Adventurer takes trip to the ‘end of the world’

Aruba or Antarctica? For an adventurous Rockford woman, the answer was Antarctica. Deb Smitter was considering a jaunt to Aruba with her sister when the plan fell through. Facing a vacation alone, she decided to sign up for a trip that she likely would never find a friend or family member willing to join along.

Rockford resident Debra Smitter spent three weeks experiencing one of the most extreme environments on Earth as she voyaged to Antartica aboard a retired Russian research vessel.

“They tell you if you fall overboard, you will die,” Smitter said. She was also advised to come prepared with drugs to help cope with a perilous crossing, provided with Wellingtons to wade through animal feces and warned to stay clear of whale seals which can rip a human’s leg off. Her family was convinced she wouldn’t need a ride home from the airport.

Smitter signed up for a three-week trip which would take her to what is considered ‘the end of the world.’ She traveled on an old Russian research vessel called the Lubrov Orlov, which translates to “lucky to be alive.”

It is a trip few people care to undertake to a place where no one lives—except penguins, seals and other arctic wildlife.

“I was miserable for a lot of it,” Smitter said. The trip was so rough she broke a toe. Another person broke a hip. Five people had to be evacuated for medical emergencies. “It was like being a little rubber duck in the big seas,” Smitter described. She said food slid off plates, the boat tilted to 38 degrees and those with minor injuries, like hers and broken ribs, stayed on.

Among the highlights of the trip were 15 landings on ten-foot Zodiac boats (pictured below). Each was a “wet” landing, which means you get wet. Twice, catapultic winds required an emergency evacuation—requiring 20 people to pile into the ten-person dingy to get back to the ship.

Whale seals, above and below, are dangerous, although Deb Smitter says fur seals are worse because they are fast and can chase you like a dog. Smitter is pictured below with her local newspaper, which was the only companion she could convince to join her on a trip to Antarctica. See the Rockford Squire website for more Antarctic photos by Smitter.

Smitter, who has traveled to 70 countries in her life, said it is an excursion she would never repeat or wish on another person, but she isn’t sorry she went. She walked among penguin colonies, went “way too close” to dangerous whale seals and saw breathtaking views few people will ever experience first hand.

“I became really aware of nature,” Smitter said. “It is the most remote, coldest, windiest, driest place.” She said the voyagers were treated to lectures every day and she learned more about icebergs than she believed possible.

Despite her family’s predictions, Smitter survived the trip and is thrilled to have had the experience. She has bungee jumped in New Zealand, wandered Australia, hiked the mountains of Italy, but has never experienced a trip like this. Her most breathtaking moment was the first time she set foot on land at the ‘end of the world.’ “I thought, Oh my gosh, I’m in Antarctica, I’m one of the lucky few.”

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