Have you ever wondered how travelers to Antarctica get to and from the continent? I’m not talking about the thousands of tourists that go aboard a cruise ship each year. I’m referring to the explorers who ski to the South Pole or the research scientists who spend weeks studying the impact of climate change on the frozen continent. Most of them charter a flight aboard a plane operated by a company called Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions, who shuttle their clients from Punta Arenas, Chile, to a permanent base at Union Glacier. As you can imagine, those who make the trip tend to bring along quite a bit of gear, so a large plane is needed for the flight. ALE uses Russian Ilyushin IL76 aircraft, which are landed on a runway made out of ice. The video below is an example of such a landing and gives you an idea just how large these aircraft are.
Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) has opened a new base of operations in Antarctica that will serve as a launching point for mountaineers looking to climb nearby peaks, explorers skiing to the South Pole, and other adventurous travelers looking to experience the frozen continent. The outpost is located at Union Glacier and replaces a similar base, known as Patriot Hills, that had been in use for more than twenty years.
The new base has been in development for more than four years and includes a runway built out of blue ice. That runway allows ALE to fly Russian built Ilyushin jets from Punta Arenas, Chile to Antarctica, delivering explorers and adventure travelers to the ice. The Union Glacier base has a heated passenger terminal for visitors to stay in while they wait for the two specially designed 4×4 vans to shuttle them to the actual camp, which sits at the foot of Mt. Rossman, roughly five miles away from the airstrip.
The camp itself offers accommodations for 80 guests and includes a complimentary meal service. The base has been built from the ground up to be environmentally friendly and more efficient than the old camp at Patriot Hills, while delivering a more comfortable space for Antarctic travelers. Nearby, there are a series of groomed trails that have been clearly marked to indicate safe and dangerous areas along the glacier, allowing visitors to hike and ski through the remote and scenic area.
If all goes as planned, and weather permitting, ALE will fly its first guests to Union Glacier today. Amongst those first visitors will be adventurers skiing to the South Pole and climbers headed to Mt. Vinson, the tallest mountain on the continent. But clearly the base opens new opportunities for adventure travelers to visit Antarctica as well, offering them a host of new experiences, albeit at a price.
[Photo credit: Laurens via WikiMedia]
The only privately owned Antarctic base opened for the 2009 season a few days ago, allowing explorers, scientists, mountaineers, and adventure travelers, access to the frozen continent for the first time since January. Commonly known as Patriot Hills, the base is operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), a company that supports the adventurous men and women who are traveling to the South Pole or other locations on the Antarctic continent.
Traditionally, the base opens in November and remains open for approximately three months, allowing expeditions to come and go from Punta Arenas, Chile, a city found at the far tip of South America that is often used as the staging ground for adventurers heading to Antarctica. Patriot Hills sits at the edge of a rare, naturally occurring blue ice patch that serves as a runway for ALE’s Twin Otter and Illushyn aircraft, which makes it the perfect place to shuttle visitors to and from the ice.
The travelers making the journey to Antarctica come for a number of reasons. Some will make the long, 500 mile journey to the South Pole on skis, while others will trek to nearby Vinson Massif to climb one of the seldom visited mountains there. Adventure travelers with enough money will also make a “last degree” journey to the Pole, beginning their journey at 89ºS and ending when the reach the bottom of the world.
Over the next few months, Patriot Hills will be a bustling community of explorers coming and going from a variety of places in Antarctica. The tent-city will serve as a base of operations for a number of interesting and unique expeditions, all coming to visit one of the last true frontiers on Earth.