Antarctica update 2014

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…


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Waiting for weather

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

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Travel too fast

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 has HIV.

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 to fast.

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 mind away.

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, though...).

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 gives us.

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.


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Antarctic trucking

AntarcticaPosted by Espen Mon, March 25, 2013 15:07:29

Last season 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.

In the beginning of the season most of the equipment came in on our Ilyushin, and was then loaded onto slides and sledges.

To handle 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.

The access 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 beautiful!

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…

Driving 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.

Our 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.

Schanz Glacier, the last leg down to Union Glacier, and home sweet home!

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Back to Antarctica

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 cold continent:

It was 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.

First we need a flat and firm surface. The snow cats are good to have around.

Looks 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…).

Malin’s 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.

The Mechanical department doesn’t have the same facilities as the kitchen, but the mechanics here are amazing. Everything can be fixed!

Staff are living in standard four season mountain tents, and Malin and I are sharing this one. Wearing jeans means it is Saturday!

Should be 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!


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