It has been a long, strange year for the outdoor adventure and exploration community. Early in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, putting a halt to the spring climbing season in the Himalaya—including Mt. Everest—and causing a nearly complete shutdown of the international travel industry. As the weeks rolled past, we saw the summer climbing season in Pakistan also reduced to almost nothing, while the fall looks pretty grim for Nepal and Tibet too. Yesterday, another domino fell when Antarctic Expeditions and Logistics (ALE)—the company that handles most of the skiers and climbers that travel to the frozen continent—announced that it had cancelled the 2020-2021 season as well.
In a message posted to its website, the company says that it has made this decision after very careful deliberation. ALE points to a rising number of COVID cases in Chile, and Punta Arenas in particular, as a reason to call things off. The city serves as the HQ for the expedition organizer and a launching point for South Pole skiers and climbers heading to Vinson. Operating in an environment where the virus is highly active and rising in numbers makes things extremely uncertain and puts ALE clients at risk. That, coupled with likely fewer clients due to current economic conditions, helped to make the decision one that was clear, even if it wasn’t easy to make.
For those who were signed up for this year, ALE says that there will be a variety of options, including refunds or the opportunity to carry-over any deposits or payments to the 2021-2022 season. By then we all hope the world will be getting back to some kind of normalcy, but until a vaccine is available thins will remain uncertain to say the least. A revised schedule for next year will be released in a few week to help with the preparation and planning for future expeditions.
As mentioned, ALE is responsible for handling the logistics of the vast majority of the private individuals who visit Antarctica on an annual basis. But as ExWeb points out, there are some expeditions organizers who operate out of Cape Town in South Africa, who may continue operations this year or we could see an independent expedition going on its own, although those are fairly rare and far between. But right now, unlike in years past, it now appears that there will be very few Antarctic explorers to track this year, if any at all.
Show of hands, who is ready for 2020 to be over?