Over the winter break, Georgia Tech students explored the untouched snowy canvas of Antarctica. Learn more about this once in a lifetime experience with the Campus Recreation Complex (CRC).  

The Campus Recreation Complex (CRC) set out seven years ago to accomplish the impossible, seven continents in seven years. Lucky for us impossible is not in the Georgia Tech vocabulary. The CRC traveled around the world and back again offering student trips every semester through the outdoor recreation program. The final checkmark was placed this January when a group of students made the arduous journey to Antarctica. We spoke with Georgia Tech Biology student, Jamie Rogers who recounted her once-in-a-lifetime experience traveling to, the end of the world!  

What is your association with ORGT and the CRC?

I have been involved with ORGT for three years. I initially got involved as a member of CORE 5.0, a leadership development program for freshmen. Since then I have become a member of the Backpacking Staff and have led multiple Tech Treks in Alaska each summer!

Can you tell me about your experience preparing for this trip?

The team was selected last Spring semester and preparations were started shortly after. A lot of reservations and itinerary had already been nailed down at that point, but additional decisions were decided on as a team in our biweekly meetings, such as the modification of our expedition timeline to add on a few more days to include both backpacking and ice climbing in Patagonia. We started training for the kayaking portions of the trip in August. We had four training trips and attended multiple roll schools in order to get the necessary paddling and rescue skills down. These ranged in difficulty, from putting in miles on nearby lakes to longer trips down to Tybee Island for practice in rough water conditions. We also put emphasis on personal fitness and endurance, and I really utilized the CRC to stay in shape with lots of cardio and endurance training in order to stay on top of our 5 workouts per week schedule.

What were you most looking forward to leading up to this trip?

I was really looking forward to just the massive amounts of snow and ice. I’ve always lived in the south and even vacationed in warm places, so I knew it would be a totally different world to me. I knew that I really needed to see the impacts of climate change up close and be able to visualize what mechanisms were actually at play with ice shelves collapsing and glaciers melting at a higher and higher rate. Also, I was excited for the whales because I had never seen a whale before and was super psyched to get up close to one.

What was the travel like getting to and from Antarctica?

It took a while… We flew from Atlanta to Santiago (in Central Chile) which was about a 9-hour flight. Then we had an 11-hour layover which we used to explore the city! Then a 3-hour flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas (southern Chile). We slept maybe a total of 5 hours, then flew from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams (very tip of Chile) and finally boarded the Polar Pioneer. This was an old Soviet research vessel that’s been converted to take passengers to see both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. For the next two days, we crossed the Drake Passage, a notoriously rough bit of ocean, and finally touched down in Antarctica on New Year's Eve! All in all, it took about 4.5 days to make it from Atlanta to Antarctica.

What was the weather like?

It was pretty variable actually. Some days would be a bit gloomier than others with cloud cover and some snow flurries while other days we had a lot of sun and beautiful blue skies. Temperature ranged from a little below freezing to around 60F one day. But always beautiful, just in different ways. We were actually very lucky with the weather and were able to visit every one of our planned locations except for the last day of our trip in Half Moon Island, where rough winds sadly caused waves to be too high to kayak around in.

Where did you stay?

We lived aboard the Polar Pioneer with around 40 other passengers, 10 expedition staff, and 22 Russian Crew. One of the other expedition members, Kristine, and I stayed in one of the many cabins on board. When we weren’t eating, sleeping, or spending time in the common area, we were outside on one of the multiple decks taking in the view. Then we’d launch our kayaks each day from the back deck and explore each new area the Polar Pioneer went to.

What activities did you partake in on the trip?

Each day we kayaked in the morning and afternoon for around 6-10 hours total. One day we got up extra early and completed a 22km circumnavigation of an island before lunch. Another day we decided to stay out all day away from the big boat so we could have more time exploring. It was awesome to get so close to the ice and wildlife, something we really couldn’t do from the larger boat. Throughout our trip, the boat would move down along the Antarctic Peninsula each day.  During the kayaking outings, we’d always take time to make some landings to explore the coast and penguin colonies at each new location. When we weren’t kayaking, we played a lot of card games, got to know the other passengers from around the world sharing this amazing trip with us, and watched the beautiful scenery pass by. We also got to participate in the Polar Plunge, jumping from the 4th deck of the boat into the freezing water. One night we have the opportunity to camp out in the snow on the continent. We didn’t even use tents, all we did was dig a hole in the snow and put our sleeping bags in it!

Please share your favorite memory from the trip?

The day we were able to spend kayaking away from the Polar Pioneer all day was by far my favorite day of the trip. We saw a species of penguins we had never seen before called Adelie Penguins, got up close and personal with a curious seal that kept swimming around our kayaks, and we had to portage our boats over some sea ice that was blocking our route. It was hard work to drag the boats over the ice, but it was so cool to know we were just inches above the ocean, almost walking on water. Plus, the guides we were with had hot cocoa and yummy sandwiches as a pick me up at lunchtime. 

What surprised you the most on this trip?

I was absolutely astounded at how breathtaking a landscape of just black and white could be. And really not just the landscape but the wildlife, the sky, and water were all just beautiful shades of greys and charcoals. All of the ice and snow were blindingly white. It was incredible. On top of that, how massive some of the icebergs are was mind-blowing. On our last day at sea, we passed an iceberg that was a mile long and half a mile deep. The scale of Antarctica is just amazing.

What was your biggest personal take away from this experience?

I’ve walked away from this trip with an enormous sense of gratitude. I’m so thankful to have not only been able to see and interact with this beautiful landscape but to have done it in such a unique way. With this gratitude has also come a feeling of responsibility to share this experience with those who may never get to see such an incredible place. I want to make sure as many people as possible can begin to understand the importance of protecting and preserving such a pristine, unique, and impactful environment.

What advice do you have for anyone considering a trip with ORGT?

Without a doubt, go for it! The trips are a great way to spend your weekend and there's something here for everyone. Whether you want to rock climb in Tennessee, go on a day hike in Northern Georgia, or train for a kayaking expedition to Antarctica, ORGT can help make it happen. The trips we offer are just the start. This organization is more than just a group of people who love being outdoors. It’s a beyond welcoming community that can open a world of opportunities if you let it and are willing to put in the effort. From leadership development, personal growth, to, of course, a bunch of amazing memories, there’s a reason we have one of the best outdoor programs in the nation. We’d love to have you join us!