Review: Untamed Antarctica

Is Antarctica on your bucket list? It wasn’t much of a blip on my radar screen. I’d glance at the pricey boat tours in adventure travel brochures and wonder how seasick the crossing would make me. It must have planted a seed though because the universe has been throwing some interesting tidbits my way. Six months ago I attended a Rob Stimpson photography workshop in Killarney, Ontario. Rob is a Canadian photographer with many trips to the Antarctic under his belt and a gorgeous portfolio to boot. Two months ago I noticed conversations starting on social media about kayaking Antarctica. And last month, I attended a National Geographic Live event at Roy Thomson Hall, here in Toronto.

This event was intense – like Banff Mountain Film Festival on steroids. Here is the premise from the event’s website:

Few had seen it, and no one had ever set foot on it. And when they got there, they found out why. “It” was Bertha’s Tower, a 2,000-foot spire in Antarctica’s Wohlthat Range. And “they” were Cory Richards, a photographer, filmmaker, and climber who participated in (and filmed) the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II, and Mike Libecki, a veteran of over 50 climbing expeditions and first ascents on five continents. Having photographed the peak from a distance on a previous trip, Libecki was eager to get closer still. So, joined by two other companions, he and Richards set off on a National Geographic-supported mission to explore and climb—if possible—in the Wohlthats.

Irresistible to Libecki and company for its remoteness and snow-free summit, Bertha’s Tower was also nearly inaccessible, surrounded by a solid sheet of ice that was almost impossible to traverse. As if that wasn’t enough, furious katabatic winds of near-hurricane force pummeled them, shredding gear and burying supplies in snowdrifts. And this was before they even started to climb.

Nothing about Antarctica requires added hype and expedition leader Mike Libecki and climber-photographer Cory Richards gave a balanced view of the risks they faced (and knowingly took). Richards’ photographs provided a dramatic backdrop to stories of losing their base camp to the katabatic winds and somehow getting lucky with the weather in their summit attempts. The conditions were apparently perfect for developing a strong relationship. The give and take, the humor, and the appreciation they shared for one another’s strengths and humility shone through the hour-long presentation. Libecki and Richards took questions at the end answering everything from what’s next for them to how to practice Leave No Trace principles on the continent. It was an evening to fire up the imagination.

Up for discussion: I’ll go back to my opening question, but tweak it slightly. While I love lists to keep myself organized, I don’t treat destinations and experiences as items to be crossed off a list. If you had the opportunity, would you go to Antarctica? What sort of adventure would capture your imagination?

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