Expeditions to the South Pole

By: Arthur W

The South Pole, in travel destination terms, is a fixed location on Antarctica at the Earth’s axis of rotation (latitude 90 degrees S). It is the southernmost point on Earth, and from it, all directions point to north. It is located on solid ground (not on a sheet of moving ice like is the case with the North Pole), and has therefore allows permanent research stations to be installed, making it accessible as a destination for commercial travel expeditions.

However, Antarctica is close to the coldest place on Earth. In fact, the warmest temperature ever recorded was -12.3 degrees Celsius, while the coldest temperature ever recorded was a staggering -89.2 degrees Celsius (recorded at Russian Vostok Research Station). It is also the windiest place on Earth, and subject to frequent snowstorms and whiteouts (close to complete loss of visibility). On top of that, sunlight is experienced in extremes- with up to 24 hours of sunlight in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter. All in all, not a very inviting holiday setting.

Nevertheless, people with extreme motivation and thirst for adventure choose to visit this hostile environment, and embark on that epic journey to the most southern point on Earth. So, what is such an expedition like?

It all starts off with a flight from Punta Arenas, which is in the southern tip of Chile, across the Drake Passage (the area of ocean that separates the tip of Chile and the Antarctic Peninsula) to Union Glacier basecamp in the Ellsworth Mountains. There the distance from the South Pole is slightly over 1000 km.

Another travel expedition could be flying to Hercules Inlet or Messner Start on the Antarctic coast, from which you ascend the Polar Plateau from sea level, and then cross it to the Pole. Distance to Pole: approximately 1150 km. These two are the ultimate full-out expeditions, lasting up to 65 days and taking even the most experienced and trained explorers to their limits. Of course there are also other options, for those who are still up for the challenge but not to its highest extreme. In that situation, one is dropped off closer to the Pole, and required to travel a much smaller distance to it.

Although expeditions vary, trekking by ski is almost always an important component. The ultimate, full-experience expeditions require a 1170 km ski trek from the coast to the Pole, which would require skiing for approximately 7-10 hours a day 65-days long (with an occasional rest day). Drop-offs closer to the Pole, ski a smaller section (part of a one-week, 10-day, or two-week long expedition), usually anywhere between 20 and 200 km. Along with that comes a solid 50 kg ‘supply’ load to drag along with you, because, not at all unexpectedly, there is an extensive amount and variety of equipment required for each expedition. And how much does one of these South Pole expeditions cost? They start at $45,000, but can easily climb up into the $60,000’s.

Venturing to the South Pole was once thought to be an almost impossible task, and nothing but an unrealistic ambition. The reality is, however, that we live in a world that seeks to make such ambitions a reality, and always have, which is why expeditions to the South Pole are now a possibility for anyone with the inspiration and will.

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