Union Glacier Camp is Antarctica’s only seasonally occupied settlement. Accessible only by plane, its airfield is a naturally occurring ‘blue ice runway’.
Location: 79°46’S 82°52’W. Distance from Punta Arenas (Chile) 1870 miles (3010 km) - flight time 4.5 hours. Proximity to South Geographic Pole: 600 miles (1000km) away. Elevation: 2,297ft (700m) above sea level. Welcome to Union Glacier Camp, a jumping-off point in the interior of the White Continent for field scientists and explorers alike. Communications experts keep regular contact with the outside world, heavy-equipment mechanics maintain a fleet of transport and runway equipment, and on-site meteorologists provide weather information to flight crews coming in and out.
1. Arrival. A Russian Ilyushin 76 TD resupply and personnel aircraft comes to a halt on Union Glacier’s snow-free blue-ice runway after a 4.5-hour intercontinental flight from Punta Arenas Chile to Antarctica. Service vehicles include state-of-the-art Sno-Cats, tractors and snow blowers. Two twin-engine ski aircraft are used to transport passengers, cargo and fuel beyond the camp.
2. With little hope of evacuation, health and safety is taken seriously at camp. Doctors experienced in remote, wilderness and emergency medical care staff this clinic. Hand sanitation products are everywhere - Antarctica is not a good place to become ill.
3. The best way to get around camp is by ‘fat bike’, specially modified mountain bikes with super-wide, low-pressure tyres which have the additional benefit of having no environmental impact.
4. Specially adapted, high-clearance, big-wheeled trucks are used to ship personnel from the runway to the camp. The 5.5 mile route features an artificial Christmas tree.
5. Although Union Glacier Camp is largely wind-free compared with most of the continent, weather conditions can change dramatically and rapidly. Essential low-tech solutions are sometimes the best after a snowstorm.
6. Weather and environmental monitoring stations feature prominently at Union Glacier. Here, ANI Director David Rootes shows Sir Ernest Shackleton’s granddaughter, Alexandra, around the facilities.
7. Sleeping quarters for explorers, scientists and even tourists who can vist the camp for a range of outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking and photographic safari. Ever popular with ‘seven summits’ mountaineers, the camp is a jumping-off point for those about to climb Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest peak at 16,050ft (4892m).
Union Glacier Camp is operated by Adventure Network International (www.adventure-network.com).