That time we did the polar plunge…in Antarctica

My mom almost didn’t do it. But when we ran into an 70-year-old Australian woman on the ship who said “hell yes” she would jump into the freezing Antarctic water, my mom relented.

Ever since we stepped foot on the Ocean Endeavor people had been talking about the polar plunge. It’s a unique feature of the Quark trip and, we were told, a rite of passage.

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The scene of the plunge.

The timing was unexpected. The crew had planned to take us to the Lemaire Channel, but when floating ice blocked our path, the expedition leader proposed a different idea – polar plunge. The ship’s captain maneuvered our huge vessel in a small circle, to knock some of the ice chunks out of the way. The crew then lowered two staired gangways and told us to line up in the mudroom.

We took a selfie in our robes, and then waited our turn in a cold, rubber-floored room. 

We were a little bit nervous. My mom and I pulled on our one-piece bathing suits in our room and covered up with fluffy, floor-length bathrobes. It was going to be freezing, what if we had a heart attack or gasped and swallowed water? These were things we talked about. Our fears began to subside when we got to the mudroom, which had the feel of a dance party. Pump-up, pop music blared through a set of speakers. Guests, including us, took selfies.

Excitement in the air, we marched down to the jumping spot in our bare feet and bathrobes. The holding room was freezing. The floor was cold and the door to the stairs and water below was wide open, giving us a view of the jumpers before us. We took off our robes and immediately regretted it. The chilly air gave us a taste of what was to come.

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All plunge photos courtesy Quark photo guide Dave Merron.

When I was suddenly next in line, a Quark guide hooked a big harness around my waist. It was dripping wet from the last plunge and I inhaled a quick breath. “It’s your turn,” she said, prodding me down the steps toward the water. On the last stair I looked down at the sea. It was flat and dark blue. An expedition guide, bundled in a parka and wind pants, tied a rope into the harness I was wearing. “You aren’t going to enjoy this,” he said. He then told me to look at a camera, but I couldn’t manage a smile.

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I jumped and didn’t feel the cold until my head went under. A chill went up my neck and I felt my hair begin floating. I popped back to the surface in seconds and swam as fast as possible to the ladder. My arms were pins and needles and getting out of the water was more painful than jumping in.

My mom was next. She took her time on the platform, before turning around, giving a high-five to the photographer, and jumping in sideways. Her face tells the story.

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We bundled back up in our bathrobes and headed straight for the sauna. We both felt refreshed, awake and glad we had jumped. We later learned the water temperature had actually been freezing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, a true polar plunge.

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