Video: A Plane Landing In Antarctica

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.

Polar Explorer Plans To Ride Bike To The South Pole

A journey to the South Pole is one of the more demanding and difficult endeavors on our planet and yet each year a number of adventurous souls undertake the challenge of crossing the Antarctic on foot. Most spend upwards of six weeks skiing across 700+ miles of snow and ice just so that they can get the opportunity to stand at the bottom of the world. But this year polar explorer Eric Larsen will make that journey in an entirely new fashion and as he intends to ride his bike to the Pole.

In December, Larsen will travel to the Antarctic where he’ll begin his ride at Hercules Inlet, the most popular launching point for travelers heading to 90°S. His route will cover approximately 750 miles across the coldest, highest and driest continent on Earth. Along the way, Larsen will face high winds, whiteout conditions and temperatures that routinely plummet well below zero, making this a bike ride unlike any other. When he arrives at the Pole, Eric will then turn around and ride back to where he started, crossing another 750 miles if weather and time permits.

As you can imagine, Larsen will be taking a specially designed bike on his adventure. In order to deal with the snow and ice conditions, not to mention the potential hazards of crevasse fields, his bike will need to be tough and durable. That’s why he’ll be riding a Moonlander from Surly Bikes which will be outfitted with 5-inch-wide tires that will help handle the unique surface conditions that he’ll encounter in the Antarctic. It may not be the fastest bike around, but it is built like a tank and can hold up to the challenging environment for the 1500 miles he could potentially ride.

This won’t be Eric’s first trip to frozen continent. In 2010 he became the first person to visit both the North and South Pole, as well as summit Everest, all within a 365-day period. Those individual expeditions have no doubt prepared him well for this next excursion and it seems clear that the man certainly enjoys cold weather.

Follow Eric’s progress on his website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Watch video of Larsen testing his bike in winter conditions after the jump.

[Photo credit: Eric Larsen]

British Explorer To Attempt Winter Antarctic Crossing

British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is preparing for the expedition of a lifetime. The famed adventurer, who has already visited the North and South Pole, climbed Everest and ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, will soon undertake his most difficult journey of his illustrious career. In 2013, the 68-year-old will lead a team that will attempt to become the first to travel on foot to the South Pole, and back to their starting point, in the dead of winter.

The expedition will begin on March 21 of next year, when Fiennes and another skier, along with their support crew, will be dropped off on the Ross Ice Shelf to begin their journey to the South Pole. That date will mark the start of the Antarctic winter when daylight is practically non-existent and the temperatures can plunge to as low as -130°F. The plan is for Fiennes and his unnamed companion to ski to the Pole, flanked by two snowcats that will carry all of the gear and supplies necessary for a prolonged self-supported journey. The entire expedition is expected to take upwards of six months to complete and cover approximately 2000 miles.

Extreme cold and weeks of darkness aren’t the only challenges the explorers will face. High winds and intense storms could also hamper progress and they’ll begin the journey by making a slow, steady climb up to the Antarctic Plateau, a vertical gain of over 9800 feet. Surface conditions could also be problematic as large crevasses can sit hidden under the snow and ice. To help the support vehicles avoid those hazards, the skiers will drag ground-penetrating sonar behind them at all times. The sonar units will then relay information back to the vehicles, raising alarms to any danger that may lie ahead.

Many explorers consider an Antarctic winter expedition to be amongst the last big adventures that have yet to be accomplished and it is far from a foregone conclusion that Fiennes and company will succeed. This isn’t dissuading him from trying, however, as he hopes to use this endeavor to raise $10 million for Seeing is Believing, an organization dedicated to tackling avoidable blindness around the globe.

[Photo Credit: PA]

Insurance gets a second look as travel world evolves

Travel insurance was once something that only the most careful of travelers bought – an option that was easy to pass up and rarely used. But talk of airline bankruptcy, problems on a normally safe cruise vacation, and political unrest around the world have travelers taking a second look. Even impossible-to-predict natural disasters affecting travel are pushing consumers to buy. The travel industry has seen its fair share of major changes and developments in recent years, and 2012 shows no signs of slowing down.

“The big, dramatic stories are what get people thinking about travel insurance,” as Carol Mueller, vice president at Travel Guard North America, a major third-party insurer, told Gadling.

The Costa Concordia grounding, the recent robbing of cruise passengers while on a normally safe shore excursion in safety-challenged Mexico, and the disabling fire on Costa Allegra, have left travelers with questions about cruise ship safety and regulations.

Both cruise lines and airlines have tightened cancellation policies, leaving travelers with stiffer penalties when changing itineraries. News of airline consolidations and bankruptcies continue to make headlines across the globe, as the number of seats available to passengers shrinks even more.Travel experts have predicted that the cost of airfare will continue to rise in 2012 due to factors including: oil prices, increased regulation, fees, and decreased competition.

In a recent story in the Seattle Times, Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, said, “We’re going to see higher airfares.” Additionally, George Hobica, founder of travel website AirfareWatchdog added, “Fares are probably going to inch up.”

Still, travel to far-away, bucket-list destinations has become increasingly common. Exotic, long haul destinations landed on lists of the “must see” destinations for 2012 compiled by some of the country’s top travel editors and experts.

Travel+Leisure’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012 list includes Sri Lanka, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Mozambique’s Northern Coast as hot places to visit. Earlier this year, Gadling recommended some highly specific adventures that included traveling to Rwanda for gorilla spotting, a hike and bike tour of Easter Island and a ski trip to the South Pole, among others.

In a world with more places to go and more things that can go wrong, it’s important for travelers to educate themselves on how to cover their investment and safeguard themselves when traveling.

According to Travelguard’s Mueller, “the majority of insured’s file claims are as a result of trip cancellation; interruption or delay; lost or delayed luggage; and medical emergencies. Others take advantage of ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ plans that provide reimbursement in the event that they must call off the trip entirely.”

What travelers don’t realize is that travel insurance plans often do more than just cover the costs of these types of inconveniences. They can serve as a resource for travelers in need, providing assistance services like facilitating cash transfers, making last-minute hotel arrangements, and tracking lost luggage. This type of assistance can be especially helpful in a foreign country, where insurance providers can help locate English-speaking doctors, assist with replacing lost or stolen travel documents, and relay messages to family and friends back home.

Still, buying travel insurance does not protect travelers against all perils. Cruise passengers who buy travel insurance because they are concerned about hurricanes or other weather-related events that might affect their itinerary are often surprised to find out that those are not normally covered reasons for cancellation.

Knowing what is covered and what is not should be a primary focus for travelers considering the valuable protection that a travel insurance policy can provide.

“A good policy can offer you peace of mind for your upcoming vacation,” says consumer expert Chris Elliott, adding “If something goes wrong – if your trip is interrupted or if you have to cancel – you can recover some or all of your costs.”

Flickr photo by F H Mira

British woman completes solo traverse of Antarctica

British adventurer Felicity Aston completed her solo traverse of Antarctica yesterday, becoming the first person to accomplish that feat completely alone and under her own power. The journey took 59 days, and covered more than 1084 miles across the frozen continent.

We first told you about Felicity’s adventure back in November when she was still preparing to start the expedition, which began on the Ross Ice Shelf. Traveling on skis, and pulling a heavy sled filled with gear and supplies behind her, Aston first made her way across the Leverett Glacier and Transantarctic Mountain Range, arriving at the South Pole just a few days before Christmas. That stage of the journey covered 248 miles, and while 90ºS is traditionally the finish line for most polar explorers, for Felicity it wasn’t even the halfway point yet.

Over the course of the next few weeks, she battled a combination of high winds, bitterly cold temperatures, and blowing snow to make her way back to the coast. That leg of the journey covered another 835 miles, culminating with her arrival at Hercules Inlet yesterday. She spent one last night in Antarctica at that location before catching a ride aboard a transport plane headed back to Punta Arenas, Chile today.

Spending two months completely alone in the Antarctic, while struggling against the very harsh elements there, requires a lot of physical and mental strength. Aston has accomplished an amazing feat with this crossing of the continent and I salute her courage and sense of adventure.

[Photo credit: Associated Press]