Expeditions are, by their very nature, challenging and I have considerable experience of the challenges in arranging such logistics in both personal and professional capacities.
Travelling into the wilderness has always been a passion of mine, but formal expeditions arranged for intrepid yet discerning travellers are quite different, being utterly detailed in terms of planning and execution with the emphasis always on the twin paramount considerations of safety and reducing the environmental impact. Managing and exceeding expectations always remain core parameters throughout the process.
Expeditions of any nature will normally be driven by a goal that goes beyond “it’s on my must-see list”. Usually that goal will be an individual’s long-held and often very well researched “absolute life ambition”. Examples of individual ideas might include:
There is enormous potential, both for "full expeditions" (e.g. to the Polar regions) and also for perhaps slightly softer, but still expeditionary-style, travel. My personal favourite to be involved with was arranging a corporate expedition for India’s well renowned Royal Enfield motorcycle brand who embarked upon a motorcycle ride to the South Pole at the end of 2021, an extraordinary feat!
Let’s specifically take a look at what, in expeditionary terms, is possible for the Antarctic. Of course, anything expeditionary is technically possible but we’ll talk through some headline subjects that I’ve considered over the last few years for travel on this vast continent.
One may first ask: What takes people to this extreme environment? There is, naturally, the draw of the South Pole, but where else can you be on the highest, windiest, coldest and (amazing though it may seem) driest continent on the planet which has a seasonal population of between just 1,000 and 5,000 humans in a vast area of some 14.2 million square kilometres?
Compare that to Europe, which has an area some 30% smaller than Antarctica but a population of something like 750 million people. One core fact immediately becomes abundantly clear: Antarctica is, as an understatement, rather remote and definitely sparsely populated! (Europe also has plenty of trees and flowering plants whilst Antarctica has none of the former and only two of the latter!).
It is possible to undertake travel with all sorts of expeditionary objectives in Antarctica. Here are some of my top inspirations for you, in no particular order, but please never forget that doing anything on Antarctica is a major undertaking (and feat when completed) that is never to be taken lightly:
The Pole. Getting to and being at the South Pole is a huge draw for many but, whilst it definitely takes a bit of planning and is a Very Long Way to get there, achieving a visit to the Pole needn’t be very “expeditionary” so long as all one wishes to do is go there and return.
It is certainly possible to organise for almost anyone who is in reasonably good health to get to the Pole but, taking that as read and putting a quick Polar visit to one side, let’s look at some of the more challenging and truly expeditionary ways of getting there as well as some other ideas, all of which are feasible with the proper preparation.
Walking/snowshoe: one can walk from the edge of the Continent or “just” the final part of the way “in” to, for instance, the South Pole. The distance, start point and, in fact, the actual destination is up to the individual but, however or whatever one’s thinking, it’s a very serious achievement to walk a decent distance on Antarctica, whether to the Pole or not. This also applies to:
Skiing: One might ski to the Pole, people have before and no doubt will do so in the future. But it’s still a real achievement. However, by the same token, there are a lot of places on Antarctica where no-one has ever skied. Heli-skiing in the Rockies? Not a patch on skiing somewhere where you might be the first human to go there in the first place.
Continental Crossing: Surprisingly few people have ever crossed Antarctica coast-to-coast. This can be arranged using vehicles specially adapted to the conditions. Guided driven expeditions are actually possible almost anywhere on Antarctica (some areas are “out of bounds” or just too dangerous). One can even self-drive - albeit professionally guided - provided a suitable test session, usually lasting between 3 and 5 days in Europe or Canada, has been successfully concluded beforehand. Driving opens up all sorts of possibilities, such as…
Going to Antarctica’s “Pole of Inaccessibility”. We’ve established that Antarctica is remote, something obvious to all. But, if one wanted to be really, really, remote within an already-remote white desert wilderness, then what could be more expeditionary than getting, somehow, to Antarctica’s Pole of Inaccessibility?
Far, far out on the Polar Plateau, many kilometres from anywhere and at an altitude of over 3,700 metres (that’s over 12,000 feet) lies an old meteorological station that’s located at the point on Antarctica which is farthest in all directions from the surrounding coast; the Pole of Inaccessibility. Yes, it’s possible to get there and, yes, we can do it although it would be a Very Long Walk/Ski Indeed so we’d advise a different mode of travel (not flying). But it is very possible and one could perhaps ski in for the last kilometres to make it an extra adventure.
Climbing: There are several excellent choices of location for a climbing expedition on Antarctica which would be suitable for dedicated alpinists or, in one or two cases, very fit and experienced hikers. There are some very special mountains out there, one or two which have (probably) never felt a human footprint. Nevertheless climbing can be excellent on Antarctica and peaks such as Mt Vinson, the highest mountain on the continent, are definitely achievable.
What you can’t do: Antarctica has clear and strict conservation protocols and therefore it is not possible to travel with dogs; they aren’t a native species so they are no longer allowed on to the continent. The early explorers brought dogs – some of them anyway, notably Roald Amundsen – and there were plenty of canine-powered journeys during the “Heroic Age” and, actually, dogs were in use to haul loads for scientific work up to the early 1990’s but, sadly, there are none now.
A quick word on more “normal” travel to Antarctica:
The Peninsula: there are, of course, cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out from the main landmass towards Cape Horn. Most of these cross the feared Drake Passage for the first 48 hours out of Punta Arenas (Chile) or Ushuaia (Argentina) before reaching the more sheltered waters around the Peninsula but it is also possible to “fly-cruise”, flying from Chile to King George Island and picking up a vessel there before cruising onwards.
This avoids the oft-dreaded weather and seas of the Drake. However, whilst spectacular and usually excellent for wildlife, these cruises and fly-cruises only “touch” Antarctica (so to speak) and don’t really fall into the scope of this blog. We only mention it because all permutations are possible including some excellent added value that may be coming soon. Watch this space for details!
Less adventurous visits to Antarctica: There are two “luxury” options on Antarctica, one accessed from Chile and the other from Cape Town. Both offer a range of activities and, in one case especially, really considerable comfort. Both have good “bragging rights”, but neither are quite as expeditionary as some of the above options. Nevertheless there are very comfortable options for those who wish, offering truly excellent vacations for the traveller who wants to properly experience Antarctica, But they are there for those who wish and offer truly excellent vacations.
An expedition could be the experience of a lifetime. Why not consider it?
Expeditions needn’t be out of reach for anyone who is fit and prepared to commit to a holistic journey that, especially for longer or more remote trips, encompasses discussion, planning, detail preparation (including personal fitness) and execution.
It’s easy to use the tired old phrase “where there’s a will there’s a way” - and, indeed, there’s much veracity in those words - but, whilst there’s no doubt that the planning, logistics and execution of a truly off-the-beaten-track journey costs more (sometimes a lot more) than a normal holiday or vacation, it is possible to make an expedition happen for at least reasonable cost and thus offer the best possible return on investment for the specific task in hand.
Expeditions, if planned properly and depending on the objective, needn’t be utterly taxing or onerous but do take time to organise and set up so I suggest allowing at least 18 months for planning and preparation, including fitness and personal training.
If you are interested in arranging a journey of a lifetime, whether to Antarctica or another chosen region, The Explorations Company are able to help with both “hard” and “soft” expeditionary enquiries. Please do get in touch for more information.
Royal Enfield expedition images copyright to George Marshall georgemarshallphoto.com