Hitchhiking and Honeymooning in Antarctica (PART II)


Editor’s Note - Is there any better way to spend your honeymoon than by boating around the Antarctic Peninsula? Probably not. ACC Ambassador Nancy Hansen and high-altitude veteran Ralf Dujmovits venture to the deep South to climb, ski and sneak in a few extra activities, enjoying the type of honeymoon that we would totally expect from the adventurous couple.

You can check out Part I here.

Hitchhike #1:

We received a message that our ski traverse group was ready to start coming down. No problem - we had lots of time to motor to their exit point and help them through the crux of their descent. Three hours after leaving Vernadsky, the (recently reconditioned) gearbox on the yacht broke, leaving us stranded in thick sea ice. It didn’t take me long to start thinking of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance epic. But what we had over Shackleton was tourism. The 80-passenger cruise ship, Ocean Nova, came to our rescue a few hours later and spent the next ten hours towing us back to the Chilean Base Station at Paradise Harbour. Our poor yacht took a real beating as the cruise ship towed us relentlessly through dense ice.

While waiting for our next ride to get from the Chilean Station to the base of the traverse exit point 40 kilometres to the north, Ralf and I had what we called “The Best Day Ever”. The two of us went sea kayaking and spent several hours having close encounters with humpback whales. These gracious creatures weigh up to 30 tons and are 12-16 metres in length. Even though we knew they wouldn’t harm us on purpose, the thought of getting accidentally flipped into the Antarctic Ocean several kilometres from our broken yacht was really exciting (um – terrifying). We felt a little more relaxed once we were closer to ‘home’ and we became accustomed to these massive mammals surfacing within five metres of, and diving under our tiny sea kayaks. Did you know their breath STINKS???

Hitchhike #2:

After a couple of days, the yacht Ocean Tramp (previously owned by the late climber Charlie Fowler) volunteered to take Ralf and me to the exit point of our traverse group. The yacht was touring four American photographers around, so we got to circle every interesting iceberg and stop to look at every whale along the way. It so happens that Ralf and I also love to take photos, so we enjoyed this day immensely.

Because of difficulties communicating in Antarctica, the traverse group didn’t know we were coming. We met them in a white-out in the middle of their first of two difficult crux sections. If they weren't towing heavy sledges the relatively steep and heavily crevassed terrain would not have presented such a danger. But with big loads and inexperience of half the group, it was quite serious. They saw Ralf and I coming through the mist and called us the “Canadian Cavalry” (Ralf now being an honorary Canadian). Back at the ocean, we all breathed a big sigh of relief and toasted their successful traverse.

The psyched traverse group. Photo by Ralf Dujmovits.

Hitchhike #3:

With ongoing amazing organization by Skipper Cath, the Polish yacht Selma generously picked up our ragged, smelly, tired group. The Selma was already at capacity with 10 divers and crew, but they somehow managed to add all eight of us plus our skis and 14 sledges of gear. They fed us well, returned us to our yacht and we were in bed by 3 a.m.

Hitchhike #4:

We barely had time to organize our gear, deflate the Zodiac, and stuff it all away in our yacht’s garage before our next ride showed up – the French Pod Orange. The plan was for them to tow us for 25 km in the direction of Argentina until we hit open water and wind. 2.5 days later, they were still towing us. There was no wind. Not a breath. It’s called “The Drake Lake”.

Hitchhike #5:

The Pod Orange had to leave us or they wouldn’t have made it to Ushuaia in time to meet their next clients. They did a mid-Drake Passage handover of us to the Russian RusArc Aurora, who generously towed us the rest of the way. The winds stayed unbelievably absent – of our extraordinarily long 150-hour return journey, we were only able to sail about 20 hours. Cath said she’d never seen anything like it in 17 years of sailing to Antarctica.

Ralf and I will never forget our honeymoon. It was full of surprises and adventure and sometimes we were even able to squeeze in some romance. Oh yeah, we finished the trip with a stop-over in Patagonia. :)

Nancy and Ralf in Patagonia

More on Nancy Hansen

Nancy Hansen started climbing in 1995 and has made a number of difficult ascents and firsts since then, being the first and only female to to summit all 11,000er's in the Canadian Rockies (and she still holds the "speed record" of 7 years), first and only female to complete all 34 routes in Kallen's 1977 Yamnuska guidebook, and has completed 46 of the climbs in Steck and Roper's "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America". Hansen has been an important part of the Alpine Club of Canada for over 20 years and continues to support the mountain community.