Explorers Connect

How To... Go To the South Pole

How-toJames Hipkiss

There are a few different ways for independent travelers to reach the South Pole and all of them are expensive. The first step is to decide on the right expedition for you - this will mainly be determined by time, finance and physical ability, plus of course whether you are motivated to ski for hundreds of miles or prefer the more sedate approach.

There are no dogs allowed on Antarctica, so if dog-sledding is your passion, you need to look elsewhere. For the interests of this article I have detailed the 4 most popular ways of reaching the South Pole. Expeditions have found other imaginative ways to reach the South Pole including skidoos, vehicles, tractors and in older times, dogs. They have also struck out from other points on this amazing continent. Because the winds in Antarctica are katabatic, and begin at the South Pole, kites are not great for getting to the Pole but can be used to great effect coming back. The Antarctic season for personal South Pole travelers runs from end November to end December. Fly to the South Pole - Flights can be arranged to visit the South Pole.

The plane generally stays around 3 hours and time is given to take photos at the Pole - there is a real pole which moves each year as the icecap shifts and a celebration pole which doesnt move and displays each nations flag. As you can imagine operating in such a remote and inhospitable environment, flights are often delayed for weather, which can happen at any stage in the journey, so be prepared to wait. Ski last degree - Last degree expeditions are for people who want to experience life on an expedition but dont necessarily want to sledge haul the whole way. The most common approach is through an adventure travel operator or an independent guide. Participants are expected to haul their own sledge for the last 60 miles to the pole and will normally have a qualified guide with them at all times. A plane will drop the team at the last degree and then pick them up for the return journey.

Time spent at the Pole will depend on weather and logistics and can vary from hours to days. Teams are expected to sleep in their own tents and are not usually invited into the Amundsen/Scott base, which is situated at the Pole. Ski last 2 degrees - This type of expedition will appeal to those wanting a more demanding experience and a longer period on the ice. The expedition will cover the last 120 miles to the South Pole and will operate on a similar basis to last degree expeditions. All the way to the Pole - Most expeditions that ski from the edge of Antarctica leave from Hercules Inlet or close by This is the easiest logistically, although of course expeditions do leave from different parts of the coastline but this takes more planning and ultimately more expense.All the way expeditions can be supported or unsupported.

A supported expedition will have a resupply enroute and an unsupported expedition takes everything they require for the whole expedition and has no physical assistance from the outside world until the journey is complete. COSTS All costs are approximate for 2012 and change each year South Pole flights 26,000 Last degree 34,000 Last 2 degrees 37,000 All the way from Hercules Inlet 41,000 LOGISTICS There are various ways to get to Antarctica, but most commonly, commercial flights are taken to Punta Arenas, Chile and from there private charters fly into Antarctica. Again, be prepared for delays, they are the norm rather than the exception. Aircraft land on a spectacular blue ice runway at Union Glacier (7945S 8314W) close to a seasonal camp. From here, teams are taken by Twin Otter plane to either the South Pole or their start point and the excitement begins. TRAINING/NUTRITION Different levels of strength and fitness are required for different types of expedition. A flight to the pole is no where near as arduous as a full South Pole expedition but it is still wise to prepare physically for all expeditions.

The conditions in Antarctica can be beautiful one minute and fierce the next and even if you are flying to the Pole you will need to walk across the uneven surface to reach the actual Pole itself and get around the camp at Union Glacier. The last degree or last two degree expeditions are arduous and it would be wise to begin training early. You will be hauling a relatively heavy sledge, across a very rough snow surface in extreme temperatures and it will require a high degree of fitness. The journey to the pole is a haul rather than a quick race so you need to think about strength and endurance, rather than fast and lean. Most of the work is done by your legs but you need to have balance so don't neglect your upper body. A typical training regime would be hauling tyres around rough surfaces, which does work on the muscles you will be using, strength work with weights, core body work, supplemented with circuit type training, running and swimming to help all round fitness. Nutrition is super important. For last degree expeditions to the pole you shouldn't need to gain extra fat reserves but you will be exercising hard for long periods of time and a healthy strong body is what will get you to the pole so eat healthily and get fit.

An all the way expedition to the South Pole is a huge undertaking and shouldn't be underestimated. You will need to be rigorous in your training regime as you will want to push yourself beyond your physical boundaries for long periods of time and deal with shockingly low temperatures. If your body is prepared, your mind will find it easier to concentrate and deal with the difficulties you will certainly endure during the expedition. Because more people are doing it, does not mean it is easy and a full Antarctic expedition deserves respect at all levels. I would still recommend a mixed training regime as with the last degree expeditions but it needs to be for longer periods and to a higher level. If you can, employ a personal trainer to help you with your training. Ask for professional advice and remember the best training plan in the world doesn't work unless you actually do it. Personally, I would also recommend you arrive in Antarctica with some extra fat reserves built in.

Carrying a bit of extra weight helps with energy reserves and is great for insulation in the earlier days. Thin and lean is not how I would want to start a 700 mile journey across Antarctica. CLOTHING/KIT Choice of clothing is very personal but some overriding principles are key to survival in Antarctica. It is the highest and windiest continent on earth and protection is everything. The wind will whip through any gaps in head gear and easily freeze skin, so its really important to keep covered and check your head protection regularly. Goggles are essential as the sun is strong on the continent and the wind will be constantly blowing in your face so a full head cover is needed. Take a good selection of hats, thin and thick balaclavas, face masks and neck gators and find out what works for you. What you will want to wear at the beginning of an expedition, you may want to change as the expedition progresses and it will change from person to person. I personally don't like the neoprene face masks but other team mates have loved them. It will also feel very different wearing close fitting head gear in Antarctica than it will in the warmth and comfort of your home or shop.

If something is going to stop you getting a frostbitten nose, even the most uncomfortable face mask can become your very best friend in the extreme cold. Hands and feet are susceptible to the cold and will be the first things to suffer. I never go on any polar trip short or long without wristlets, which I never take off during the whole expedition. A typical hand system would be thin liner gloves, a thicker one layer glove and one or two fleece lined mittens, with a wind gauntlet for the more difficult days. Again don't be afraid to trial and change your glove system throughout the journey. I often do away with the liner gloves as soon as possible and sometimes less is more. Listen to your body and take the time to find out what is right for you. Some people also use hand warmers to help in the colder parts of the expedition but remember you have to carry everything in and out of Antarctica so choose what you take carefully. Feet need the same care. Boots and bindings are subjective and the pros and cons of each are exhaustive.

Time spent researching the latest options that will suit you best is time well spent. Whatever your final choice of boots, they will have some kind of boot liner. As well as this you will need a liner sock, a thicker mid sock and an even thicker outer one. Many expeditions choose to wear a vapour barrier liner over the first liner sock to stop sweat entering the boots and some dry them in the tent at night. For the body, a thick and thin thermal layer is required, plus a good light fleece type of top and bottom as mid wear and a thicker fleece and wind protection as outer wear. As with all clothing these layers can be changed and adapted during the expedition. Some people need fewer layers than others and some people sweat more than others. It is imperative that the outer garment has a big protective hood to guard the head against strong winds. A good down jacket that is long enough to cover the lower back and bottom is a must have item of clothing. For performance the down jacket must be kept dry and should not be worn while skiing or taken into the tent where moisture is present. WHAT TO EXPECT The interior of Antarctica is a cold, barren but beautiful place. It is the driest continent on earth and technically a desert.

If you are flying to the Pole you will see the extent of Antarctica as you have a bird's eye view of the huge crevasse fields and mountains before reaching the Pole and the Amundsen/Scott base, where history was made so many years ago. When you get to the Pole you should close your eyes and feel a time gone by, when two teams battled for the ultimate goal, the ultimate prize. You are now standing on that place they strived and suffered and lost lives to get to. Take time to think of them. If it werent for the great explorers before us we would not be having the fantastic experiences that we are now having. Remember you are standing the very bottom of the planet, where the Earth revolves on its axis and time has no meaning. Where all directions are North and there is no East or West For the last degree expeditions, you will experience the harsh realities of expedition life as you haul your sledge South.

There should be no crevasse fields so close to the pole but you will cross areas of large sastrugi and difficult snow and ice. You may experience a phenomenon known as Firnstoffs, where the extra weight destroys a delicate layer of hoar frost under the snows surface and a large area of snow may suddenly drop slightly, with a large boom. This can be frightening the first time it happens but is perfectly safe. An expedition day is split into times of ski-ing, eating, tent life and sleeping. The days are long and hard but this is what makes an expedition memorable and the prize so worthwhile. Take time to really see Antarctica, the huge sky, the snow sculptures, the sun dogs and the magnificence of this wonderful place on earth. An all the way expedition needs planning and is rarely a straight line south. The main dangers are the extreme cold, exhaustion, injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, tent-fire and crevasses. Take time to study the route beforehand and ask for advice. Find out where the known crevasse fields are.

Crevasse fields should be avoided where possible for obvious reasons. I originally took advice from Charles Swithenbank, an eminent glaciologist and studied many maps of Antarctica before deciding on a route that took a dog leg to the Thiel mountains and then South to the South pole, to avoid the larger crevasse fields. The days are long and hard and the expedition should always look at how to do things quicker, smarter and easier. Less time in the tent means more time ski-ing southwards. In the first few days you will almost certainly encounter difficult terrain, with some uphill work on wind scoured ice, plus small crevasses. The terrain does ease out but then becomes difficult again with large sastrugi and uneven snow surfaces to deal with. The whole journey is steadily uphill.

An expedition to the South Pole is as much about the mental attitude as the physical and requires a strong mind and body. There will be many difficult days but its important to remember you have chosen this journey, many would love to be in your ski boots and its the difficulties and challenges that make a polar expedition great and memorable. The rewards are huge. Have fun and take care of each other.

You are all in it together and everyone has something to offer the team.

Written by Ann Daniels, member of the first all womens team to walk/ski to the South and North Geographic Poles. www.anndaniels.com @anndaniels The content of the website is for information only and the views expressed do not reflect those of Explorers Connect. These 'How To...' guides are for information only and do not replace rigorous preparation for any expedition. "