Magazine Jul-Aug 2018


Lessons from


Goaded by a mighty tailwind, the massive Ilyushin IL-76 TD aircraft hurtles southwards at a velocity approaching 800 km/h. The Drake Passage below sparkles to a far horizon as we make our way westward from Punta Arenas in Chile to the Antarctic Peninsula, and finally to Union Glacier – a private base in the Heritage Range below the Ellsworth Mountains. After four and a half hours in the air, we prepare to land on the Blue Ice Runway, a rare and naturally occurring ice strip as hard as concrete and solid enough to support the weight of this monstrous Soviet military aircraft. This kind of ice is so dense that it absorbs long-wavelength light, which is why it appears mesmerizingly blue.

It’s -15°C as we disembark and take our first steps on Antarctica. The vast ocean of white unfolding before my eyes is simply magnificent. The sun blazes in the polar sky while the fierce wind literally makes me moonwalk on the frozen runway as I try to move towards the four-wheel drive waiting to take us to the main camp. Accessible only during its warmest months from November to March, Antarctica has no metropolis or village to speak of, no habitat – except perhaps the odd expedition shed or research station. It’s all just massive, desolate, glacial emptiness and bone-chilling temperatures that can range anywhere from -10°C to -80°C during the colder months.

Our all-female team arrives at Union Glacier Camp and gets assigned to “clam” tents. Most of us are based in equatorial Singapore, and it has taken us close to 48 hours to get here. No wonder settling in feels good, and the tents are surprisingly comfortable to live in. We spend the first few days at Union Glacier brushing up on our climbing skills and getting acclimatized to the Antarctic conditions. The team practices rope work, crevasse rescue, navigation, weather observations, and polar camping skills. During this period, we also discuss our objectives with our guides, two incredibly qualified female climbers with extensive polar mountaineering experience.



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