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Antarctica (Jan Will, iStockphoto)

The Wild Extremes of Antarctica

The coldest and windiest place on Earth is still largely undiscovered

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Magical, surreal and otherworldly, Antarctica is a land of ultimates. As the southernmost continent, it is the coldest and windiest place on earth. And with virtually no rain and more than 95 percent of the landmass covered in ice, Antarctica is the world's largest desert.

Not surprisingly, it also has no permanent human residents, thus making it the only continent with no government or political activity. (That alone, by some people's standards, qualifies it as paradise.) The global community officially recognized the uniqueness of Antarctica with a 1959 treaty that set it apart as a scientific preserve.

Just as a blank canvas is an invitation for artists, Antarctica's vast unexplored territory has long beckoned all types of adventurers. Among the most recent is photographer George Steinmetz, who traveled there in 2005 (see below). "It's a humbling experience," he says. "It's a place where human beings clearly don't belong. You feel as if you are on another planet."

For most travelers, the simplest way to see Antarctica is from the deck of a cruise ship, where you can snap photos of glaciers, AdŽlie penguins and leopard seal colonies to your heart's content. But if you really want to leave your footprint on this frozen landscape, expedition agencies can take you into the continent's interior for mountain climbing and photo safaris. Dress warmly.

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