Going back to Antarctica has meant living again the feeling of exploring the unexplored, and visiting the geographical South Pole, a dream come true!
As I have already said at some point, Antarctica is the most remote place I have ever been. And when I decided to start an Antarctic adventure again, I could not imagine that I would return, if possible, more captivated by the seventh continent.
This time, I decided to rely on the experience of White Desert Antarctica for my expedition. Our collaborators are the only ones that have a base camp in Antarctic territory and, although they offer a range of adventures, my explorer spirit made me want to go one step further and join their program of visiting the Emperor Penguins and the South Pole.
When I travelled to Cape Town to join the expedition, I had the opportunity to stay at the magnificent hotel The Silo. A magical hotel on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront that stands as a celebration of art, architecture and design. The hotel is part of The Royal Portfolio and you can feel the magic touch of Liz Biden in every single detail. It was a perfect start for my adventure and the property really captivated me. I will, for sure, stay again. The Silo will be home for me in Cape Town from now on.
Once there, at the hotel’s penthouse, I attended to the initial briefing that White Desert offers to all their guests to initiate them in the adventure and, also, to check that everyone is perfectly equipped for the expedition. A meeting that served to get warmed up for what was about to come.
The next morning, sorry, the next EARLY morning (as the alarm rang very early for our flight at 6 a.m.) started an adventure that I will never forget. I put on my nice t-shirt of the polar explorer astronaut (really me, isn’t it?) and headed to Cape Town airport to embark towards Antarctica on a Gulfstream G550, one of the most impressive private jets in the world.
After five hours flying from South Africa, we arrived at Wolf’s Fang Runway, the first White Desert contact point on the continent.
As the airplane approached the continent, the feeling of being about to land in another planet was growing in me. The Antarctic landscape is so different from anything we can imagine that, when you arrive, you are overwhelmed by its immensity.
Once there, our group was supposed to leave the jet and board a Basler BT-67 plane equipped with skis (and depressurised!) that would allow us to move and land safely around the continent and reach Whichaway camp, our home for the next few days. However, due to weather conditions it was necessary to advance the visit to the penguin colony that was planned for the middle of the week.
Two and a half hours later I was there, seeing families and groups of emperor penguins who, first shy and then more daring, interacted with the group with total naturalness. What a fantastic start to my adventure!
Although it is a very protected area and it is not possible to get too close to animals for their own safety, the image of adult penguins and their chicks on the icy landscape is something that never leaves you indifferent. Their communication rituals, their movements and their curiosity to approach visitors are scenes that we are not used to and that, of course, are worth it.
After a couple of hours with our friends we headed finally to Whichaway Camp. Seeing the camp from the plane, with its small igloos in the middle of nowhere, is an impressive image. Actually, to establish a semi-permanent camp in Antarctica like White Desert has done, with a minimal environmental footprint, is something exclusive and unique … and we love it!
The facilities in Whichaway Camp are cosy and represent the perfect balance between polar functionality and luxury camp comfort. The camp consists of six spacious pods designed with care and great taste, with capacity for two people each, wash area and toilet. A private space where you can relax after the excursions and adventures that await you during the day.
The rest of the camp consists of a shower pod, as well as a set of pods that combine reception, living and dining rooms. All of them are warm and carefully designed so that guests can enjoy relaxing moments and share their impressions about the trip.
The next morning, we had a first contact with the surroundings of Whichaway Camp to familiarise ourselves with the landscape. It was time to put the crampons on and walk on the frozen lake!
As in any expedition, it is essential to wear the appropriate clothes and accessories. Thus, despite the temperature (approximately between 0ºC and -5°C) you don’t feel cold at any time, and you can enjoy the trip safely and comfortably.
This had just begun!
And, if the immensity of the continent had not yet captivated me enough, the ice tunnels were going to offer me images that will take my breath away. After a long walk through icy lakes and sheer terrain, our guides Manu and Baba entered the mountain to discover us some of the best kept secrets of the continent’s core.
Never-ending tunnels, cracks of an intense blue that changed their colour along the day and blocks of crystal ice appeared in front of my eyes in endless ways that, no matter where I looked, I was carried away almost to another planet.
That night, in the calm of my pod, when I closed my eyes I saw again the intense blue of the ice and relived once again the feelings that, in the tunnels, had overwhelmed me in the morning.
The next morning, an exciting day of trekking was waiting for us. The so-called nunatak are mountainous peaks not covered by ice within or at the edge of a glacier, whose hard configuration has been caused by the erosion of ice cycles. Being able to contemplate the ice waves of the glacier from the peak, with the immensity of Antarctica around you, is a unique image, and if the weather accompanies and the sun bathes the landscape, it is a one-of-a-kind view.
After the hike, and like every day, we could enjoy a delicious meal prepared by the Whichaway chef, who ensures that guests not only “recharge batteries” but also enjoy authentic delicacies during their stay. This is something that I highly appreciated, due to the difficulty of getting some foods to such a remote place.
After a few hours of rest, I was ready for what was going to be one of the highlights of the trip: my step beyond… the South Pole visit! I was very excited to become one of the few people who have been to the southernmost point on Earth and, of course, the experience did not disappoint me. After seven hours of flight (with a stop to refuel in the FD83 camp) we had travelled the 2,400 kilometres between Whichaway Camp and the geographical South Pole.
Once there, and with an approximate temperature of -23°C, I confirmed once again that it is the most extreme place I’ve ever been. And yet, it was also a moment of absolute happiness to know that I had reached what many consider “the end of the world.” Conveniently wearing polar equipment from head to toe (very important!), I could enjoy a walk around the area realising that it is one of the coldest, lonely, silent, frozen, inaccessible and irresistible places in the world.
Still euphoric for the moment, I went back to the plane and headed back to FD83.
It’s easy to lose track of time in a place where there is no night (at this time of year), but it is necessary to keep time organisation somehow, especially for our pilots.
Therefore, we set out to spend the night in one of the most remote places on Earth and we camped in specialist tents (which are heated with the outside sunlight). They were not as warm and welcoming as the Whichaway Camp pods, but they were not cold at all! Thanks God, however, for the sleeping mask which avoided the daylight from the outside…
After two more hours aboard the Basler plane, we returned to Whichaway Camp the next morning and we had the opportunity to celebrate our momentous journey. The happiness of having been in a place where there is no more East, West or even South, only North, was shared by the whole group. We had created a very special bond.
In the following days before returning to Cape Town, I was able to do many other activities to get to know and enjoy Antarctica in deep. Climbing, ice rides, abseiling, and I even had the chance to do a via ferrata! That day, I could see the icy waves in a sea of infinite white that would delight any nature lover.
And as a grand finale, in a quick visit to the Russian base, I also had the opportunity to meet again my great friend José Manuel Naranjo, professional explorer and one of the BRU & BRU insiders, specialised in the Polar regions, with whom I have travelled in the past. What a small world we live in, sometimes!
My days at Whichaway Camp allowed me, somehow, to disconnect from the world and connect with myself again. Submitted to the environment’s conditions you are aware of how much we should value our everyday life: water and electricity consumption, for instance, must be kept under control there, whereas we always take it for granted at home without even thinking about it.
Saying goodbye to what had been my home for ten days was a mix of emotions. The sadness of saying goodbye to an absolutely spectacular scenery and the joy of returning home (stopping by the pleasant South African summer first!).
My second experience in Antarctica had, for sure, fulfilled all my expectations.
Antarctica and South Pole… challenge achieved!