Antarctica - Expedition to the Mount Sidley Volcano

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/1600s • ISO 200

As a lava hunter, heat and dust are my calling, my oasis of well-being. I am in my element when I go on trips to volcanoes, such as in the Danakil Desert in Ethiopia. In contrast I can't stand snow and cold. The sound of crunching snow sends a chill down my spine.

Nevertheless, just one year ago I fell under the spell of an advertisement for an expedition to the Mount Sidley volcano in Antarctica. The phrases "less explored than the Moon", "loneliest and one of the least-climbed mountains," and "the unimaginable expanse of this ice desert makes it the largest adventure playground on Earth" drew me in as if by magic.

As a child I devoured books on discovery, and dreamed of distant, lonely, undiscovered worlds and places. I didn't have to think about it long, and contacted Christoph Höbenreich, the experienced polar guide and leader of the expedition. After a brief consultation and a few training requirements, it quickly became clear that I would be joining in!

After a year of intensive preparation and 27 hours of flight time, I arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, the starting point of our expedition.

Unfortunately, there simply isn't space at this time for the full report on the expedition. I will focus here on the most important questions I have been asked about this amazing trip.

Interestingly, the question asked most frequently was whether I was afraid of polar bears.

Clear answer: no! Polar bears are only in the Arctic, not Antarctica. Penguins live in Antarctica, but only along the coast and not on our route.

 

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/800s • ISO 200

How do you travel to and in Antarctica?

From Punta Arenas with the - at least for me - King of Airplanes. A powerful Russian Iljuschin, actually, a freighter. Transport in Antarctica used small prop planes capable of withstanding the polar conditions. The "landing strips" were made of hard ice or snow as smooth as glass.

What kind of equipment is needed for such an expedition?

Absolutely mandatory are a polar suit, the thickest down jacket and mittens, boots suited to climbing 8000 meter peaks, sharp climbing irons, and a sleeping bag suitable for temperatures down to minus 40 degrees Celsius.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/800s • ISO 200

How were the temperatures?

The weather in Antarctica - the coldest, windiest, and driest continent - THE most important and determining factor. Regular changes of plan and long waits for a suitable weather window are part of the routine. But we were often lucky, with sunshine and temperatures between zero and minus 10 degrees Celsius. The dry cold is also easier to handle. In the tent we were able at times to sit in a thin sweater, and sleep only lightly clothed.

It only became uncomfortable from one second to the next when the winds picked up. Then, your breath quickly freezes into ice.

Can you even take pictures under such conditions?

Of course! I travel with the combination of a E-M1 Mark II plus a 12-100 4.0 Pro Lens, which did their jobs each time to complete satisfaction. The only issue was that the batteries did not hold their charge very long in the extreme cold, so I always kept two replacement batteries warm against my body in a *** pocket. Given the lack of charging facilities, I had a lot on hand.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/8000s • ISO 200

How does it feel to be perhaps the loneliest person in the entire universe?

Ice in every direction for 1000 km, the next civilization infinitely far away, the climbing group going to the peak on uncharted routes, and the return alone to the base camp impossible due to cracks in the glacier. And I felt good, incredibly good. I was overcome by a deep feeling of calm, peace, and unlimited freedom. In the absolute silence, I came closer to the concept of infinity than ever before, and my happiness and the beauty around me brought me to tears.

At least until the movie house in my head started, and I pictured my climbing companions having an accident and not returning.

But of course they returned, and we toasted with beer cooled in this natural refrigerator - to a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and to memories that will shape us for the rest of our lives.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/4000s • ISO 200

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-100mm PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/1000s • ISO 200