Antarctica 2019: The Season Begins in Two Weeks

Now that the fall 2019 Himalayan climbing season is nearly over, we’ll soon be turning our attention to another major expedition season that is about to begin. As I write this, polar explorer and adventure travelers across the globe are putting the finishing touches on their preparation for the Antarctic expedition season, which will soon begin to ramp up. In fact, at this point it looks like we are just two weeks away from that season getting underway, and always it promises to deliver plenty of drama.

As with most major expedition calendars, the weather will dictate when things truly get under started, but looking at the schedule posted by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions we can get a sense of when things will get started.

ALE handles the transportation, logistical planning, and support for most of the men and women attempting to ski to the South Pole or traverse the continent on foot, so the privately-owned company often dictates the schedule of when explorers and adventurers will come and go. In fact, ALE’s Ilyushin IL-76TD aircraft are often the only way that travelers heading to the South Pole, Mt. Vinson, or other parts of Antarctica can actually reach the frozen continent in the first place.

With that in mind, a quick glance at ALE’s flight schedule tells us that its first Ilyushin flights are expected to take place on November 1. That flight is listed as “Staff Only”, although there have been times when skiers taking on the longest of the routes across the Antarctic have managed to get aboard that early-season transport.

Those explorers usually need as much as time as possible and ALE helps facilitate getting them out on the ice as quickly as they can. Typically, this early flight is meant to shuttle personnel and supplies to the company’s Union Glacier camp, which serves as an arrival and departure point for skiers and climbers coming and going from the bottom of the world.

The next flight after that, which is more likely to carry the first round of South Pole skiers, is set to take place on November 10, with subsequent flights in and out of Union Glacier taking place about every eight days.

Those flights originate in Punta Arenas, Chile and can often be delayed or scrubbed altogether due to inclement weather, most likely at Union Glacier or in the Southern Ocean between the two locations. Early season flights can sometimes be delayed by several days, although the weather tends to stabilize later on.

Once the skiers and climbers arrive on Antarctica, ALE operates a small fleet of Twin Otter aircraft to shuttle clients and their gear out to various points. Some go to various starting locations for a ski to the South Pole, while groups of mountaineers are flown to Mt. Vinson, the highest peak on the continent.

These smaller, more efficient aircraft are perfect for landing on the snow and ice and are also pressed into service to retrieve skiers after they reach the South Pole as well.

The other important date to look at here is January 26, 2020. That’s when the last flight out of Union Glacier for Antarctic travelers is scheduled to take place. There is another flight listed for January 29 as well, but it is meant for staff and cargo. As with the first flight of the season, on occasion a skier who is late in finishing up their expedition may have to squeeze onto that last aircraft, but usually by then things are wrapped up.

So that gives you a sense of what to expect in terms of schedule for the upcoming Antarctic season. I’m working on collecting some of the big expeditions and stories to follow prior to the start of the activities, so stay tuned for more information in that area. As usual, there should be some very unique and interesting endeavors to keep our eyes on.

Kraig Becker