Active Exploration on the Seventh Continent, Antarctica

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14545A, International


  • Experience the wonders of the seventh continent with on-shore and in-water activities led by professional guides
  • Learn about the natural history and environmental impacts from scientists and on-board naturalists
  • Sail amongst towering icebergs and singing humpback whales, be approached by curious penguins, be in awe of the tranquility and beauty of the pristine Antarctic world


  • Comfortable twin cabins with private bath, shower, TV, storage, and porthole
  • Delicious international cuisine and attentive crew
  • All activities: kayaking, Zodiac cruising, mountaineering, photography, field camping, hiking, and snowshoeing


DatesFeb 25–Mar 8, 2014
StaffKath Giel

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Antarctica is the last continent to remain truly unspoiled by human civilization. During the long, sunlit summer days, the Antarctic Peninsula and the surrounding Antarctic Ocean come alive with vast numbers of birds and mammals specifically adapted to this land of ice and snow. Huge colonies of vocal Gentoo and chinstrap penguins raise their chicks on rock nests, while fur and leopard seals bask in the sun. Albatross and petrel fledglings learn to fly over the ice as the winter's pack ice breaks up. And humpback whales trawl in the waters, singing and breaching amongst the icebergs. This is truly one of the world’s last great wild places.

On our adventure, we will live aboard a vessel that will carry us safely through the seas and ice around the Antarctic Peninsula. Zodiacs will zip us to landing sites past seal-dotted icebergs. On land, we will carefully edge around the animals -- which are more inquisitive than scared -- while the naturalists brief us on their sometimes strange yet marvelous adaptations to this harsh environment. We will hike and snowshoe; more adventurous travelers can ascend a snow-covered peak, making possibly the second ascent ever. Sea kayaks allow us to get close to the water aned ice, and experience the Antarctic world truly from sea level. Back on board, we can use our binoculars and cameras to search for wildlife from the warmth of the captain's bridge or guest lounge. As evening approaches, we will adjourn to the bar/lounge for a recap of the day and a discussion of the next day's activities from our on-board scientists, naturalists, and crew.

The expedition leader and the captain will decide exactly where we will go each day, based primarily on weather and ice conditions. Our naturalists will give lectures and presentations on the Antarctic environment, the animals, the history of Antarctic exploration, conservation concerns and actions, and many other topics of interest. This cruise is much more than a sightseeing jaunt; it is truly and educational and exploratory adventure.

A variety of optional activities, all of which are already included in the trip cost -- kayaking, Zodiac cruising, mountaineering, photography, field camping, snowshoeing and hiking -- provides a unique opportunity for Antarctic travelers seeking adventure. For a really close look, and if you are dry suit & cold water certified and experienced, SCUBA is available for an additional fee. Join us for truly a trip of a lifetime!


Day 1: The trip officially begins in the afternoon of the first day, as we embark on the M/V Plancius in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, nestled between the jagged glaciated peaks of this "land of fire" and the Beagle Channel, named after Darwin's famous boat. After stowing our gear in our cabins, we will watch from the decks as we sail through the Beagle Channel on our way to the land of ice and snow.

Days 2-3: During these two days we will round historic Cape Horn and sail across the Drake Passage. When we cross the Antarctic Convergence, we will arrive in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. In this area we may meet humpback whales, fin whales, wandering albatross, grey-headed albatross, black-browed albatross, light-mantled sooty albatross, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson's storm petrels, blue petrels, and Antarctic petrels. Near the South Shetland Islands, we will glimpse our first tabular icebergs. Lectures, presentations, and visits to the captain’s bridge will fill our days as we travel south.

Days 4-9: A typical itinerary in the Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula could be as follows. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.

We will sail directly to “High Antarctica,” passing the Melchior islands and the Schollaert Channel between Brabant and Anvers Island. We will sail to the Neumayer Channel, where we position our ship for the multi-activity base camp. The protected waters around Wiencke Island will become our playground for all activities. In this alpine environment there are great opportunities to scout the region on foot, Zodiac, or kayak. Walkers will find opportunities to use snowshoes on hikes near the shorelines, and the mountaineers will find their challenge by climbing hills and view points farther inland, i.e. Jabet Peak (540 m). All climbs and excursions can only be conducted in good weather conditions.

We plan to stay two overnights at anchor in order to implement two camp nights and two full activity days. We will visit the British research station and the post office Port Lockroy on Goudier Island. Close to Port Lockroy we may also offer a landing on Jougla Point with Gentoo Penguins and Imperial Shags. We sail through the spectacular Lemaire Channel to Booth, Pleneau, and Petermann islands where we can find Adelie penguins and blue-eyed shags. In this area there are good chances to encounter humpback whales, minke whales and fin whales.

Our second base camp night will be erected near the continent; we choose a camp site that is suitable and close to our next day’s activity. The mountaineers hope to reach the summit of Mt. Demaria (640 m) at Waddington Bay. A visit to one of the scientific stations in Antarctica will give you an insight about the life of modern Antarcticans working on the White Continent. Farther south we may have time to visit the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station, where we will receive a warm welcome from the station crew.

In the afternoon at Neko Harbour we will have the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic Continent in a magnificent landscape of a huge glacier and enjoy the landscape during Zodiac cruises, hikes, and kayak excursions. A small group of mountaineers may climb up on higher grounds of the glacier. We will spend the night at Neko or near Paradise Bay with a camp erected ashore. We will leave Neko Harbour in the early morning after breaking our last camp. We sail via Melchior Islands toward the open sea of the Drake Passage. We have again a chance of seeing many seabirds.

Days 10-11: In the Drake Passage we may again have a chance to see many seabirds and whales. If we are really lucky, we might see a blue whale, the largest animal on earth.

Day 12: We will arrive in the morning in Ushuaia and disembark.



Getting There

Our ship departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, at the southern tip of the country. You can choose to fly through Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina to Ushuaia. From the Ushuaia airport, one can take an inexpensive cab to the port. The ship departs from the port in downtown Ushuaia at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. It's a good idea to arrive in Ushuaia a couple of days or more ahead of the trip because of possible weather or luggage delays. The leader can assist you with recommendations regarding pre-trip activities and reservations.

Accommodations and Food

Our ship, the M/v "Plancius" was built in 1976 as an oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy and was named "Hr. Ms. Tydeman." The ship sailed for the Dutch Navy until June 2004 and was finally purchased by Oceanwide Expeditions. The vessel has been completely rebuilt as a 110-passenger vessel and complies with the latest SOLAS-regulations (Safety Of Life At Sea) and flies the Dutch flag.

M/v "Plancius" can accommodate 110 passengers in 53 passenger cabins with private toilet and shower. We will be accommodated in twin rooms (with porthole) that are comfortable and also have a desk, closet, and TV. The vessel offers a restaurant/lecture room on deck three and a spacious observation lounge (with bar) with large windows that offer a full panorama view on deck five. M/v "Plancius" has large open deck spaces (with full walk-around possibilities on deck three), giving excellent opportunities to enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  She is furthermore equipped with 10 Mark V Zodiacs, including 40 HP four-stroke outboard engines and two gangways on starboard side, guaranteeing a swift Zodiac operation. She also has 15 sea kayaks on board for our use.

M/v "Plancius" is comfortable and nicely decorated, but it is not a luxury vessel. The M/v Plancius voyage in the Antarctic region is primarily defined by an exploratory educational travel program, spending as much time ashore as possible. The vessel is ice-strengthened and was specially built for oceanographic voyages.

M/v "Plancius" is manned by 17 nautical crew, 19 hotel staff (six chefs, one hotel manager, one steward-barman and 11 stewards / cabin cleaners), eight expedition staff (one expedition leader and seven guides-lecturers) and one doctor.

Delicious, fresh international cuisine, prepared by first-rate chefs and served by cheerful waiters and waitresses, is served in the dining room. Many dietary requirements can be accommodated. There is 24/7 access to hot drinks and snacks. The doctor on board is equipped to take care of any illnesses or medical concerns.

Trip Difficulty

Participants must be in good health and have a spirit of adventure to truly enjoy this trip. First of all we will be crossing the Drake Passage with the possibility of rough seas, but once we get near the Antarctic Peninsula the seas will be relatively calm. Trip members will need to climb up and down short, but steep, steps and ladders both onboard and to get in and out of our inflatable Zodiac landing craft. Most of our shore stops will be "wet landings" where you will need to step out of the Zodiacs into calf-deep water on gravely or rocky shores. For these landings you will be wearing knee-high rubber boots and offered a helping hand. The terrain onshore can be on gravel, rocks, mud, uneven terrain, beaches, or snow/ice. Walking sticks are advised. Amenities onboard are very cozy, warm, and comfortable, but there will not be the fitness room, gift shop, casino, or hair salon usually found on big passenger ships. We will be cruising, but the Plancius is not a "cruise ship."

Despite the extreme southern latitude of this trip we will have relatively mild conditions. During the late Antarctic summer, our temperatures will range from the low 30s to approximately 50 degrees. Occasionally there may be rain and fog or even a little snow, but many days will have sunshine. Winds can be variable.

Equipment and Clothing

No specialized equipment is needed for this outing. A variety of layered, warm, and waterproof clothing is needed. Comfortable casual clothing is appropriate on the ship. You will be provided with a pair of knee-high rubber boots. The boots are a necessity for our "wet landings" as we go ashore and for walking in wet, muddy, or snowy/icy areas. If you wish to participate in the mountain climbing activities, specific boots are necessary and the leader will communicate those specifications to you. There will be many excellent opportunities for photography, so for those interested, be sure to bring camera equipment. A good pair of binoculars will aid in wildlife observation. The trip leader will provide a detailed clothing and equipment list for trip members.



There are many books on Antarctica, ranging from histories of the great explorers like Scott, Amundsen, Mawson, and Shackleton to scientific treatises to novels and journals. The trip leader has listed some here, but simply browsing in a bookstore or online will net you many more.

  • Campbell, David, The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica.
  • Cherry-Garrard, Apsley, The Worst Journey in the World.
  • Huntford, Roland, The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole.
  • Lansing, Alfred, with photography by Frank Hurley, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic.
  • Mawson, Douglas, The Home of the Blizzard: A True Story of Antarctic Survival.
  • Robinson, Kim, Antarctica. A novel.
  • Soper, Tony, Antarctica: A Guide to the Wildlife.
  • Bickel, Leonard, Mawson's Will, The Greatest Polar Survival Story Ever Told.


  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2001)
  • Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (IMAX movie in dvd format 2001)
  • Encounters at the End of the World (2008) Werner Herzog production about people who live and work in Antarctic and fantastic scenery
  • Frozen Planet: The Complete Series (2012) A David Attenborough production about the Arctic and Antarctic areas



The Sierra Club has been committed to the protection of Antarctica and its dependent and associated ecosystems for over 35 years. The Sierra Club is dedicated to ensuring the primacy of Antarctica's wilderness values for science, peace, education, and inspiration. These values are of universal and paramount importance for humanity and the global environment.

The Sierra Club supports a number of measures to protect Antarctica. One of these is "limited tourism." On this trip we will be traveling on a boat that is self-contained and has minimal impact on the Antarctic environment, while allowing us to see and begin to understand the fragility of this continent's ecology. Our off-board opportunities to hike, snowshoe, climb, sea kayak, camp or travel by Zodiac are strictly controlled and regulated to protect the untouched landscape. With growing awareness as well as personal experience, we can be far more effective in supporting efforts to keep Antarctica the last pristine continent on earth.

Fisheries in Antarctica are huge in proportion to the rest of the world. Antarctic waters have seen their share of population depletion, most notably in the now-defunct whaling industry. The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources was formed in response to overfishing. The convention empowers a commission to set policy on utilization and management of marine living resources in the Southern Ocean. Although it is being rigorously enforced, illegal poaching still takes place. Our on-board scientists will discuss this topic in an evening seminar during our journey.

In summary, the Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy and participation in the goals of the Club both at home and abroad.



Kath Giel first joined the Sierra Club as a teenager, hiking and gorge scrambling in the Sierra Nevada with the Club. She has been leading Sierra Club trips for over 14 years. Kath takes great pleasure facilitating travel adventures for enthusiastic travelers to exotic places including Antarctica, Madagascar, and Borneo. A passionate traveler herself, she has been to over 90 countries. Kath’s trip to Antarctica in 2011 was the culmination of a life-long dream, and while there she climbed two Antarctic peaks as well as camped one night on the fragile continent. Kath is excited to return to Antarctica for the fourth time to show you this amazing continent.

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