Sout Pole to Norway Drive?

AntarcticaPosted by Espen Sat, February 18, 2012 02:00:00
...could possibly be the new name of our blog. I guess it depends if we can get through Northern Africa relatively safe and sound. At least the first part is done. I started on the South Pole in a 6x6 Ford E-350.

The company we worked for in Antarctica had driven two vehicles into the South Pole this season as support vehicles for two projects. The first one was the support vehicle for the Amundsen anniversary (one hundred years since Roald Amundsen was the first man on the geographical South Pole) and for the expeditions arriving for this specific date, the 14th of December. The second on was the support vehicle for Pat Farmer, and Australian who jogged (!) from the North Pole to the South Pole. At the end of the season both vehicles were to be driven back to Union Glacier camp, where ALE has its base. Union Glacier is just next to Hercules Inlet on the coast in the Chilean sector, and where most of the ski-all-the-way-to-the-south-pole expeditions start. Some weeks before a list of possible drivers had been put together, and yes, a kitchen assistant with som driving experience was on the list! Quite exiting. In the end we were two ALE mechanics, an expedition guide, and a kitchen assistant that packed their bags and got on the DC-3 heading to the South Pole.

The South Pole is at almost 3000 meters altitude, and it is significantly colder than at Union Glacier. The days when we were there to prepare the trip, the thermometer showed more or less 30 below (celsius). Shortly after we landed at the Pole, the second vehicle arrived with Pat Farmer, and it came into camp in a big, black cloud of smoke. Not good…. The turbo went a few kilometers out of camp, and a field repair had lasted only a few kilometers more before it broke completely and probably sent some metal particles into the cylinders (at least, that was the idea.. ). Car number two was moved to the category “overwintering”.

We were four people there to drive two vehicles back to Union Glacier. The optimal number for these conditions are three driving in shifts, but four is probably too much. Needless to say, I was quite nervous for my seat, but one of the mechanics stayed behind to take down camp for the winter. Phew… And the preparations continued.

Always smart to bring som extra fuel. This tank holds about 1200 liters, that is six 200 liters fuel drums. Fuel at the South Pole is flown in by aircraft, and is extremely expensive. I think I heard that a client would have to pay about 14000 USD for one of these drums at the Pole. We filled seven drums before we left!

Our camp was about one kilometer out from the Amundsen-Scott base at the Pole, but of course we had to do a round at the Pole before we headed north. It was a strange and surreal feeling to “drive around the world” before we drove out from the base and into more or less nothing…

“The Road” out from the South Pole. As the other car recently came in this way, the tracks were clearly visible the first part of the trip.

Proud unURBAN crew at “work”. Couldn’t stop thinking about how much this would cost if I had been a client of ALE. It could have been worth it, though…

The trip went relatively undramatic across the plateu, and it is the absence of things to see that actually make the views so breathtaking. The first day you’re just grinning and driving, but on the second day the reflections on where you are and what you’re doing start coming to you. Still, in a nice heated car with the iPod connected to the stereo, cruising through an ice-dessert in a big 6x6 van with air suspension, the word surreal keeps popping up in my mind.

Nothing but snow in all directions

Convenient to have your own gas station in the back of your car when you are driving across Antarctica.

Just after this picture was taken we had to stop and improvise a new slide. We brought a ski-doo with us back from the Pole, mainly to save weight for the planes, but also as a “second vehicle”. If something would have happened however, we would probably have been picked up by a Twin Otter. Anyway, the slide shredded about half way home, but some plywood got us going again.

On the way back we also came across one of the expeditions on their way back from the South Pole. This season several expeditions tried to ski unsupported to the Pole and back to the starting point (by the coast). These guys had camped on the road, and I guess they were quite surprised when we pulled over next to their tent for a chat.

After two days of driving we saw the first mountains. Union Glacier in in the Herritage Range, and we could see the mountains from a long distance. It was stunning to “take off” from the plateu and drive in between mountains. We know that where the glacier runs between and next to mountains, is where we find crevasses. The route we were driving is considered relatively safe, but of course, on a glacier you can never be 100% safe. Some years earlier a Brazilian research expedition had traveled the same route with a GPR device (Ground Penetrating Radar), and waypointed the dangerous areas. With these data we could be extra careful (drive around..) where we knew there were crevasses.

The Antarctic Plateu with so much of nothing is facinating, but I think driving in between the mountains was my highlight on the trip. Here you find yourself driving up hills and over small passes, and view out of the windshield is magic. This last part is a more used route, and a couple of times every season there is a tractor train with fuel going out this way to a fuel depot for the Twin Otters flying to the Pole. In an earlier post we had a picture of one of these “trains” leaving camp with sledges loaded with fuel. The track after these sledges actually becomes quite a good road, and at some places we were probably doing 50 kilometers an hour.

Well. Even the drive of a lifetime comes to an end, and we drove into Union Glacier Camp 53 hours and about 1200 kilometer after we left the geographic South Pole.

This trip was a fantastic experience, and I cannot think of a better bonus for two months of doing dishes!! The first part of the South Pole to Norway drive is hereby concluded.


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More Antarctic Activities

AntarcticaPosted by Espen Tue, February 14, 2012 15:45:26

Hi Everybody!

We’ll try not to bore you with details, but there are some pics we just have to upload. Antarctica is a fascinating place, and even if we’re now back on the “mainland”, it is sometimes hard to let go of the frozen continent and the people we teamed up with for Antarctic summer. It was long and sometimes hard hours, but when we had some time off, it was always worth the effort. The Union Glacier Camp is on a glacier in the Herritage Mountain Range, and the views in all directions are stunning. We had a few excursions out from camp to different “sightseeing” in the area.

Here we are driving along the ice runway where the Illushin-76 lands with all the people and cargo going in to or through Union Glaicer. Great place for a photo session. The vehicles we use in and around camp (on groomed roads) are a couple of Ford E-350s, one on 39,5 inch wheels, and one running a set of Mattracks.

Parked at Elephant Hill for a stroll in the area. This is a very stable part of the glacier, and there are no crevasses in this area.

And as we mentioned the blue ice runway, a nice thing to do is to go down to watch the Illushin land, or help unloading cargo. We had 31 Illushin flights this season, the biggest season for ALE so far.

Outside the dinner tent for afterhours activity is also a slack-line. And yes, it is afterhours even if the sun is up. 24 hours, remember..? J

During this season we had one full day off just before Christmas, and we went for a climb of Mount Rossmond.

This is the mountain we see every day as it is towering over camp. We had a fantastic day, and we could see all the way over to the Vinson Massif with Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mount Vinson. Maybe one day. To the east we could see out over the platau and the white horizon of ice, ice, and more ice….

Next post is about a nice bonus for a dishwasher, and it had 6WD!


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Camp life in Antarctica

AntarcticaPosted by Espen Wed, February 01, 2012 22:43:23

Sorry for a slight delay in the blogging. We hoped to be able to post some blogs from the frozen continent, but we had some technical challenges, and it turned out to be a bit harder than we had thought. Anyway, we'll try to post us up to date again, and we hope our pictures from Union Glacier and some other places in Antarctica can be of interest. This first post was written in mid December. More soon!


Hi Everybody!

It has been a while since we posted on our blog and forum threads. Amazing how fast time goes by. Five weeks ago I was in Punta Arenas waiting for better weather in Antarctica, and now we are almost half way through the season here at Union Glacier. Malin is cooking and I’m cleaning, washing, and helping where it is needed. Both of us have been able to get out of camp on a few occasions, and Malin is in time of writing at the South Pole where she is the base chef for the 100 years anniversary for Amundsen’s arrival at the pole as the first in history.

Several this years’ expeditions have timed their arrival at the South Pole to this anniversary date (14th December), so it will be lively in camp here when everybody has a stop over here on their way out from Antarctica.

I also got a few trips out of camp this season, and the first was a flight up to Berkner Island to dig out a fuel depot. It was five of us plus two pilots, and we dug up more than 50 200 liters fuel drums. This was my first flight out of camp, and the Antarctic landscape is simply stunning!

My muscles were pretty sore the next morning, but at breakfast I found out that there was another digging mission on the agenda, and I signed up. This time it was a weather station (instruments on a mast) that had to be dug out at Thiels Mountains, about half way between Union Glacier and the South Pole.

This is also a fuel depot that ALE uses for its Twin Otters when they fly to the pole. When we landed, a team from ALE had just arrived in a tractor-train (piste machines (same type as those used in ski resorts)) loaded with fuel drums.

Tractor train leaving camp at Union Glacier.

As a Twin Otter has to refuel on its way to the pole, they used to fly the fuel depot up by plane and then the fuel gets really expensive. Some years ago they tried to drive out a “train” with fuel loaded on sledges, and it turned out to be way more fuel efficient than flying it. And when we started digging out the weather station, it soon became obvious that the piste machine would come in handy also for the digging. The base of the weather station was more than 3 meters (10 ft) down in hard, wind packed snow. Using the piste machine we could make a big hole next to the mast and then dig in to the instruments from the side. The flight to and from Thiels was spectacular, and to take in the vastness of the Antarctic landscape you actually need some time. The glaciers here are endless.

In camp, however, you almost forget where you are. Life is quite simple with most facilities we are used to from home. Most of everyday life happens in one of our big “Weather Haven” tents.

The kitchen and dining room tent is warm around the clock, and this season we have also got a kind of “running water”. Snow is shoveled into a big tank outside the tent and a Webasto water heater (same kind as you can mount in a vehicle) melts the snow and warms up the water. It runs on jet fuel. A similar unit is mounted in a smaller tent and connected to two showers. Luxury! For preparing food we use propane, and at night the big tents are warmed up by diesel stoves also running on jet fuel. Electric power is basically from solar panels and batteries connected to an inverter. This is backed up by a generator for cloudy days. Our workshop/garage is also in a Weather Haven tent, and they probably use their generators a bit more than in the dining tent to run tools and other electric equipment.

Our personal “house” is not as spacious as the roof top tent, but a Mountain Hardware mountain tent has enough room for the two of us and some clothes and equipment. And the weird thing is that the temperature inside the tent is kind of like a normal room temperature. This far south we have sun 24 hours a day, and the tents heat up surprisingly well. Slightly colder during the night, but the big down sleeping bag that we used high up in the Andes Mountains is way too warm for these temperatures. Next time I’ll bring the summer sleeping bag.


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AntarcticaPosted by Malin Fri, November 18, 2011 02:31:52

So what is this talk about flying south? When I am not driving the Patrol together with Espen I work as a chef, and my last jobs have been in rather cold places.

When we started planning an overland trip our first plan was to travel in South America, but then I got offered a job as a chef at Catlin Arctic Surveys camp in the Canadian Arctic. After five great summer seasons working in Antarctica, being able to working in the Canadian Arctic for 2 ½ months was too tempting to let down. With that our first plan changed and we said we would start our overland travel in North America and then travel down to South America.

Catlin Arctic Survey’s camp was put up on the sea ice west of Ellef Ringnes Island in the territory of Nunavut, Canada (78°45’N 103°30’W), and camp staff were there to support scientists doing their work on ocean acidification. You can read more about the Catlin Arctic Survey on http://www.catlinarcticsurvey.com/ At the most we were 11 people in camp, and it was a great group of people to work with. Living on the sea ice for a while was an amazing experience. When we first put up camp, the nights were dark, but for every day the sun got higher and higher above the horizon and in the end we had midnight sun. The changing light and the ice formations is what I remember best from the Arctic because it is different from everything else I have seen. We did not see any polar bears, and even if I would have liked to see one I was glad not to encounter one in our tent camp.

Here is a short video that was made about my job in the Arctic. http://www.catlinarcticsurvey.com/2010/12/15/extreme-cooking-2/

While I was enjoying myself in the Arctic, Espen flew to Florida and picked up the Patrol. He had a detour to Moab, and then headed north to pick me up in Calgary when I flew out from Resolute. From Calgary we headed north to Alaska and Prudhoe Bay, where we turned around, and from there we have traveled south for 17 months. Now we are at the end of the road on the American continent, and a while back I signed up for my sixth season as a chef for ALE Antarctic Logistic & Expeditions (http://www.antarctic-logistics.com/) in their camp at Union Glacier. ALE flies to Antarctica from Punta Arenas, Chile (next to Tierra del Fuego), and it is just one long day driving from Ushuaia. Arriving in Punta, Espen told me that this was probably the first and only time he would drive me to work….

In Punta Arenas it was time to re-pack going from an overland travel to go to work three months in Antarctica.

This is more or less all the stuff I will bring with me onto the ice. Now we just have to wait for the weather (http://www.yr.no/place/Antarctica/Other/Union_Glacier/long.html ) in Union Glacier to cooperate so the Ilyushin IL76 can fly the 3060 km (4 hours and 15 minutes) to get to the camp at S 79 46’40’’ W 83 19’15’’.

The runway in Antarctica is a blue ice runway and here is a photo from a previous season when we went out for a stroll on the runway.

Union Glacier Camp is a tent camp, but a much larger one than the one in the Arctic. At Union Glacier we can get up to 130 people in camp at the most. This season will be a bit different from the others as Espen also got a job on the ice doing dishes and helping in the kitchen. Since we both will be in Antarctica for 2 -3 months we will try to write a couple of blog updates on camp life from the ice. Enjoy the comfort living with a heated house and with running water while waiting for our first update from the frozen continent J


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