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Myths of Traveling to Antarctica by Marybeth Bond

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Our friends and colleagues plagued us with questions before we left. Won’t you be cold, bored, unsafe and sea sick? I admit, I too had some concerns but none of them proved true.

Cold?

I was never cold and we were exposed to the ferocious winds and weather when we climbed a volcano in the snow, rode zodiacs around icebergs and kayaked through thin ice. We also had sunny, calm days. How did we stay warm? The pre-departure packing list from Quark Expeditions was so detailed and complete; there was not room for error. We bought the recommended layers, fleece, gloves and socks. The yellow, fleece-lined, super warm, water-proof Polar coats were given to us when we boarded the ship.

There was one exception: both my husband and I voluntarily took the “Polar Plunge” and jumped into the frigid water. Adrenaline and excitement kept me warm until my entire body was submerged. Then I gasped and struggled to climb the ladder back onto the ship. The cheering of new friends kept me sane, or made me do this insane jump. It was truly a “once in a lifetime” experience. Yes, I’ll never do it again, but I’m glad I did it once. It was one of those peak life moments.

Polar Plunge

Safety?

We felt secure and never at risk during the entire voyage. Numerous, detailed safety briefings and procedures, as well as the competent and experienced staff and crew, put us at ease. We chose Quark Expeditions because they have 30 years of experience and excellent past passenger reviews.

Bored?

Never! Although we packed several books, a deck of cards, and dominoes, we were never bored. Two excursions daily, visits to research stations, lots of educational lectures, movies, a health club and activities from yoga to Latin dancing kept us busy.

Excursion

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Seasick?

Everyone aboard had a different remedy for potential seasickness-- just in case the two-day crossing of Drakes Passage was rough. I got queasy for a few hours the very first night and took seasickness medicine which worked like a charm. Other cruisers used a “patch” or ate saltine crackers and candied ginger. My husband never got sick.

Why?

For those friends who wondered “Why”, we answer, “Why did we wait so long?”

How does it stack up against other “once-in-a-lifetime destinations?

We rank our Antarctic cruise right at the top of the list, equal to our honeymoon safari in Africa.

Watch the video of Marybeth's Antarctic voyage:

Video

Interested? For more information please visit our Antarctic voyages

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Stepping Back into Polar History

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Below is a blog from Expedition Guide, Diane Erecg. Diane is aboard the Sea Spirit, on Quark’s Crossing the Circle, Southern Expedition:

What would it be like to live in Antarctica for a year or more? Could you survive the isolation, dark and cold? What would you miss most from home? What might you learn about yourself in that time? These were some of the questions we asked ourselves and each other as we explored Horseshoe Island.

Situated in Marguerite Bay, south of the Antarctic Circle, Horseshoe Island is home to Base Y, which is an unaltered and completely equipped British scientific research station of the 1950s. Occupied continuously from 1955-60, it was home to up to ten expeditioners at a time, including surveyors, mechanics, radio operator, geologists, doctor and meteorologists, whose tours of duty lasted 2 ½ years.

 

Base Y Horseshoe Island Base Y Horseshoe Island

As historian Victoria Salem guided us through Base Y, we examined thousands of artifacts inside each room including kitchen utensils, stocks of food and fuel, workshop tools, radio equipment and diesel generator. So well preserved and curated was this historic site that it felt as though its previous tenants had left it only yesterday, and as though we could move in tomorrow.

 

Artifacts inside Base Y Artifacts inside Base Y

Outside again, we mulled over the stories Victoria had shared with us while enjoying panoramic views out to sea ice-encased Sally Cove. Over 20 Weddell seals could be seen resting on the sea ice, posing their blubbery grey bodies, lavish whiskers and adorable catlike smiles for us with effortless elegance. A few of us stayed long enough and quiet enough to hear their other-worldly vocalisations. We love Weddell seals!

Meanwhile, geologist Luke Saffigna encouraged us to admire and understand another aspect of this fascinating site – the rich turquoise-coloured malachite veins that adorned the rocks all around us. A copper-rich mineral which was injected into joints and fissures of the surrounding rock, the copper was then oxidised when exposed to air and transformed into this brilliant shade of green.

Whether we had come to Antarctica for the wildlife, history or landscape, Horseshoe Island offered something for everyone.

 

Detaille Island Detaille Island

Over the course of the three days we spent south of the Antarctic Circle, we visited more British and American historic bases at Stonington and Detaille Islands, and ship cruised the ice-spangled fjords of Marguerite Bay. As we crossed the Antarctic Circle again and sailed further north along the Peninsula we spared a thought for the expeditioners of the 1950s. We thought about the extraordinary scientific work they managed to complete whilst living at the mercy of the Antarctic elements. But mostly we thought about how lucky they were to call Antarctica home.

 

East Base - Stonington Island East Base - Stonington Island

 

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Quark Passengers Love Showcasing Their National Pride

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Wherever we go – from the Drake Passage to King George Island in the Antarctic, all the way to East Greenland and even the North Pole – Quark passengers love bringing a bit of their home country with them. Even better, they share their experiences with us in photos, videos and even guest blog posts.

In light of the recent Olympics, one of the greatest displays of national pride on earth, we wanted to share these incredible photos of our passengers celebrating their home countries on expedition to the North Pole. See if your own country has been represented on an Arctic tour!

A Meeting of Nations at the North Pole

International flags flew high overhead on this expedition to the North Pole. Everyone is bundled up in their Quark parkas, but you might be surprised to learn how temperate it can be in the Arctic during the summer, which is when we travel. Passengers come from the world over and enjoy partaking in one another's culture as much as displaying their own national pride. In this blog post, Chris McFarlane shares his wow moment from his first trip to the North Pole: "The traditional Russian parade music that blasted as our ship cast her lines and left port was definitely memorable!"

 

BBQ at North Pole Photo by Quark passenger

Here's another view of Canadian, UK, Japanese and a plethora of other flags flying high off 50 Years of Victory, the world's most powerful and largest icebreaker.

North Pole: A Symbol of International Unity

Here, you can see passengers taking part in a Pole Parade, beneath the banners of their respective countries. The North Pole is a symbol of international unity, as was showcased last summer when 50 Years of Victory took part in the Olympic Torch Relay and brought the Olympic Flame to the North Pole.

 

View from icebreaker BBQ at 90 degrees north. Photo by Quark passenger.

Once the ship reached 90 degrees North, passengers took part in the torch relay both onboard and on the Arctic Ice. Torch bearers from the eight countries making up the Arctic council took part, ensuring Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, the US, Iceland and Denmark were all represented.

Flagbearers in the Far North

Here, another passenger proudly displays the flag of China, as he represents his nation at the top of the world, where a step in any direction takes you south.

 

China Flag at North Pole China flag displayed by Quark passenger.

Not to be outdone, Canada and the US represent!

 

Canadian flag at North Pole Canadian flag displayed at North Pole

 

USA flag at North Pole USA flag displayed by Quark passengers

It's a rite of passage, once you've crushed through the thick sea ice and had a chance to view the spectacular Arctic Ocean by helicopter, to have your picture taken at the North Pole.

 

India flag at North Pole India flag displayed by Quark passengers

As the Olympics came to a close, we were reminded that citizens of every nation love to take a piece of home with them when they travel. Arctic voyage passengers are no different; as some of the very few on earth who have the opportunity to travel to Franz Joseph Land and stand at the actual North Pole, they are stewards for their countries and proud to show it off!

Do you have polar adventure pictures that show off your national pride? Share them with us on Twitter!

 

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Antarctic Circle: a voyage fit for a king

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Below is a voyage update from Expedition Guide, Diane Erecg. Diane is currently aboard the Sea Spirit, on Quark’s Crossing the Circle, Southern Expedition:

“Those who come seeking permission to cross the Antarctic Circle and enter into Neptune’s waters come forward now and kneel before the King!” This is the brute and booming proclamation that confronts us as we anxiously await our initiation…

It is February 20th and the Sea Spirit has brought us safely and smoothly to the Antarctic Circle. Few expeditions aim for this ambitious goal and even fewer achieve it; the ice in this region of the Antarctic Peninsula is notorious for blocking the way of those daring to venture this far south. But following two and half days at sea, we find ourselves at latitude 66°33’44’’ South. We have reached the Antarctic Circle.

 

King Neptune King Neptune

Right now, our continued passage to the southern side of the Circle remains uncertain. We must first meet with Neptune, King of the Sea, and be granted rite of passage to his waters. So we gather in the chill of a breezy Antarctic morning, donning our most quirky and creative sea-inspired attire, and hoping that our efforts and actions will be deemed satisfactory. Many of us emerge from our cabins as an assortment of kooky sea critters. There are several penguins and a spurting humpback whale. One of us has made a trident from a monopod and kitchen forks. This is serious Neptune-impressing business.

The brute, booming proclaimer before us is Neptune’s henchman, a surly character with a head of green seaweed hair, pale skin and dark empty eyes. She orders us forward one at a time to kneel before King Neptune and his wife, who sit unperturbed at their throne, decked out in regal robes and jewels, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to our kayak guide Kevin Sampson and expedition physician Dr Barbra Villona.

 

Kissing the toe Kissing Neptune's toe

Neptune’s foot rests on a stool, his big blue toes exposed for all to see, and we are now told to lower our heads and kiss it. We do so, watched on by Neptune, his wife and a band of henchmen, mermaids and pirates. Satisfied of our toe-kissing ability, the henchman brands our faces with the trident tattoo and we are made to drink a vile concoction they call ‘Neptune’s Grog’. Thus, we are initiated and, one by one, granted passage to the icy waters south of the Circle.

 

Passenger with Neptune's Grog Passenger drinking Neptune's Grog

Finally, with all of us fully initiated, Neptune stands and speaks. “I, Neptune, King of the Sea, grant you, the passengers of this sturdy vessel permission to enter my waters. Be safe and respectful of the wonders you encounter here and you will be rewarded.” Our cheers echo around the ship and signal Captain Oleg to proceed. Into the enchanted waters of Marguerite Bay and Crystal Sound we go!

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Voyage update: Throwing the Lines & Embarking on Adventure

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Below is a voyage update from Expedition Guide, Diane Erecg. Diane is currently aboard the Sea Spirit, on Quark's Crossing the Circle, Southern Expedition:

At 5pm, the Oceanus Lounge hums with the collective energy and anticipation of 110 intrepid travelers embarking on their dream adventure – a voyage to the Antarctic Circle. Following warm words of welcome from Quark’s expedition team and the crew of the M/V Sea Spirit, Expedition Leader Shane Evoy rallies the group with a simple question: ‘Who wants to go to Antarctica?’ The answer is an immediate, boisterous and resounding cheer from each and every person in the room.

 

Quark team member and passengers Quark team member Luke Saffigna & passengers on deck

With this, our ropes are thrown, we depart the Ushuaia dock and our adventure of a lifetime begins. Spilling onto the ship’s outer decks, we mingle with fellow travelers, steal glimpses of passing Peale’s dolphins and South American terns and reflect on the civilization we’re leaving behind. All this while admiring the stillness of Darwin Range silhouettes against a dusky Tierra del Fuegan sky.

 

Sea Spirit Departs in Ushuaia Sea Spirit departing in Ushuaia

Later in the evening, we’ve settled in, been fed like kings and queens and are geared up in iridescent yellow Quark parkas. We tumble into our beds and are rocked to sleep by the gentle rolling as the Sea Spirit steers us forward. At midnight, leaving the Beagle Channel behind us we make our turn into the Drake Passage and a sea of endless possibilities. Our next destination is 700 nautical miles to our south - the Antarctic Circle.

For more information on this amazing Antarctic voyage, visit: Crossing the Circle, Southern Expedition

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Polar Vortex: The Science, Myth & Media Hype Behind North American Weather Phenomenon

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Since early January, the polar vortex craze has swept North America. You’ve seen it splashed across mainstream media and if you are a social media user, have probably been inundated with polar vortex warnings and memes over the past month.

This influx of Arctic weather across North America has been blamed for slumping vehicle sales, record-breaking demand for natural gas, and temperature lows not seen in the Southern states in over a century. Travelers faced a myriad of flight delays and cancellations, while power grids strained under the pressure.

 

Polar Vortex This January 28, 2014, image captured by the NOAA GOES-East satellite shows the “Arctic Blanket” covering most of Canada and the United States at the time. (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)

As with any “hot topic,” the polar vortex has quite taken on a life of its own. It’s certainly not a new weather phenomenon, yet this is the first year it’s really taken hold of the North American conscious, dominating news media. Is it because of the severity of the storm, or is there hyperbole at work? Let’s explore.

What is the Polar Vortex?

Fox News reported on January 7, “The so-called ‘polar vortex’ of dense, frigid air blamed for at least 21 cold-related deaths across the country spread to the East and the Deep South on Tuesday…”

Wait, the ‘so-called’ polar vortex? Is it really a thing? And are we seeing Arctic storms in the Deep South?

According to the American Meteorological Society, a polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale cyclone located near either of the planet’s geographical poles. Also known as a polar cyclone or circumpolar whirl, it’s a cold-core, low pressure area of counter-clockwise circulating air, typically spanning less than 1000 kilometers (620 miles). The polar vortex is usually centred over one of two places: Canada’s Baffin Island or northeast Siberia.

The polar vortex is typically irregularly shaped, explains Mark Serreze, Director of the National Snow & Ice Data Center. It has “longwaves,” or meandering ridges (where the warm air extends northward) or troughs (where cold air dips south).

In this image, he illustrates the average temperature gradient for January 1 to 5, according to data from 1981-2010, on the left. The polar vortex appears in purple and dark blue colours.

 

Polar Vortex Image credit: Mark Serreze, NSIDC

On the right, Serreze shows the temperature gradient for the same period in 2014. “The boundary of the polar vortex is where the yellow transitions to the green, and the tightly packed lines indicate a strong horizontal temperature gradient and define the jet stream,” he writes. “The air within the jet stream – and within the vortex as a whole – rotates from west to east like a big whirlpool.”

Just How Far Reaching Is the Polar Vortex?

Many news agencies have reported on the movement of the polar vortex into the Southern states as they struggled to describe what has certainly been an unusual weather pattern this winter.

There’s no arguing that cities across the mid and Southern states experienced the coldest blasts of air they’d seen in decades, shattering low temperature records. But did we really see an Arctic cyclone dip as far down as Florida? Remember, by definition a polar vortex itself usually spans an area of 1000km or less.

In order to understand how the recent polar air outbreaks were so far reaching, a team from Weather.com suggests that we think of the polar vortex as a wheel with spokes. The polar vortex did not somehow spin out of its usual realm and travel to Florida; it stayed in place over northern Greenland and near Baffin Island, but a “spoke” extended southward into the northern states in early January.

It was more a perfect storm than the result of the polar vortex alone that sent much of the United States into a deep freeze, they report. As the polar vortex extended south, “…lower in the atmosphere at jet stream level, a pair of upper-level disturbances, one from the northeast Pacific Ocean and another rotating southward out of Canada's Northwest Territories, merged to help dig a sharp southward plunge in the jet stream, unleashing the Arctic blast into the nation's Midwest, South and East.”

 

Polar Vortex Image credit: AccuWeather

The above image, from Accuweather, demonstrates just how far south the polar vortex extended its reach. “The frigid air found its way into the United States when the polar vortex was pushed South, reaching southern Canada and the northern Plains, Midwest and northeastern portions of the United States,” Accuweather explained on behalf of meteorologist Brett Anderson.

Polar Vortex: It’s Always There, But Rarely Here

To see the polar vortex swirl as far south as the U.S. Midwest is a rare occurrence. While the actual Arctic cyclone itself remained rooted closer to the North Pole, that’s no consolation to the millions who suffered the frigid air it sent much farther south early in January.

Unseasonably cold weather has persisted through much of Canada and the United States, though CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons was quick to correct those who believed the polar vortex had persisted. It’s always there, she explains in this January 20 video, but since the initial Arctic air outbreak in early January, the vortex has ventured back up north, where it belongs.

Since then another cold air blast – complete with highway-clogging snow and a winter storm warning – wreaked havoc on Atlanta, Georgia and surrounding areas, though that storm moved east from Texas. Even still, the polar vortex has made the winter of 2014 a legendary one for many. It’s become synonymous with Arctic air and the suspect of choice for particularly harsh winter storms. However, you can blame the more recent snow in New Orleans and below-freezing temperatures in Mexico on the circumpolar jet stream spilling south thanks to Arctic oscillation.

Ironically, if you continued further south – as far as Antarctica – you would have found it warmer there during the January storms. This is why we visit polar regions in their respective summer seasons!

Did you experience the Polar Vortex outbreak early in January, or the effects thereof? Share your story in the comments, or stop by and join our conversation on Twitter!

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Dressing for the Polar Vortex 101

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When it comes to gearing up for cold weather, look no further than Quark’s Merchandise team for all the tips and tricks you’ll need to stay warm.

Layering is essential. Synthetic fibres work well as a base layer, but natural fibers such as merino wool work even better. There are various weights to merino wool base layers, but for walking your dog, or trudging through the snow to your next destination, we recommend the Icebreaker brand. This is a truly ‘cool’ New Zealand company whose products are worn by athletes, adventurers and everyday Joes like us. On every Icebreaker product there is a “Baacode” so you can track your individual garment’s origin back to the source!

We recommend their everyday long sleeve crew and leggings for men and women. At 200gm, they will fit under your favourite outfit. This wool isn’t the kind that will make you itchy and uncomfortable either; their merino wool is soft, lightweight, breathable and keeps you warm and dry.

long sleeve crewe womanIcebreaker long sleeve crewe

Remember your extremities. Layering works for your hands and feet as well. You can keep wearing those cute hand-knitted mittens, but remember to wear a glove liner such as Outdoor Research’s Bio Sensor gloves underneath. They will keep you warm from the inside out and will allow you to keep on tweeting about how freezing it is out there! Visit our Gear Shop for this fab find.

 

Gloves Bio Sensor Liner Gloves

Keep your feet warm and dry by starting with a great sock such as the Icebreaker City Lite Crew against your skin and remember to wear waterproof boots to keep the moisture out.

 

Socks Icebreaker City Lite Crew Socks

Stay warm and look cool. One of the favorites among our polar travelers is Buffwear. We recommend the polar buff or the wool buff to keep your head and neck warm on those blustering winter days. They can easily transform from a cool neck-warmer to warm balaclava for full face coverage in seconds! Check out these videos for creative ways to sport your Buff.

Alternatively, if you subscribe to the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy when it comes to combatting the Polar weather, we encourage you to don a Polar Bear Spirit Hood while shoveling the driveway. What’s more, 10% of the net profits of Spirit Hoods are donated to protect the endangered species, including Polar Bears International a cause close to Quark’s heart.

 

Spirit hood polar bear Spirit hood polar bear
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It’s Getting Hot Up Here: Arctic Circle Destinations On Holiday Hotspots Lists

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Written by Quark's extraordinary president, Hans Lagerweij.

Even as frigid temperatures grip typically mild areas this winter, travelers are gearing up for Arctic expeditions this summer. In fact, 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for travel in and around the Arctic Circle, as travelers and mainstream media alike are eager to explore and share their adventures at the top of the world.

Recent “top destinations” lists from CNN, New York Times and The Guardian celebrate Icelandic destinations like Jokulsarlon and Hella for their northern lights displays, expected to be particularly spectacular this year thanks to increased solar activity. In fact, viewing the northern lights has become the number one travel experience for Britons.

NYTimes.com, though they feature Jokulsarlon and the Thjorsarver Wetlands in Iceland and the Faroe Islands as top travel destinations in 2014, claim, “There aren’t many reasons to visit the frigid region surrounding the North Pole.”

 

Northern Lights Northern Lights, East Greenland (photo courtesy of Quark passenger Robert Lee)

We beg to differ.

As polar tourism increases each year – and especially with the advent of social sharing – people are increasingly realizing just how much more the Arctic has to offer.

Once a destination reserved only for the extremely adventurous or wealthy, the Arctic Circle has become a destination of choice for all types of travelers. Of course, we visit each polar region during their respective summer season, enabling passengers to experience more flora and fauna than is available in winter. You won’t get away with running around in your t-shirt and shorts, but the Arctic is surprisingly mild in peak tourism season.

 

Zodiac Cruise Zodiac cruising photo courtesy of a Quark passenger

Now, adventure options like a helicopter tour, zodiac cruising or even a hot-air balloon ride are attainable for Arctic travelers. Cultural learning opportunities abound, as the people of Sisimiut (Greenland), Spitsbergen (Norway) and other communities dotting the Arctic landscape invite us to enjoy their art, traditions and beautiful surroundings. As The Guardian points out, several blockbuster films have been filmed recently in Iceland, which is gaining some notoriety as the “Hollywood of the North.”

Franz Josef Land is a place few can say they’ve seen and to actually reach the North Pole, to realize you’re standing in the one place on earth where a step in any direction will take you south, is a once in a lifetime experience.

North Pole Video

Except it’s not… not anymore. The Arctic Circle is no longer an out of reach destination. We have passengers join us year after year, to experience new adventures or revisit favorite Arctic destinations. Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Nunavut – these are places you fall in love with and never really leave. You take them with you and the call of the Arctic stays strong, calling you back.

 

Hot Springs, Greenland Quark passengers enjoying hot springs in Greenland

The Arctic is a place like no other; one that has to be experienced to be believed. This year, we expect to welcome aboard more old friends and new passengers than ever before. Will you join us?

Feature photo by Quark passenger Yukun Shih.

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Ocean Diamond: Aerial view from the Drone

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Wanna see something cool?

Watch this 30 second video that features an aerial view from a GoPro and Drone of the Ocean Diamond in Antarctica!

Filmed on a DJI Phantom Vision Drone , footage courtesy of Quark's amazing Product Manager, Clayton Anderson.

DroneBlog2

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Fluffy flowers

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The Arctic cottongrass is the most widespread flowering plant found in the northern hemisphere and Arctic tundra regions. Cotton grass is not actually a type of grass, but rather a plant that flourishes in areas that are too cold for trees.

Fun fact: in Scotland they used them to dress wounds during First World War.

 

x2013.GreenlandExplorer-600x450.jpg.pagespeed.ic.c9dli7qIUh-1

Photo courtesy of our passenger slideshow, 2013 Greenland Explorer Voyage.

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