From The Arctic To The Antarctic — South Pole Trek Part 1

We’ve already established that I’ve traveled to every recognized country in the world, with my final one being the rarely visited nation Turkmenistan.

You might be wondering what is left for me to do. Well, I still have lots of territories to check off. But perpetual travel is not merely about counting countries and, for Most Traveled People like myself, counting territories. You’ve got to throw in some real adventure too!

One adventure my life would not be complete without is visiting the South Pole. And better yet, venturing from the Arctic to Antarctica in order to get to the South Pole. Throw in celebrating New Year’s twice in one year and stopping off at the home of Santa Claus along the way and you have one heck of an adventure.

A little chill

Traveling around the whole world is no easy feat. I decided to chill out a bit before I made it to Turkmenistan. To some people, “chilling” means relaxing, but for me, it meant bracing the sub-zero temperatures of the South Pole. 🥶

To be clear, I was already “chilling out” in Sweden before I made it to the South Pole.

Visiting the South Pole has always been a dream of mine. You already know that I dreamt of visiting all the countries and territories worldwide, but I also wanted to see the most extreme points on earth, especially the South and North Poles. I still haven’t been to the North Pole, but I’m hopeful it will work out next year or the year after. It’s good to still have some things left to look forward to. But this year, I managed to reach the South Pole. It was an intense expedition with a high price tag, but I was finally able to book it last year, and at the beginning of this year, I could execute my plan.

Double New Year

My journey began in the northernmost part of Sweden, from where I took a very long flight over the Arctic Circle to the South Pole. The year started out extraordinarily, as I celebrated New Year’s twice in two countries. 🥳

I hoped my hotel room in Sweden would help me acclimate to the Antarctic chill ahead.

My first New Year’s celebration was in Finland, and because there’s a one-hour time difference between Finland and Sweden, I could celebrate a second time on the Swedish side of the border.

Straddling the border of Sweden and Finland and enjoying the fireworks

I stood right on the border between Finland and Sweden in order to celebrate the arrival of the New Year twice, complete with two incredible fireworks shows, one from each country. I celebrated with my girlfriend Karyna and her son, which was a wonderful way to welcome the new year.

Celebrating the new year with my lady

Santa’s Village

After recovering from our double celebration, we drove to Rovaniemi in Finland. Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland and the “official” home of Santa Claus. 🎅

Back at the Arctic Circle

After it was almost entirely destroyed in World War Two, Rovaniemi took on a new life as it declared itself the home of this magical character. There’s a big Christmas village there with lots of attractions, such as reindeer farms, Mrs. Claus’s cottage, the Elf Farmyard, and Snowman World.

Welcome to Santa’s house!

After leaving Santa’s Village, I drove Karyna and her son to the airport in Rovaniemi before beginning the long drive back to Kiruna, Sweden on my own. I returned my rental car in Kiruna, and my trek down to the South Pole began.

Did I mention that I’d gotten towed by a pack of dogs earlier in Kiruna?

I flew to the South Pole by way of the Arctic Circle. My first flight was from Kiruna to Stockholm. Then I flew from Stockholm to Madrid, Madrid to Santiago de Chile, and Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas. After three days in Punta Arenas, my official journey to Antarctica began.

The view over Spain

The First Stop

I booked my flight with Finnair and flew business class, so I was relatively comfortable for the long journey. I had all of my winter clothes with me. I was crossing the meridian from the freezing cold winter in Europe to the summer of Chile, but I knew I’d need my warm clothes again when I got to the South Pole.

My last flight was 13 hours but at least I was comfortable.

When I arrived in Punta Arenas, I was picked up by the team I would travel with. We had three or four days in Punta Arenas to prepare for our trip further south. I booked a nice boutique hotel in Punta Arenas overlooking the city and the harbor to make the most of my time there. I was excited about the trip ahead, as I anticipated all that was yet to come. 😁

The harbor of Punta Arenas

Gearing Up

My time in Punta Arenas was relatively unremarkable as we prepared for our expedition. We had some briefings about the trip and got to know everyone in the group. Eight people were joining this trip to the South Pole, although many other people would also be traveling to Antarctica separately at the same time to visit the Camp Union Glacier and other things I’ll touch back on later.

The briefings included a gear check. Since we were going to one of the world’s extreme points, it was essential to pack some obligatory items, including very warm clothing and certain gear. The trip organizers made sure to check that we had everything we needed in advance.

I snapped this picture after I passed my bag inspection. 🙌

We had all the other formalities checked as well before we left Punta Arenas. On our last day there, they looked at my insurance and told me that I could not fly with it to Antarctica. I had checked multiple times beforehand to make sure that my insurance was okay, but I ended up having to call my insurance again at the last minute to confirm that they would cover me in Antarctica. Luckily, as I expected, they gave me the green light I needed. 🚦

A Little Leisure

In the meanwhile, during those few days, I had plenty of time to enjoy Punta Arenas. I enjoyed walking around a bit and balanced my time by doing some consulting work as well. I knew I wouldn’t have any internet access during my week in Antarctica, so I wanted to get some work done before I left.

Punta Arenas welcomed me with a rainbow!

I had never been to Punta Arenas before, although I had been to Ushuaia in Argentina. It was interesting to explore a little there, and I enjoyed some tasty Patagonian food at the local restaurants. 😋 I also spent my time getting to know my fellow travelers.

Dipping my toes in the icy water

Most of the people in my group were from the USA. There was one older woman on our trip who I actually met up with again later in the year. In May, she and I had a nice dinner at a resort on the island of Roatan in Honduras. There was also a nice German guy there who works at the Ministry of Defense. He and I enjoyed some fun and interesting conversations throughout the trip.

I also “got lucky” at a local casino. 🤣

Flying South

After a few days in the southern tip of Chile, our flight to Antarctica was finally due. I had wondered if we’d need a special plane to fly in, but flights to Antarctica are in chartered planes from Iceland Air, like a regular Boeing. Practically any type of plane can land at the Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway, so no special ski planes are required. The flight from Punta Arenas to the Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway takes about four hours.

The plane to Antarctica was larger than I expected.

The Iceland Air Boeing was reasonably comfortable and not too full, so everyone basically had a row of seats to themselves, complete with onboard entertainment and everything.

Mapping out the journey ahead

We departed from the main airport in Punta Arenas, boarded the plane, and flew to Union Glacier with all our gear. We’d had a fun time in Punta Arenas and were all looking forward to our week-long trip.

One last look at Punta Arenas, as the sun goes down.

Welcome to Antarctica!

We planned to spend five days, more or less, at Union Glacier. You have to wait for just the right weather to fly into the South Pole, and when you arrive, it is uncertain when that will be. We saw some forecasts ahead of time to give us a rough idea, but in the end, the air controllers on the ground had to decide whether or not it was a good day to fly to the South Pole. We were lucky to have the perfect weather to fly on our second day, so we made it to the South Pole fairly early on our trip. 🍀

I’ll tell you more about my adventure at the South Pole in Part 2 😉

During the rest of our trip, besides our time at the South Pole, we enjoyed some hikes and scenery around the Union Glacier Camp. The camp is located in the Ellsworth Mountains, the highest mountain range in Antarctica. It was quite picturesque there, so I enjoyed taking photos of the surroundings.

Our camp at the base of the Ellsworth Mountains

Besides the eight people in our tour group, the plane to the South Pole from Union Camp Glacier was full of people flying to the main base camp in Antarctica for various purposes. There are a couple of other camps around there, and of course, some research stations too, but the Blue Union Glacier is the main tourist camp.

Amazingly, not everyone who visits the South Pole arrives by plane. Some people get there by skiing cross-country from as far away as the Union Camp Glacier. 🤯 Others get dropped off by a plane nearby and then ski about 40-50 kilometers to arrive at the South Pole. There are also people visiting who are not there to see the South Pole at all. Some were looking to venture to Mount Sidley (Antarctica’s highest volcano) or Mount Vinson (Antarctica’s tallest mountain) or to explore any of the other activities and opportunities available in Antarctica.

Setting the Scene

It’s extremely cold at the base camp, as the temperature usually ranges from -24 degrees to negative one degree Celsius.

Taking my gloves off here, even for just a second, was a painful mistake.

The camp is quite large. It houses about 60 tents for travelers, plus it has some larger tents for other facilities, like the kitchen, dining area, toilets, showers, and so on.

The bathroom was a tight squeeze, but it was sufficient.

The food there was actually quite delicious, which was a pleasant surprise. Every meal had diverse options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some drinks were included, but not too many, which was fine. 🍻

There was enough room to gather for meals in these large tents.

When I first saw the camp, I wondered if it would be too cold to sleep in a tent there. Whoever designed the place did a great job with it though, because the tents are incredibly well-insulated. The temperature inside the tent was around five degrees, so it was quite comfortable. The beds there were decent too.

My humble Antarctic home

The only downside was that if you wanted to use the bathroom during the night, you would have to walk through the cold for about three minutes to find a toilet, which would be a harsh awakening. 😖 Many people, myself included, brought pee bottles to avoid any freezing cold midnight trips.

Bracing the cold for a midnight piss seems like a death trap here. ☠️

The campsite is nicely sheltered from the wind by the mountains, and it never gets too cold with the 24-hour daylight shining down on you. All in all, it was quite convenient.

Mountains sheltering the camp

Briefings and Books

Once we settled in, we had a briefing about the facilities at the camp. Most people had to share their tents, but I was lucky enough to get a nice tent all to myself. I don’t know if no one wanted to share with me or what happened, but I was grateful to have my own space regardless.

I wouldn’t have enjoyed sharing such small living quarters.

I used my time alone to read extensively. It was nice and cozy to lie in my warm sleeping bag in the tent and read some books, or hang out and read in an area that I can only describe as something akin to a living room.

It wasn’t so cozy, but it was a nice enough reading nook. 🤓

There was absolutely no internet available, but I had downloaded plenty of books on my Kindle in advance, so I didn’t mind too much, and I got a lot of reading done that week. I ended up bringing my Kindle along on many of the excursions, and I often read when we had to wait for things, a car or for the plane to arrive. I mostly read fiction books, but I also enjoyed rereading some old fantasy books I’d enjoyed in my youth. I also read about the history of the FBI and CIA, which was quite interesting.

Keeping Busy

Other than that, we had the opportunity to attend some good talks, including various presentations about the South Pole and Antarctica. Plenty of activities were happening at the camp all the time, and you could move freely between them.

Clearly, there was plenty of room to walk around… if you dared.

There was a cross-country ski track that you could follow, but we were discouraged from leaving the perimeter of the camp because there were many crevasses that one could fall into. The airport is nearby and has some smaller machines to check out, and there were also some nice igloos to visit. Another attraction is a pole full of road signs that show you the distance in kilometers from Antarctica to many other popular tourist destinations worldwide, which makes for a nice picture.

Where should we go next? 🌎

Generally speaking, the camp is situated beautifully. There are towering mountain ranges in every direction, and watching flights touch down on the blue ice runway there is quite interesting.

You can imagine how the blue ice runway got its name. 😅

Upon our arrival, we could immediately see the Antarctic Peninsula. Then we flew over the mainland, where we could see some mountain ranges all covered in ice and snow. Little did we know that the very next day, we would already be taking our flight to the South Pole.

Despite the frigid atmosphere, Antarctica is not completely barren and devoid of life. It has fascinating geological features, from the mountains to the glaciers.

Amazing Antarctic views 🤩

However, at the Union Glacier Camp, there is practically no sign of life outside of the people there. It’s something like 1,000-2,000 kilometers from the coast, so there are no penguins or other animals around. The only exceptions were some very isolated birds we saw flying around once in a while, but even those were rare. There is little to no local flora or fauna of which to speak, in this place where only the best-equipped and most adventurous humans dare to go.

Not a soul in sight…

Join us again next time as we hop on our flight to the South Pole and explore more of what Antarctica has to offer.