or smelled air so fresh and pure.


Each day is different. The harshness of the elements dictate what you can and cannot do, but I was lucky to have calm waters and mild weather for the duration of the trip—the Drake Passage excepting. This meant two or three excursions daily, snowshoeing up icy hills and trekking from penguin colony to penguin colony. It’s exhausting, but in the happy, ‘I’m-going-to-sleep-well-tonight’ kind of way.

You stay awake each night to watch the sunset over the mountains, waiting until almost midnight for the pink sky to darken. You wake early to head out once again, when the sun has long since risen.

Whales circle and dive below you, seals drift past on ice flows, and dozens of birds circle overhead. Animals have not learned to fear humans, and it’s humbling to think you are the least of their worries.


The history, the sights and sounds and smells of this destination are unparalleled. I arrived tired, perhaps even skeptical of this seventh continent. But it challenged my expectations as it challenged me physically and emotionally. It challenged my point of view, my established routine and my sense of self.

Antarctica changed me forever by reminding me that there are places still unadulterated, unfettered by human impact. I challenge everyone to keep it that way, and to go and see it for yourself.

Ready for the trip of a lifetime? An Antarctic adventure with Intrepid awaits.


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