AntarcticaPosted by Espen Sat, March 15, 2014 17:46:55
As there was an overland vehicle involved this season as well, I thought I should do a write up on the main events in this year's Antarctic season.
We arrived back home in Norway mid September, and after about four weeks spent with families and friends, we packed our winter gear and got on the plane to Punta Arenas in Chile. Almost two days later we could smell spring in Southern Patagonia. Walking the streets we kept our eyes open for overlanders coming south, but we didn’t spot any. It was probably a little too early in the season. After a long delay waiting for the weather at Union Glacier in Antarctica we finally got the call to go to the airport. 11 days behind schedule we landed on the blue ice runway on Union Glacier ready for another season on the frozen continent.
Camp was up and running, but we had unusually bad weather this year, and many flights were delayed. Fortunately, we managed to get most of the passenger flights in and out on time. Cargo flights had to be moved forward, and in the end, the season was extended with almost two weeks to get in all the flights that were planned. Many days had contrast so poor we wouldn’t even leave camp.
More and more airplanes are using the Union Glacier skiway. British Antarctic Survey have several bases on and around the peninsula, and on their way to sites on the plateau or to the South Pole they normally drop in for lunch. Also American scientists have been using our facilities this season, and a Chilean group has established a new camp not far from ours. It was quite busy at times.
The highlight for me this season was “The Blue Van Recovery Project”. Two years ago, one of our Ford vans had a mechanical failure a few kilometers from the South Pole driving as a support vehicle for an expedition. We got the car to the pole, but had to leave it there over winter. The next season we got spare parts in, and one of our mechanics got it running. Unfortunately, the conditions weren’t good enough to drive it all the way back to base at the time. This season, I was on the team to bring it back. We flew in with new tires and got the van running and fueled up for the return trip. Waiting for the weather we also set up a small camp that the company uses for our expedition clients. A few days later a field guide flew in to manage the camp, and on the flight was also my favorite chef, Malin!
Together at the South Pole!!
Camp at the Pole with Sun Dogs...
Blue Van Team ready to depart for the 1200 kilometer drive across the Antarctic Plateau to Union Glacier. Me on the left, with Nigel, Senior Mechanic, and Tom, Field Guide. It is a surreal feeling leaving the Pole driving into absolutely nothing but white.....
Because of the poor weather we were about a week delayed to start the blue van project. We arrived at the pole a few days after Scott and E7 had passed on their way back to Novo. Too bad we couldn’t meet up. Imagine an overland meeting at the South Pole!?!?! I even brought my Overland Journal cap! However, we were lucky enough to meet some of the Arctic Truck team, and three of the trucks drove out the same route as us. These trucks are now overwintering at our base at Union Glacier. Before wintering the vehicles, we had time for a quick day trip on one of our routes (checked with radar) up a glacier a few hours out from camp. From this point we had great views to Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt Vinson, about 130 kilometers away. Looks interesting? Well, book a trip for next year!!
Malin was part of the close down team this season, and didn’t leave Antarctica until 11th of February. On her return to Norway, I had been busy in the garage with the Patrol, and even picked up a new “temporary local overland (read: tarmac) vehicle”. For the next update…
AntarcticaPosted by Espen Thu, November 07, 2013 15:18:01
Thanks so much for all Your comments! We haven't been very active online lately, and we'll probably be relatively quiet for the next couple of months too. Right now we're stuck in Punta Arenas, Chile, waiting for a weather window in Antarctica so we can fly in. We've been waiting for 10 days now, and today we actually went to the airport, but were called off at the last moment... Next try later today :-)
We have brought with us all the notes from our trip, and the plan is to post updates on costs, equipment, and other lessons learned when we're back home late January.
So! Until then, happy overlanding!!
Espen & Malin
AntarcticaPosted by Malin Wed, April 03, 2013 11:40:20
Some years ago a friend made a comment about that he
thought travelling by plane was to travel to fast. I heard what he said, but I
did not fully understand or really agree with him. I thought flying was pretty
amazing and it enabled me to get to exotic places quickly from Norway. Flying
home to Norway after traveling overland in Africa for 5 months I now think I understand
what he meant.
When you are somewhere for a while you get used to the
conditions around you and it kind of becomes normal. After travelling thought
Southern and Eastern Africa for 5 months I got used to people live in mud huts,
washing their clothes in rivers, carrying water from the local well and home to
their houses, bad roads with lots of potholes, and people resting literally on the
road as the villages and houses come all the way up to the road. Or people making
a living out of selling 20 tomatoes and a few onions that is stacked nicely on
a table. I have gotten used to that it is only hot water in the showers at
campsites in the afternoon as the water has to be heated over a fire. Doing laundry
by hand for three months, as the last time we came across a washing machine was
in South Africa. Policemen are no longer your friends, but your “enemies”, as
most of them are looking for a bribe. I have gotten used to carrying clean
syringes and needles in case we have to see a doctor. We have been informed that
there is not enough medical equipment in hospitals in parts of Africa for
everyone to get a clean needle if you need an injection. So it might be a quite
a gamble seeing a doctor when over 15 % of the population in Southern Africa
After parking the Patrol in Arusha we boarded a plane
to Norway. Just a few hours after passing a masai mud hut village where the
cattle was roaming, we landed in well-organized Norway. I think it must have
been one of the biggest cultural shocks we have ever had. The difference from
Eastern Africa to Norway regarding everything is incredible. Climate, culture,
buildings, roads, health care, technology and…… the list is long. It was then I
remembered the comment from our friend about traveling by plane was to travel
We landed in Norway on a Tuesday afternoon, and on
Friday morning we were back at the airport and boarded another plane, this time
to Italy. Friends of us were getting married and we were joining their wedding
party. Yet again we jumped from one place to new place in a couple of hours.
Italy is not very different from Norway, but compared with Africa it was like
arriving on a different planet. Suddenly we were joining the Italian way of
enjoying life with amazing food and wine.
After a few days in Italy we went back to Norway where
we spent a total of one month. Not once in that month did I drive on a public
gravel road, have to avoid a single pothole, not being able to spot pedestrians
in the dark as they were all wearing high-visibility clothing or
retroreflectors (those campaigns in Norway have been very efficient), wash my
clothes by hand, argue with a police officer about a bribe, or drive around
with clean syringes and needles in case I had to see a doctor. I didn’t even
need a health insurance.
With our bags packed with winter clothing we were
ready to fly again, this time to get to work. Leaving all the autumn colored
threes behind in Norway we arrived to the beginning of summer in Punta Arenas
in Southern Chile. After a few days with sun and t-shirt temperature it was
time to board another plane taking us to almost 80 degrees south in Antarctica
with negative 20 Celsius and 24 hours sunlight. The changes really blow your
In the end of January we reversed the journey, now from
late summer in Antarctica and Punta Arenas to late winter in Norway. More time
at home seeing family and friends, and also to prepare for the journey north
through Africa. Soon it was time to get on the plane again. We left the white
snow behind and found white sand beaches on Zanzibar.
Again we saw people living in mud huts and carrying
water from the well and to their houses. After one hour in our rental car and
the second police check point, we meet a policeman looking for a bribe. Welcome
back to Tanzania and Africa!!
Now it is time to pick up the Patrol and travel a bit
more slowly, and perhaps to think of my carbon footprint. As I also had a
couple of flights back home to visit my sister in a different town, and to pick
up some visas in Stockholm, Espen commented one day that my carbon footprint
was probably equal with that of a small country (he’s not that much better,
I am looking forward to travel overland again and trying
to see the differences and small changes from one area to another. Some people
think that traveling by car is also to travel to fast. In the Canadian Arctic I
worked with Alistair Humphreys (www.alastairhumphreys.com) who had spent 4
years on a push bike traveling around the world. He said that he sometimes
thought that even using a bike was to travel to fast. He later spent a month
walking across Southern India. In South Africa while waiting for the Patrol to
arrive from South America we briefly meet Amy and Aaron (http://www.walking4water.org/index.html)
in the guesthouse where we stayed, and they are currently walking from Cape
Town to Cairo. That is moving as slowly as you can from one place to another,
and the experience of traveling must be totally different from ours in a car. Maybe
I can agree that travelling by car can sometimes be too fast, but it is kind of
in between walking and flying, and I am really happy with the possibilities it
So let’s get back on the road and hopefully see all
the changes from Eastern Africa to Norway as they occur outside our window, and
maybe even stop if we see something fascinating.
AntarcticaPosted by Espen Mon, March 25, 2013 15:07:29
I was more or less (except for the most amazing bonus in the world) stuck in
the dining tent as a kitchen assistant and dish washer. This season I signed up
to work in the Mechanical department, and the idea was that I would be out
driving for most of the season. Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions not only
provide logistics services for ski expeditions and climbers, but also take on
government contracts for provide logistics for research programs. This season
we hauled all the equipment for a British program called Lake Ellsworth
(http://www.ellsworth.org.uk/). From our own Union Glacier Camp and up onto the
plateau. It turned out to be one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever had.
beginning of the season most of the equipment came in on our Ilyushin, and was
then loaded onto slides and sledges.
the containers we use a Swedish lift called a Hammer Lift. A brilliant design!
Containers are put on slides, thick sheets of a strong plastic material and a
bit of padding, and crates are loaded on to big sledges.
to the plateau takes us from camp and up glaciers to a pass where the ice flows
over the mountain range and down into the valleys. The scenery is stunningly
To get up
the pass we had to “build” a road with a switch back turn as it was too steep
to drive directly up. It is pretty amazing what an experienced driver can do
with the blade of a snow cat. It looked almost like a highway. I could probably
drive up with the Patrol…
over the pass we moved out onto the plateau, and another 160 kilometers towards
the sub-glacial lake. The idea behind the Lake Ellsworth project is to drill
down 3400 meters to this lake, that has been totally isolated from the rest of
the world for maybe as much as 150 000 years. Unfortunately, this year the
drilling equipment wasn’t up to the job, but my guess is they will try again in
a few years’ time. The call came in just before New Year’s eve, that the team
was packing up, come and pick us up. The first half of January we were busy
going back and forth to Lake Ellsworth, and eventually the camp was cleared and
everything was back at the runway on Union Glacier.
landmark. The pass is somewhere in between the mountains.
We call in
to our base regularly on Iridium sat phones to report position and status.
With us on the trip is "The Caboose", our living quarters. We have two beds and four seats, and a microwave and waterboiler run by a generator in the back. The big tanks in front of the Box are fuel tanks.
Glacier, the last leg down to Union Glacier, and home sweet home!
AntarcticaPosted by Espen Thu, March 07, 2013 19:22:59
It has been
a while, but as we’re now back in Africa after our “break” in Antarctica, it is
time to get back online and start the blog again. First a few updates from the
quite different to arrive at Union Glacier this season. Last year most of camp
was already in place and tents were up. This year we were on the first Ilyushin
flight in and most of camp was still in boxes and bags. A small crew was flown
in a week or so before us, and had prepared the runway, started the machines,
and cleared snow around camp and structures. As weather was good we started
putting up tents pretty soon.
need a flat and firm surface. The snow cats are good to have around.
pretty nice for a tent, and this is where we have most of our meals, and where
clients spend time when they are not out in the field.
There are a
few “hard shell” structures as kitchen box, toilets, comms box, and some
containers for storage. In the picture you can see the toilets in the back (to
the right), the blue kitchen box attached to the Dining tent, and to the left
is our heated cooler box (now, think about that one…).
office for the season. Looks pretty amazing for a camp in Antarctica, but then
the chefs here make dinner for up to 130 people a day.
Mechanical department doesn’t have the same facilities as the kitchen, but the
mechanics here are amazing. Everything can be fixed!
living in standard four season mountain tents, and Malin and I are sharing this
one. Wearing jeans means it is Saturday!
about 55 of them..
And a few
days after camp was up, we started packing for the first traverse… More about
that in the next blog!