Buxton explorer’s Antarctic adventure

Stuart kayaking in the Southern Ocean. Photo contributed.
Stuart kayaking in the Southern Ocean. Photo contributed.

“It feels like you’re on your own. It doesn’t feel like anywhere else.”

From avoiding snow storms to his campsite flooding, Stuart McNeil’s Antarctic experience was not short of adventure.

Setting sail into the open sea from Ushuaia last month, he joined a two-week polar cruise as a guide, completing the Buxton explorer’s quest to step on all seven continents.

As it was spring, temperatures had been relatively mild at -5 degrees celsius.

But on the last day of the expedition, he told fellow kayakers: “We need to get back on the ship”, explaining, “It was getting quite choppy. We had to dash out of there.”

A vicious snow storm with 50 miles-per-hour winds and temperature of minus 45 degrees celsius battered the peninsula, trapping British teams at basecamp.

Fortunately by that time, Stuart and his colleagues, were safely ashore in Cape Horn.

On an earlier night, the KE mountaineer left his bed on cruise ship Plancius behind, to camp in bivouacs, small, light tents, under the Antarctic skies.

“Some people woke up in the night, with the sea lapping at their feet,” Stuart said. “We had to move back because the tide was coming in. I dug myself a wind cover.”

Tourists on the £6,000 excursion enjoyed winter activities such as snow-shoeing, diving and mountaineering, by disembarking from their 89-metre ice-strengthened vessel for small inflatable boats known as Zodiacs.

“It’s pristine, a very pretty place to be. You can’t see any activity. It feels like you’re on your own. It’s just amazing scenery. It doesn’t feel like anywhere else,” he said.

In between the exhilarating snow sports, the Alder Grove resident recalled spotting wildlife such as Magellanic penguins, Weddell and crabeater seals, terns and blue-eyed cormorants, albatross, minke and orca whales.

Passengers soaked up the breathtaking views from Beagle Channel, Drake Passage and Port Lockroy to approach some of the harshest environs in the world.

After visiting research stations and meeting scientists, the adventurers could enjoy sending a post card from Jougla Point, before sailing to Paradise Harbour and Leith Cove.

The travellers rounded off their trip by watching seals hauled out on the beaches on Half Moon Island and a colony of chinstrap penguins on Aitcho Island.

Grand, striking and vast, Stuart said he would “absolutely” return to the frozen continent.