In this interview, our Pro Team Athlete Caro North talks about her expedition in Antarctica. She describes her fears and worries, as well as moments of sheer happiness. She also reveals what it is that makes the Antarctic so unique.
How did you come about planning an expedition in Antarctica?
The idea came from our photographer, who had been there once before. It appealed to me immediately as I find wild places, remote from any civilization, extremely exciting and attractive.
What were your main aims for the expedition?
My dream was to complete a first ascent of a mixed route and I had brought all the equipment for this along with me. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't good enough.
What was your biggest concern during the preparations?
My main concerns were about sailing the Drake Passage, as I didn’t have a great deal of sailing experience - and none at all on open sea. It is also one of the most notorious sea passages, renowned for its harsh weather and turbulent waters. I didn't know how it would feel not being able to see land for 4 or 5 days. I had to accept the uncertainty, but this was also precisely what made it so attractive. On my climbing expeditions, I can roughly estimate what I can expect to come up against, but this was impossible here. It was a completely new adventure!
In hindsight, were these concerns justified?
Absolutely! Negotiating the Drake Passage and circumnavigating Cape Horn in a small sailing boat is a fierce and impressive experience. We had, of course, planned and studied the weather forecasts, but were nevertheless completely exposed to the might of the sea. The sailing boat was like a nutshell being tossed up and down on the waves, then keeling to one side so that the waves rolled over the deck; but it always righted itself, which seemed like a miracle at times. Our only options were going outside on the deck or lying down in the cabin. Anything else was impossible as we would immediately feel nauseous. It puts your body into a strange rhythm and pushes it to its limits. It was impressive and terrifying at times, but I found it fun and would sign up for another similar sailing adventure without hesitation.
My buddy Guilllaume, however, was laid low for the entire crossing and was vomiting continuously. Nothing helped and the crossing seemed like an endless torture for him.
You have traveled all over the world, what it is that makes the Antarctic so unique?
The Antarctic is a completely different environment that you can't find anywhere else. For weeks, we saw only white, blue and gray. And even the animals blended into this background. There are no colors. And, other than research stations, there is no civilization. You are extremely far away from the mainland and completely reliant on your own resources. The landscapes are wild and harsh, often to the extent that we couldn't manage to go on land at all, although we would have liked to. The glaciers, crevasses and snowdrifts are wild and enormous. There is little information and few maps. The weather can change from one minute to the next. We had some beautiful sunny moments skiing on powder followed by icy storms with roaring waves and minimal visibility. The landscapes are harsh and wild, but still very beautiful and look very different in the constantly changing weather. It’s impressive. Traveling and living on the boat made the whole experience even more special. When the weather was too bad to go on land, we all sat around together. Taking just a few steps away would take you to the rail and no further. Even on land, you can't go off on your own for a while as you are directly on glaciers.
What is the difference between a ski tour in the Antarctic and a ski tour in the Swiss Alps?
There are no penguins in Switzerland ;)
Is it possible to estimate the objective dangers in the Antarctic as well as you can at home in the Alps?
It was much more difficult to assess the dangers as we had no information about the snow pack, we didn’t know where crevasse zones were located under the snow and had no indication of the steepness of the slopes. The weather is also far harsher and we found it more difficult to read. Strong winds transport snow with enormous force. All these factors create difficulties and call for lots of experience and above all continuous reassessments in the terrain.
What would you recommend to someone considering a trip to the Antarctic?
Under no circumstances should you travel on a big cruise ship! These ships are destroying the environment, killing penguins and, in my opinion, should be banned in habitats such as Antarctica!
Are you planning another trip to Antarctica?
That’s my dream, but with more time to be able to climb despite the weather and also sail to more remote areas of the Antarctic Peninsula.
When you look back on your expedition, what moment has left the strongest impression in your memory? Why is this?
It was a month of completely unbelievable impressions, experiences and feelings. Many of these moments have left vivid memories and it's impossible to pick out just one. For example, sailing the Passage, arriving in Antarctica in a storm and managing to reach the inner part of Deception Island where we were stranded for three days. Or sailing through high ice channels in heavy gales in the dark. And going on land and making fresh tracks in the snow, canoeing among penguins, making our way past seals in a snowstorm to go ice climbing, climbing up the mast to steer the boat through a maze of massive ice floes. And one particularly important moment: our ski tour on an island consisting of a single mountain, during a very brief weather window and with just Guillaume. That was definitely a unique experience.
Take a look here at our 4-part web series on the expedition.