Thanks to an incredibly thick layer of snow and ice, the topographical layout of the Antarctic continent has always remained shrouded in mystery, leaving geographers to ponder what exactly it looks like. Back in 2001, an extensive survey using modern technologies gave us our first real glimpse at Antarctica without the ice. That project resulted in a map called “Bedrock” that provided the most detailed view of the Antarctic surface ever seen, showing mountains, valleys and other hidden features.
Since then, NASA, along with the British Antarctic Survey, has been using satellites and specially equipped planes with laser-powered terrain sensors to fill in even more detail. Last week they released “Bedrock2” to truly show us how Antarctica would appear if all of the ice were removed. Judging from the images shown in the video below, the frozen continent is a wild, mountainous place that would remain rugged and demanding even if it weren’t buried under a mile of snow and ice.
Earlier this week, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) concluded their 24th annual meeting in Punta Arenas, Chile. Topics at the gathering included strategic planning for sustainable tourism in the Antarctic, methods of safe travel that can help protect the fragile ecosystem there and ways of enticing more travel companies to join the Association. During the conference, the IAATO also released its final tourism numbers for the 2012-2013 Antarctic travel season that has recently ended. Those numbers were up sharply over the previous year, indicating that there is still a strong interest amongst travelers to visit the frozen continent.
According to the IAATO, there were 34,316 visitors to the Antarctic last year – up from 26,519 during the 2011-2012 season. The organization noted that much of the growth came as a result of an increase of passengers on small- and medium-sized vessels over previous years as well as a jump in the number of travelers electing a cruise-only option. On those types of trips the visitors never actually step foot on the continent of Antarctica at all, but simply stay aboard their ship the entire time as it cruises about the Southern Ocean.
Looking ahead to next season, the IAATO doesn’t believe it will see nearly as large of an increase in the number of visitors as it did this year. Growth is predicted to be modest at best with most of the gains continuing to come from the cruise-only category. It seems that while interest amongst travelers for visiting the Antarctic is high, most would prefer to just see it from a distance.
Visitors who make the journey to the bottom of the world do seem to have some concerns about the impact of travel on the environment there, however. The IAATO revealed that more than $200,000 was directly contributed to various Antarctic charities by travelers who visited that part of the world with its member companies. That brought the total to more than $2.7 million over the past nine years.
You wouldn’t think that watching a massive ice breaker slice through the ice in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica would be all that interesting. But the video below condenses two months of time spent aboard just such a vessel into a five-minute clip that is simply mesmerizing to watch.
Shot aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, the video captures the stark beauty of the Southern Ocean and the seemingly never-ending sheets of ice that cover its surface. Sometimes that ice is almost paper-thin and other times it is so thick that the ship can barely press onward, and yet it always seems to find a way. The ever-changing conditions of both the surface and sky are simply wonderful to watch, even if making a voyage like this one isn’t exactly on the agenda for most travelers.
The idea of “adventure travel” is hot and those who sell travel know it. Travelers who lead an active lifestyle as a big part of their everyday life want to continue that focus when traveling. Local adventurers who might camp, hike, hunt, ski or bike around where they live, want the thrill of doing that in an amazing place somewhere else on the planet. Even travelers once satisfied with a pre-packaged land tour or the standard fare on a Caribbean cruise want more. Only one problem: not everyone who likes the idea of adventure travel is equipped to handle it. But they still want it.
Enter land tour operator Abercrombie and Kent, known for safe and luxurious safari-like travel packages with a hefty price tag.
Offering more than a lazy man’s adventure, Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) recently announced a 2014 lineup of cruises to the Arctic. These luxury versions of the frigid expedition sailings for hearty explorers, normally associated with that part of the world, might very well be just what the pseudo-adventure traveler has in mind too.
On their July 29, 2014, sailing – Arctic Cruise Norway: Polar Bears & Midnight Sun – A&K guides take their guests to see polar bears, walrus and reindeer from the northern shores of Norway to the Svalbard Archipelago and Spitsbergen (AKA the last stop before the North pole), setting foot on the coastal city of Tromsø and the polar bear stomping grounds of Nordaustlandet. The 12-day adventure starts at $8,995.Another choice – A&K’s Arctic Cruise Adventure: Norway, Greenland & Iceland (Aug 7-21, 2014) – boasts stunning wildlife, geological features and history on an intense 15-day Arctic voyage from Norway and Spitsbergen to the region’s most remote and magnificent islands.
Visiting polar bears on the Svalbard archipelago, Kejser Franz Joseph Fjords and Scoresby Sound in Greenland along with Iceland’s extinct Snaefellsjokull volcano among other stops is not a cheap swing around the Caribbean. This one will run you $11,995.
Think that sounds like a lot to pay? Not everyone does: A&K’s 2013 Arctic offerings sold out 10 months in advance. This video gives us an idea of why they might be so popular:
Yesterday, we told you that Britain’s Prince Harry is planning on joining an expedition to the South Pole later this year in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the Walking with the Wounded program. The adventurous Prince will take part in a cross-country skiing race that will cover 335 kilometers (208 miles) in approximately 16 days, crossing the final three degrees of latitude before reaching 90°S. This will be a grand adventure to say the least, but did you know that you could go on a similar expedition yourself? That is, provided you are physically fit and have plenty of cash.
There are a number of adventure travel companies that offer what is known as a “last degree” journey to the South Pole. Those taking part in such a trip will spend their days skiing across the frozen expanse of the Antarctic Plateau and their nights in a winter camp on the frozen continent. Most itineraries cover about 60 miles in ten days, with the trip culminating with their arrival at the southern-most point on the planet.
Participants on a last degree expedition will need to be in excellent shape as they will be skiing over very tough terrain while pulling a sled filled with gear behind them at all times. They’ll also have to be capable of enduring cold weather, unexpected storms and harrowing whiteout conditions, which can arise unexpectedly. This is certainly not a trip for someone who prefers to take it easy on their vacations, as this type of expedition will push travelers to their physical limits.This isn’t a trip for someone with a small bank account either. A last degree journey to the South Pole will set you back approximately $58,000. Yes, you read that right – $58,000. That cost includes transportation to your starting point in Antarctica and a pick-up at the Pole, as well as guides, meals, support staff and everything you’ll need while out on the ice. International airfare to and from Punta Arenas, Chile, the usual starting point for an Antarctic adventure, is not included.