The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


Adventure Travel

Nov 30, 2016

Five (of the many) Icy Adventures to be Had in Antarctica

If you happen to find yourself on the harshest, most inhospitable, driest, coldest, and windiest continent on Earth, here are a few things that you must do on the last and final frontier.


Himraj Soin

Antarctica is such a hopeful, alluring, and mysterious place. Protected by the Antarctic treaty, it has no government. This unique document, signed in 1959, ensures that the white continent is used only for peaceful and scientific purposes. In 1991, a 50-year agreement was entered into which prevents any exploitation on the continent. It’s the only place on Earth where nations live together peacefully (on their respective research stations) and get along, often times inviting each other over for Christmas dinners and costume parties. With a common goal of scientific advancement, and no ulterior motive of mining and drilling, this last great wilderness is (temporarily) protected. However clichéd it may sound, there exists an inexplicable energy here unlike any other part of the world. It’s hard to process emotions and describe raw beauty in a place so pristine, pure and primal. The landscape is Dali-esque, it melted my brain, much like Salvador’s melting watches. I didn’t come across any life altering epiphany but “perspective” earned an entirely new meaning.


Drake Passage showing the boundary points A, B, C, D, E and F accorded by the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1984 between Chile and Argentina. GMT (OMC) base map modified by Giovanni Fattori points according to Tratado de Paz y Amistad of 1984.

As if the name isn’t terrifyingly ominous-sounding enough, the adventure to the Antarctic begins long before you even see an iceberg. They say you have to experience the Beagle Channel. A strait in the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, it’s about 240 kms long and five kms wide. However, they don’t really tell you to prepare yourself for what comes next. Once you leave the Beagle Channel, where the waters of the South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, you start your excellent adventure onward to the infamous, untrustworthy, not-to-be-messed-with Drake Passage. A treacherous channel, connecting and separating the southernmost tip of South America to the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula, the weather is often unpredictable but mostly brutal. These waters are known to be the roughest in the world and waves can reach over 10m (33ft). A synergy in unison, our ship starts rocking back and forth, like a humungous cradle, syncopating with the waves.

Just like another Friday night, being on the Drake involves uncontrollable swaying and puking, although, without the hangovers and questionable decisions. An audition for Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, the sight for the first two days to the peninsula is a steaming dish of comedy with a side of puke. If you’re lucky, on rare occasion, the waters can be somewhat calm, and this phenomenon is called “the Drake Lake”. That said, I sincerely hope you’re not lucky because it’s no fun being on a lake when you can be in the eye of a massive storm, with what seems like a twister propelling the ocean from below.

Travel Tip
“Drake proof” your cabin. This involves making sure everything is stowed securely in your room. From personal experience, I highly recommend not leaving batteries in your drawer- the incessant rolling back and forth can drive you into a straight jacket.


After two days of bouncing around the ship, we saw our first iceberg. Photo: Himraj Soin

Once you’ve reached this far, make sure you get on as many zodiacs as you can. Rafts with motors, they’re the most effective way to get off your warm, cosy ship (bum) and explore the frigid, penguin-filled continent. You have to follow the strict rules of washing your boots in sanitised liquids before you leave or enter the ship. You don’t want to bring anything invasive onto the continent, not even a biscuit. Don’t risk it for a biscuit.

One of the most exciting moments of the Drake crossing is the sighting of your first iceberg. This signals the proximity of the White Continent and you find yourself craving for more. You’re hooked, and it feels good. The first real taste of this bizarre alien planet, it takes a while to realize that beneath your feet is 90% of all the world’s ice and 70% of all the world’s fresh water. This is where your love affair with the land of snow and ice begins.

The biggest tabular iceberg, broken off the Larsen B ice shelf. A grim reminder of the effects of climate change. This photograph was taken from the roof of the ship, on the eighth floor. Photo: Himraj Soin

That said, towards the end of my expedition, in a melancholic juxtaposition, I saw a huge tabular iceberg. Over half a mile long and half a mile wide, it had broken off the Antarctic Larsen B ice shelf, floating in the Antarctic ocean.

Witnessing the effects of climate change was a sharp contrast to the majesty of the surroundings that I’d inhale everyday.

Most of the world’s largest ice shelves are in Antarctica and Greenland. Disintegration of ice shelves is directly associated with climate change, as opposed to calving, a natural event. This ice shelf completely collapsed in 2002, making it the largest disintegration event in 30 years. 3,250 square kms of the Larsen B shattered which released more than 720 billion tons of ice into the Weddell sea. Our in-house geologist explained it to us in layman’s terms- that much ice would be enough to make ice cubes for two gin and tonics for every passenger on board (well over a 100)- everyday for the next 30 years (or something like that). While it’s an interesting way to convey the message, it’s definitely terrifying.

Digging our snow trenches for “survival night”. Tents would have been nice, but with a view of 500 billion stars, we weren’t complaining. Photo: 2041

3. CAMP OUT (with the penguins)

Camping out on the continent is an experience of a lifetime. “Survival night” as we called it, and rightfully so, was windy, snowy, and cold. However, it was also some of the best light we had on the trip (most days were overcast). As the sun dipped, we dug our snow trenches (yes, we didn’t use tents- on account of our guide being a sadist) to protect us from the wind, put down a tarp and got into our sleeping bags. We didn’t sleep for more than five minutes, but it was totally worth it. We got to gaze at the milkyway all night, and also got pelted with snow, strong winds, and ominous sounds from the leopard seals nearby. You’re probably thinking, “how did you poop”? These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night, as well. The ladies got a nice little portable toilet in a tent while the men got a bucket, outside. The next day we heard that one of the members of our team went to do his business and was approached by a curious seal. Needless to say, he did not finish his business.

What tied this experience together? PENGUINS! Penguins everywhere. Some of the silliest and busiest creatures I’ve ever seen, they’re incredibly curious and comical. I suspect they may think humans are bigger penguins. It’s a testament to the fact that we haven’t disturbed wildlife that much in the polar regions. They eat krill, a small crustacean, that makes their poop pink (like we needed a reason to love them more). The Antarctic Krill has an estimated collective weight of over 500 million tons. That’s about twice as much as the collective human weight. Penguins haven’t interacted with humans much, and haven’t learnt not to trust us. That is their mistake (It’s a joke, PETA).


My certificate read: “On a mirror-calm ocean among snowy Antarctic peaks, towering glaciers and a puzzled penguin audience, Himraj of questionable sanity and near to nude, took the plunge into -3C Antarctic waters”. Photo: Oliver Wheeldon

By far, the coldest thing I have ever experienced- armed with a pair of boxers, an attached safety harness, and questionable sanity, I jumped into the unreasonably chilly Antarctic ocean. Filled with regret, adrenaline, and what felt like a deep state of unconsciousness, I took the plunge from a zodiac near our ship.

The water temperature was -3C that day. More than half the ship (of nearly 100 participants) didn’t want to do it but were immediately swayed when our gruff, burly, less-than-polite captain made an announcement, “all those who want to do the polar plunge, go to deck 1 and all other pansies, go to deck 3 and watch”. This promptly made at least 80% of the ship go to deck 1 ASAP. Not the best choice of words from our fearless leader, but it worked. I dove head first (I would highly recommend diving legs first) and swam underwater for what felt like months.

The entire ordeal lasted for less than 30 seconds. I clambered out, uncomfortably numb, and was immediately overcome with adrenaline. I didn’t feel cold anymore and neither did my co-plungers. Everyone was running around the ship, high-fiving each other, with maniacal smiles on their faces. The next plunge was directly into the ship’s hot tub.


Sculptured icebergs like this became a common site. Lemaire Channel, Antarctica. Photo: Himraj Soin

These are just a mere fraction of the things one can do in the Antarctic.  Other activities include visiting the inexplicably gorgeous (almost too gorgeous?) South Georgia island, climbing Mt. Vinson or skiing to the South Pole (either from the coast or the easier, more popular- last degree). You could go to Deception Island, visit the monochromatic Telefon Bay (no B&W filter required) or see Whaler’s Bay, a picture into Antarctica’s exploited past, littered with oil refineries and whale bones.You could go to Mt. Erebus, the southernmost volcano in the world. Or you could just stare at penguins and make fun of their comical yet endearing character.

Since flying to Argentina and taking a ship to the Antarctic will make for the most adventurous odyssey, an amazingly quaint city you’ll see is Ushuaia, Argentina (54°49’S 68°17’W). The southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia is known as the “Gateway to Antarctica”. It looks like a quaint movie set, something out of The Truman Show. The capital city of the Argentine Province of Tierra Del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur, it has a population of around 60,000. It feels bizarre to know that people live in this charming yet surreal town, it almost seems like something is amuck, like they know something we don’t. Alas, I digress.

The view from our hotel in Ushuaia, Argentina. A quaint, windy town, most commonly referred to as “the end of the world”, before the Antarctic- the last point of no return. Photo: Himraj Soin
How did Antarctica get it's name?
A theory states that the ancient Greeks assumed there was a land down South, since there was one up North. They had a strong concept of symmetry and balance. So they named it Antartikos, meaning the opposite of the Arctic. I think that’s a pretty beautiful theory. Since it’s so unspoilt, it really feels like another planet- a combination of desolation and silence. You’re so detached from normal life when you’re there, it’s wild.

So there I stood at the end of the world, trying to think of something profound. I desperately tried to summon a Robert Frost poem that would make for a good fit. Stopping by woods on a snowy evening? Something about promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep? Nope, too cliched. Of course, nothing reflective came to mind. In hindsight, I know why. It’s very difficult to describe a trip of such epic proportions- experiencing the world so far away changes the way you think. I heard someone describe it as “pleicostene”. Only when you fall in love with a place, can you genuinely want it to stay protected and unexploited.

When you’re at the end of the world, the rest of the world stands still. Ordinary problems seem mundane. Untouched by time and humans (mostly), this Terra Australis or “Southern Land” is the harshest, most inhospitable, driest, coldest, and windiest continent on Earth. It is also however, the most pure, primal, peaceful and poignant. It’s the only place on Earth that is how it should be- may it always remain that way.
And with that, a haiku:
The deafening roar / Of Antarctica’s silence / Makes a good haiku 
(It’s not my best work, but hey, at least it follows the 5-7-5 format).


In March 2015, Himraj Soin participated in an environmental project in the Antarctic. The International Antarctic Expedition was led by famous polar explorer Robert Swan O.B.E., the first person in history to walk to both poles. The aim of the expedition was to bring leaders together and study the harmful effects of climate change with a team of global experts. Organized by Robert’s NGO “2041“, the core emphasis of the expedition was the preservation of the Antarctic. A pivotal year for our planet, 2041 will mark the end of a 50 year agreement to keep the world’s last pristine continent free of exploitation. It is our duty to ensure that it’s extended and maintained. From exploring the Antarctic peninsula, witnessing icebergs collapse, seeing orcas, sperm whales, leopard seals, pelicans and penguins, to learning survival and crevasse rescue skills, camping out in the snow, and indulging in intellectual, stimulating discussions and debates on climate science, leadership, exploration and much more- this was a life-changing expedition of a limetime. This trip was made possible by the Inlaks Foundation, Ibex Expeditions, PHD Chambers of Commerce, Chimes Group, India, Shriram group, Bhilwada Group, SWISS International AirlinesEast West Rescue and the American Embassy School Girl Scouts. For interested readers, flying to Argentina and taking a ship to the Antarctic will make for the most adventurous odyssey.

A version of this article appears in Issue 08 of The Outdoor Journal India Summer 2015 magazine (travel destination section).

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Apr 03, 2019

Climbing Stories: Yabadabadoo!

An Indian climber and a foreigner hitchhike their way to hillside boulders in Avathi, and set up camp in a leopard's den, to scout Bangalore's best lines.



Aravind Selvam

The Seed

The usual laws of physics don’t work at Avathi. The boulders keep getting smaller and their angle gets more slabby as you get closer. There have been many times when I get psyched looking at a crack line and run up to it, only to find a pathetic five-foot slab with a crack on it! So when I saw this face, which seemed to maintain its size as I hiked up toward it, I was intrigued. It was a massive boulder with a bunch of cracks running up it, and a huge cave right underneath! As soon as I spotted this line, I knew it was going to consume me, and I needed to get back with my rope and rack.

Stan the man

A few friends had told me about this climber from the UK who spotted and projected a hard trad line at Mahabs, my home crag. I got in touch with him and asked him if he was keen on projecting the line at Avathi with me and I told him that we might have to camp out in a cave. He was instantly psyched and told me that he had dirt-bagged out of caves in the famous forest of Font, and many other crags in the UK. So, I was expecting to meet this grumpy, old, hard trad-man, probably with a fake leg and a bunch of whipper stories and epics; constantly yapping about how awesome the E grading system is; a typical grit, and here, I meet this goofy, grinning, brown-haired kid, who’s just uber-psyched to be traveling and climbing. He did fit in the E grades stereotype though and always had interesting stories.

After surviving a series of epics in Bhongir (another time, another piece), we drove back to Bangalore, got dropped off at Avathi in the middle of the night, and we started hiking up in a random direction with our massive packs. We reached the cave at around two in the morning, stashed our bags and decided to crash in a plateau higher up.

The Routine

  • Wake up as the sun hits us.
  • Play some good music.
  • Get to the cave and eat the leftover cookies and drink some cold chai.
  • Start trading burns on the project.
  • Stan tries to convert me to the E-grading system.
  • Climb till we can barely feel our fingers.
  • Then tape them up and climb some more.
  • Roll up and cry.
  • Early noon, hike down and walk 3 km to refill water and grab some Idlis (a type of savoury rice cake), pack chaklis, biscuits and tea for lunch. Get the stares from every single person on the street and wonder if it is because Stan’s a foreigner, or because we look like hobos.
  • Take at least four mandatory selfies with the locals, for which they demand and talk about how Stan should make a living out of this in India. Stan’s Selfie Shop – fifty rupees a selfie!
  • Hike back up, have some chai and get back up on the line again.
  • Share stories, epics and the usual belay banter.
  • Climb till we wish we were like Tommy Caldwell, missing the index finger, just so that we don’t feel the pain.
  • Hike back out late in the evening, hitchhike it to Nandi Upachar, charge our phones, play a card game called Lulaa, wash occasionally, fill up our bottles, stuff ourselves with gulab jamuns and hitchhike back.
  • Walk back into the trail leading to Avathi, making sure no one is watching us and then quickly make our way up to the cave and crash.

The hardest move on the route involves locking off on a mono finger lock, getting a high step and making a semi-dynamic throw to another finger lock. In the first four days, I managed to stick the move once, after 250–300 attempts on that one move. I knew I had a chance to send the line now; I just had to rest the finger and execute the move again. I decided to take two rest days and Stan decided to try another couple of lines that he had spotted.

The Hitchhike Barter

Every day, we had to hitchhike out to Nandi Upachar for dinner, and then hitchhike back to the Avathi. The first evening, I stood there for 20 minutes trying to hitch a ride while the people walking past us kept staring at Stan, while some stopped and asked him to pose for a selfie. Not a single person even showed the slightest of interest to give us a ride.

After a while, I asked Stan to try and went to sit on the side of the road. Before I even sat down, a Maruti 800 pulled over! From the next day on, we decided that I should hide, while Stan stops a ride in seconds and I come out like a fucking creep. Every ride, we get asked the same set of questions, and then when they drop us, they ask for a selfie with Stan. This barter made life so much easier, and from the next day, we always managed to hitch a ride in seconds.

The Leopard that came for Chai

“this is my first line of defence against the leopard, biochemical warfare!”

Stan had just finished onsighting a new lichen-coated trad line, Biochemical Warfare, and we saw a couple of Spongebob-ish figures hiking up toward us. Gujju and Harsha had come bouldering that evening and they happened to spot us from the road. We had a chill session with them, moving quickly between boulders, constantly being amazed by Avathi’s night sky and Gujju, Sharma-ing between attempts, talking about the flow and being one with the rock.

After the session got over, Gujju hikes up a bit and goes, “Hey, you guys spotted this?” It was a half eaten dog’s head, probably the leftovers of a leopard’s kill! And it was a two-minute walk from our cave.

Before we crash that night, Stan removes his socks and goes, “this is my first line of defense against the leopard, biochemical warfare!” and passes out almost immediately. That night, I realised that when I’m in a state of panic, there’s this heightened sense of awareness, where I can listen to every tiny sound and differentiate it, but it becomes of no use, as my brain completely goes mental and I become dumber than a cane toad.

The next two nights were pretty much hell, as I kept hearing these feeble sounds and had nightmares of the leopard devising a plan of attack. I ended up passing out after sunrise and tandoor-ing myself inside the sleeping bag. I needed to rest and recover, so I decided to support Stan on his projects and nap through the day.


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I recently realised that when I’m in a state of panic, there’s this heightened sense of awareness, where I can listen to every tiny sound and differentiate it, but it becomes of no use, as my brain completely goes mental and I become dumber than a cane toad! I slept in the same spot for 3 days peacefully, before I found a half eaten dogs head. The next two nights were pretty much hell, as I kept hearing these feeble sounds and had nightmares of the leopard devising a plan of attack. Ended up passing out after sunrise, and tandoor-ing myself inside the sleeping bag! #tradclimbing #campfirestories #epics #typetwofun #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #gipfelclimbingequipment #climbing #thegreatoutdoors #rockclimbing #stories #getoutdoors #climbinginindia #liveclimbrepeat #climbing_worldwide #doyouclimb #travel #travelstoke #viewfromoffice #mountains #camping #campinglife #offwidtharmy #fitrockarena

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Stan had spotted this typical gritstone-ish line, a 30-foot dicey slab with just one place to protect, 5–6 feet off the ground. The moves weren’t too hard but were technical, and they can feel very insecure if not executed perfectly. Stan had cleaned the lichen and top-roped it a couple of times. “I don’t think I can solo this mate,” he said.

The next day, Stan shoved a couple of cams in a horizontal crack five feet off the ground and cruised up the next 25 feet of a technical slab with no protection! He came down grinning, and named it, ‘The leopard that came for Chai, E1’.

Days at the 20th Mile Cafe

I wasn’t resting enough, as I was shitting bricks every night because of the leopard. Also, we had pooped out the entire sector around the cave and we needed to give Avathi some time to recover! So, we decided to move out of the cave for a bit, hike out with our packs and find a spot to camp outside. We hitchhiked to 20th Mile cafe, a nursery/kennel/cafe close by.

The entire day, we kept ordering samosas and grape juices every hour, shared stories, kept moving our chairs to stay in the shade and played a card game called Lulaa. Although Stan wasn’t successful in selling the E grading system to me, he told me all these stories about the gritstone legends, their epics, the way the climbing culture evolved there, their ethics and the futuristic first ascents; I ended up having immense respect for all these legends and their unique ethics. We bought ‘The Hard Grit’ movie, (probably the most famous climbing movie in the UK), and Stan would keep telling me more stories about the sketchy ascents in the movie as we watched it!

That evening, the owner of the cafe, Nishant, walked over to us and asked if he could join us to play. Lulaa is a card game that I made up. I was explaining the rules of a famous game called Kabu to Stan, and realised that I didn’t remember most of the rules of Kabu. I taught Nishant my made up game, he got it after a couple of rounds and we were really hooked! We ordered more food and played for another 3–4 hours. He was stoked when we told him we’ve been living in the hillock and climbing the last 4 days and he offered us his lawn to camp for the night. He refused to take any money and told us he had a great time talking and playing with us.

After another day of stuffing ourselves with Samosas and a lot more of Lulaa, we decided to give the line one last session. My finger felt slightly better but was still swollen and hurting. We hiked back up. Stan got ready to belay as I tied in. Sunsets at Avathi are always magical and the weather that evening was just beautiful.

I started climbing, managed to get past the crux mono finger lock, got to a glorious hand jam, slotted a 0.75 cam in and shook out. I tried not to focus on the finger that was hurting and got the next finger-lock higher up. My feet cut loose and I took a huge swing on the finger lock. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on for long, as the pain was a bit too much to handle, so I threw for the next hold, missed it by a couple of millimeters and took a fall, screaming in disappointment! By the time I got lowered down, the pain settled in. My hand was completely swollen and I had no sensation in my right index finger all the way down to my wrist.

We headed back to the 20th-mile cafe and decided that some booze might help ease the pain. Stan worked his magic and got a car ride all the way to the city! We got dropped off at ‘The Druid Garden’, a brewery worshipped by the local climbers of Avathi. We ordered two glasses of every brew and started rambling. Stan, a brit who loves his beer, goes “Man, the IPA here is almost as good as the stuff we get in the UK, or I’ve forgotten how good beer tastes like after the last few months of shitty Kingfishers!” We had a couple of more glasses of our favourite brews and stumbled out. Stan told me about his plans to trek around Nepal the next month, gave me a parting hug and wished me luck for the project.


It had been a week and the sensation in my finger started to kick in and so did the pain. The next week, I had been caught often zoning out of conversations, ranting randomly about the route every time I got high and doing weird beta-dances! I was totally consumed by this route and fell prey to the usual cycle that every crackhead goes through.

  • Phase one: The cravings hit and he wakes up to nightmares and shivers. He gives in and plans another trip.
  • Phase two: Gets stoked AF and can’t wait to get back on the project.
  • Phase three: 7–10 attempts in, completely destroyed, thinking why he ever thought that this was a good idea.
  • Phase four: The swelling goes down, the scars settle in and we’re right back to phase one.

Pranav, my partner from Chennai, couldn’t take any more of my rants and agreed to drive down to Avathi and project the line with me. We reached Avathi mid-noon, hiked up to the cave and were greeted by a dog’s skull and a half-eaten paw right outside the cave. The leopard clearly wasn’t very happy with how we invaded his cave a couple of weeks back. We set up the line, and I rehearsed the lower crux and the mini-crux higher up a couple of times. Pranav gave the line a few tries and began linking moves.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, gulp that shit down and go out climbing. Yabadabadoo!’

The entire boulder turned bright golden as the evening sun rays hit us and I racked up, calming myself down for the lead. I managed to stick the mono finger lock crux move; somehow completely avoided the swing and cruised through the top crux. I knew the climb was in the bag for me if I just keep it together and cruised through the next half of easy climbing without stopping to place any pro. I romped to the top, just stoked out of my mind! I named the route ‘Yabadabadoo’, after the days Stan and I spent living out of the cave.

The next two days, Sid from Chennai and a huge gang of Avathi regulars came down and were chilling with us while trading burns on the line. I had a lot more space on my mind to appreciate the little things, not having the constant pressure to send. I realised how grateful I was to have the opportunity to be in these grand places, in the company of good friends and to be doing what I love the most.

As a wise man once said, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, gulp that shit down and go out climbing. Yabadabadoo!’

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