The 2020 Antarctic Season is Cancelled

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 reduced to next to nothing, and envy now the fall looks pretty grim for Nepal and Tibet.

Antarctic Expeditions and Logistics Cancels Season

Yesterday, another domino in the annual adventure calendar fell when Antarctic Expeditions and Logistics (ALE), which handles most of the skiers and climbers that travel to the frozen continent—announced that it had canceled the 2020-2021 season as well.

This deals with another dramatic blow to adventuring guiding companies from across the globe and delays an entire group of adventurers for at least a year. It also means that we’ll have a dearth of things to talk about from November through January, which is typically the prime season for Antarctic travel.

In a message posted to its website, ALE says that it has made this decision after cautious deliberation. The memo points to a rising number of COVID cases in Chile as a whole, and Punta Arenas, particularly as a reason to call things off.

The city serves as the HQ for the expedition organizer and a launching pad for most South Pole skiers, not to mention climbers heading to Vinson. Operating in an environment where the virus is highly active—and rapidly rising in numbers—makes things extremely uncertain for everyone involved.

It also puts ALE’s clients and staff at risk. That, coupled with likely fewer clients than normal due to current economic and health conditions, helped make the clear decision one, even if it wasn’t easy to make.

Geoff Wilson antarctica
Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson

Various Options to Those that Signed Up

For those who were signed up to go to the Antarctic this year, ALE says that there will be various options as to how to proceed. Those options include full refunds or the opportunity to carry-over any deposits or payments that have already been paid to the 2021-2022 season.

By then, we all hope the world will be getting back to some normalcy, but until a vaccine is available, things will remain uncertain, to say the least. A revised schedule for next year will be released in a few weeks to help prepare and plan for future expeditions, including those extending into 2022.

As mentioned, ALE is responsible for handling the logistics of the vast majority of the private individuals who visit Antarctica annually. But as ExWeb points out, some expedition organizers operate out of Cape Town in South Africa rather than Punta Arenas.

May Continue Next Year?

These guide services may continue operations this year, taking clients to the bottom of the world along an alternate route. That does happen nearly every year, but we don’t hear as much about those expeditions specifically.

It is also possible that we could still see an independent expedition or two making their way to Antarctica. Although these types of undertakings are fairly rare, they do happen from time to time.

For instance, back in 2017, Mike Horn sailed his own ship to the edge of the continent, disembarked and skied solo and unsupported across it. Meanwhile, his crew brought the ship around to the other side, picking him up after he was finished.

There aren’t many individuals or teams who have the resources to pull something like that off, but it could be a possibility.

colin obrady antarctica

Right now, however, unlike in years past, it appears that there will be very few Antarctic explorers to track this year, if any, at all. That includes adventure travel companies taking well-heeled travelers on ‘last-degree” journeys to the South Pole.

Antarctica COVID-19 Free (For Now)

Keep in mind, Antarctica remains the only continent where COVID-19 has yet to appear, and the staff at the research and exploration stations down there would like to keep it that way.

That becomes a much more realistic goal if the tourists are kept from reaching the ice. As you would expect, any new personnel being sent to those stations will have to undergo a quarantine before they arrive.

Show of hands, who is ready for 2020 to be over?