I remember so clearly where it all started. Four of us huddled together in a small mountain tent nearly a 1,000kms away from the nearest human settlement. Our goal was to traverse the whole continent of Antarctica and right then, we were waiting out a storm. We had been going for about seventy days and all of us were starting to get a little whiney.
What struck us was that no one but scientists and the odd polar explorer ever got to see the hidden interior of Antarctica. There were cruise ships operating along the peninsula, but they just touched the coastline and never delved into the stunning and often pretty surreal, interior of the continent.
To pass the time in the tent, we dreamt of a camp that would be built along the lines of an African safari, with warm, comfortable tents decked out in old world luxury. No lightweight, modern fabrics, but brass, wood and canvas – Shackleton style – that would be the perfect place to relax after a day’s exploring. We would fly the guests via private jet from Cape Town, South Africa and have genuine polar explorers as the guides. And most importantly of all, we would have the best damn chef in the World serving three course meals each evening and fine wine!
That conversation took place in November 2004 and slowly, over the years, we have made the camp a reality. The White Desert camp is now the first and only luxury camp in Antarctica’s interior and it has been an extraordinary journey establishing it. We are into our 5th year of operations and as each season passes, with only very small groups of clients on each adventure, we discover new areas to explore and new things to see.
The camp sits on an outcrop of land perched over a 200ft ice cliff. From each tent, the views extend for over 100kms and are so surreal that clients often describe it like being on another planet.
As for activities each day, our part of Antarctica is like an enormous playground!
Our guides are all experts and can push clients as far as they want to go; from kite-skiing to ice climbing up virgin summits, abseiling into crevasses to exploring the ice tunnels. It can be seriously adrenalin-fuelled. However, many other clients want to be more relaxed and see Antarctica at their own pace. So, there are gentle walks and picnics, 4×4 trips and wildlife tours.
For most people though, the highlight of the adventure is flying via Basler DC3 to the Emperor Penguin colony. There are over 6,000 breeding pairs with their newly hatched chicks and we are the only tourists to ever visit them. Totally unafraid of humans, the Emperors come right up to you, curious as to these brightly coloured strangers to their icy land! It is a truly incredible feeling to witness such a rare wildlife spectacle.
After the Emperors, we go via specially modified 4x4s into a largely unexplored mountain range about 4hrs from our camp. There are many unclimbed mountains rising vertically over 1,000 meters into the sky. We ski around their base, winding amongst titanic crevasse fields and climb on the peaks themselves.
It is wonderful to be in such a vast wilderness with so many new things still to be discovered. Even after all the time I have spent out in Antarctica, each season continues to surprise me and most years, I can’t wait until November rolls around again and to get out onto the ice!
Contact us for more information about White Desert trips and Off Piste and Heli Skiing Experts Pure Powder’s special 5% introductory discount.
Article by Patrick Woodhead, Antarctic explorer and Managing Director of White Desert