Visiting Antarctica

February 27, 2011

As we near the end of “Antarctica Month”, I am sure I know the question that is foremost in many minds:

“How can I go to Antarctica?”

Certainly it is a question that I have been asking myself. I’ve done some digging, and it seems that there are three principal ways to get there.

Be adventurous

Some people find their own way to Antarctica. Earlier this month we had a comment from Frida Waara, who went to several Antarctic locations, including the South Pole, a few months ago as part of a film project. People continue to test their physical endurance against Antarctic conditions: here are some recent examples. Later this year, to mark the centenary of the first successful trek to the South Pole, two British men are planning to make the journey on foot, without machines or outside assistance. That is undoubtedly courageous, but no modern expedition will match the danger of those early treks made by Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott. Even the most modestly equipped adventurers today will have radio contact, and probably GPS signals, and maybe even CNN on a smartphone. Still, Antarctica demands respect, and it is well to remember that its ferocity can undo even the best laid plans; just this week we hear the sad story of a Norwegian ship sunk along the Antarctic coast, her missing crew presumed dead.

If such adventures are beyond your capacity, you could instead…

Be scientific

Today there are, at any given time, several thousand people resident in Antarctica, most of them working at scientific research stations. Yesterday I wrote about one of the grandest experiments taking place in Antarctica, but there are many others as well. It seems to me that a terrific way to visit Antarctica would be to get involved with the scientific work taking place at these stations and hope for an Antarctic posting. The easiest way to do that is probably to become a graduate student for a professor who works on an Antarctic project — or, naturally, to become such a professor oneself.

This is probably not an option for most of us, however, whether because of aptitude or state of life. For most of us, the best course may well be to work really hard for a long time so that we can…

Be wealthy

I was surprised to learn that there is a bustling industry ferrying tourists down to Antarctica. For a few thousand dollars one can book passage on a cruise from South America that will glide along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. In some cases, weather permitting, passengers can land on the Peninsula and even camp overnight. For a little more money one could include the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the itinerary, which would permit a visit to the grave of Ernest Shackleton. For the serious Antarctic tourist — and, at a price of nearly $40 000, one would have to be a wealthy tourist too — one could visit the Antarctic mainland, either in the Ross Sea area, where Scott and Shackleton had their bases, or in the more remote eastern region, south of Australia. Look at it this way: it’s still less expensive than going to Everest.

I am of two minds about this whole matter: on the one hand, it is somewhat depressing that so many people now visit Antarctica; on the other hand, I would like to go myself.

3 Responses to “Visiting Antarctica”

  1. Janet Says:

    I’m not sure that people who have spent their long lives at the 35th parallel can ever go there.


  2. Mac Says:

    I had no idea it was so crowded. I would have guessed several hundred residents, not several thousand. And now that they’re letting all that tourist riff-raff in, I’m sure it’s completely spoiled, so I don’t think I’ll go.

  3. cburrell Says:

    I read that there are about 1000 who over-winter in Antarctica, and about 5000 resident at the height of summer. I used “several thousand” as a rough average.

    Even if there were 5000 people, the place is as big as Europe, so it would still not be crowded.

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