I just went kayaking in Antarctica — and it was the most calm I’ve felt all year

Feb 6, 2022

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Editor’s note: TPG’s Gene Sloan is traveling to Antarctica on a free trip provided by Lindblad Expeditions. The opinions expressed below are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the line.

It was the solitude that hit me the most.

Sitting alone Thursday in a yellow inflatable kayak, surrounded by floating chunks of ice, I was soaking in the massive emptiness that is Antarctica in a way that I never had before.

There wasn’t another person within shouting distance of me — not another tourist or guide.

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For the first time since I had arrived at the world’s most remote continent earlier in the week on the hardy new Lindblad Expeditions vessel, National Geographic Resolution, I was utterly on my own — and it felt liberating.

I could have sat out there for hours.

It was, amazingly, an outing that I almost didn’t do.

I’m not normally a kayaker. Despite being on quite a few expedition cruise vessels in recent years that carry kayaks for passenger outings (including several in Antarctica), I’ve never given it a try like this during an adventure sailing.

Related: This new luxury tour gets you to Antarctica faster than most

TPG’s Gene Sloan soaks in the splendor of Antarctica from a kayak. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

In part, that’s because many expedition cruise operators that carry kayaks on vessels only use them for guided outings where passengers go out as a group.

It always seemed like a big commitment. What if I didn’t want to remain with the group the whole time? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I needed to turn back?

In this case, there was no need for such worries. Lindblad Expeditions let us go out on our own.

It was something both rare and wonderful.

Paddling through Antarctic ice

Just unveiled in November and specifically built for polar travel, National Geographic Resolution carries 30 kayaks among an impressive stash of adventure gear for exploring that also includes snowshoes and cross-country skis. When the ship sails in Antarctica, as it has been doing since its debut, its onboard expedition guides hope to make one or two kayak outings available to passengers on every sailing.

Even better, these kayak excursions are included in the cost of your Antarctica cruise.

Related: I just spent to night in an igloo in Antarctica — here’s how you can, too

To kayak on an Antarctica expedition cruise requires the right conditions. The ship has to find a protected bay where the waters are calm, the wind mild and the surroundings safe.

TPG’s Gene Sloan heads into the ice during an Antarctic paddle. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

On Thursday, the veteran expedition leader on National Geographic Resolution, Shaun Powell, found just such conditions along the cliff- and glacier-lined coast of James Ross Island, on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The kayaking took place right off the side of the vessel, which hovered about a third of a mile off the coast.

I admit, I was a little worried about whether I would be that person who tumbles into the freezing water of Antarctica just trying to get myself into a kayak — causing a major rescue incident. But the on-off process couldn’t have been simpler.

If I can do it, anybody can.

The ship’s crew had set up a sturdy platform between two Zodiacs tied to one of National Geographic Resolution’s side doors that let me and other kayakers swing our legs right into the kayaks without any risk of falling into the water.

Related: 11 great expedition cruise vessels that will take you to Antarctica

Kayaks depart and arrive via a sturdy platform. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
Kayakers heading out from National Geographic Resolution. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

The kayaks themselves were a sturdy inflatable model with flat bottoms that seemed almost impossible to tip over.

To be sure, we all had attended a safety briefing on kayaking in Antarctica the day before that explained every aspect of safely operating the kayaks in detail. We had another quick briefing before getting into the kayaks with more safety reminders. We all wore a safety communicator around our necks that would let us quickly call for help.

Among the key safety points was the warning to stay at least three times as far away from any iceberg as its height, as there’s the chance it could flip over and, quite literally, rock your world.

No argument from me there!

Waterfalls rain down from a glacier perched atop a cliff. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

To my delight, we were given a broad area to explore. We could spread out, completely on our own — and soon we were all off in different directions.

I began my paddle by striking out alone across a wide open area of water toward a field of floating ice near the coastline.

Slowing to a crawl to take it all in, I soon found myself surrounded by a bobbing array of small ice chunks as well as some larger pieces of ice and a couple giant ones. They all were spaced far enough apart that it was easy to paddle between them without fear of collision.

Related: An untamed world: Discovering the wild dreamscape of Antarctica

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

It was here, in the midst of the ice, that I stopped paddling for a few minutes and, drifting, just tried to take it all in — the splendor that is Antarctica.

I marveled at the glistening, water-carved ice pieces all around me. I gazed up at the soaring waterfall-lined cliffs along the coast in the distance and the glaciers all around it.

Holding as still as I could, I listened for the sounds of Antarctica, including the whoosh of passing sea birds, the splashing of the waterfalls in the distance and the occasional cracking of an ice piece nearby.

It was gloriously calm — and calming.

Paddling closer to the waterfalls along the shore, I realized how massive they were. They cascaded down hundreds of feet in thin twirling ribbons from a melting glacier that clung to the cliff high above.

From my viewpoint near the waterline below, it all seemed larger than life.

And for just that moment, I had it all completely to myself.

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Featured image by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.

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