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Driving to the South Pole is coolest road trip you've never heard of

  • Nikki Ekstein

    Bloomberg

| Fri, March 24, 2017 | 05:17 pm
Driving to the South Pole is coolest road trip you've never heard of  A road trip where everyone constantly wants to pull over—for all the right reasons. (The Explorations Company via Bloomberg/File)

Looking for the next great undiscovered drive? What about driving so far south, you actually hit the South Pole?

Come November, you can make it happen on a roughly two-week-long road trip across Antarctica with Explorations Company.

Sound intrepid? That’s just the start. Travelers will have a chance to hike Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt. Vinson (it clocks in at 10,000 feet); cross-country ski across the tundra; and locate the point on the Earth where all 24 time zones meet and time loses all conventional meaning. And if all the stars align, you can even try to break the world record for the fastest Antarctic crossing.

It’s all part of two exclusive trips that accommodate no more than six travelers a piece—at a price tag of $165,000 per person.

“These sorts of things just don’t get done, and that’s what makes it so special,” said Nicola Shepherd, owner and director of Explorations Company, whose forte is in linking travelers with world-class conservationists in the world’s wildest corners, such as Botswana and India. Here in Antarctica, it's climate researchers whom she's connected with—and who originated these frozen voyages.

The logistics

Weather is just the first of many challenges. (The temperatures can easily hover around minus 50 degrees.) Since passengers need at least 10 days to complete the driving circuit to the South Pole and back, it's unappealing to take a slow ship to get to Antarctica itself.

Instead, guests fly in on a Russian Ilyushin-76 jet. It looks “a bit like the grim reaper” on the outside, joked Shepherd, but it’s by far the most comfortable way to cross the Strait of Magellan. By the time the aircraft lands on Antarctica’s iced-over runway, a fleet of specialized 6x6 trucks await to begin the real journey.

The polar-adapted vehicles—a fleet of 19 retrofitted Toyota Hiluxes powered by a specially formulated, freeze-proof fuel—are the purview of Arctic Trucks, a company that has facilitated trips for Top Gear and British royalty. (Prince Harry used them on his 2013 South Pole charity trip for Walking With the Wounded.)

The route follows the footsteps of 1950s explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs from the Ronne ice shelf to the Ross ice shelf. Only 23 people have ever completed the 1,150-mile-long crossing, and more than half of them were on Fuchs’s team.

(Read also: Survey says Porto is best European destination, again)

The creature comforts

Arctic trucks arriving at a camp site.(The Explorations Company via Bloomberg/File)

To make things a little easier, Arctic Trucks provides specialized outerwear to keep travelers as appropriately dressed as possible. The crew includes a chef, who flies in enough ingredients to make meat-and-carb-heavy meals that power the day’s adventures. Champagne toasts are literally built into the itinerary. And although they don’t have running water, the mobile camps are well insulated and have private bathrooms with dry flush toilets—staffers will even put hot water bottles under your pillows to keep things nice and toasty.

But this isn’t a luxury hotel experience; this is the drive of your life. And while it’s expected to take 10 days from start to finish, you can never really know.

“Wind is the most detrimental factor,” said Shepherd. “Visibility can be zero on certain days. You can get snowed in. You’d have to stay in camp those days, play cards, and wait for the first clearing.”

Who's going

“As much as this is sold as a tourist trip, it’s not a jolly old holiday—it’s an expedition,” explained Shepherd, who spoke to Bloomberg by phone from her headquarters in Gloucestershire, U.K. For each traveler in the convoy, there are about four staffers: medics, researchers, and local experts who are adept at navigating the all-white landscape. 

Travelers need to pass physical fitness evaluations to make sure they can handle the extreme conditions.

“People lose a lot of weight on these trips, just because your body is working so much harder to keep warm,” Shepherd explained, adding that none of the excursions would be considered physically demanding in any other climate.

So who’s the target audience? British fund managers and Swiss bankers have been the ones to book thus far.

“It’s not necessarily for extreme adventurers who have already climbed Kilimanjaro,” said Shepherd. “It’s more for people who have a fascination for Antarctica but don’t want to go on a great big ship with hundreds of people. Or for those who want to do something different to stretch themselves and understand their own great potential.”

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