Punta Arenas to Union Glacier


The alarm went off at 0430 and I frantically started throwing my clothes on, I wasn’t due to be picked up until 0520 but an irrational fear of being late for anything had me storming around the room (apologies to the couple below). I briefly considered not showering, going for the logic that I’m not going to get one for over 6 weeks so what difference does a day make, I decided instead to savour the luxury of running warm water and have one last cleanse. ALE picked me up and it was onwards to pick up all the other passengers from various hotels around Punta Arenas, it’s an incredibly busy season in Antarctica with the Iluyshin jet being maxed out at almost 60 passengers, all on their own various adventures, from skiing unknown antarctic peaks to visiting the penguin colonies. There is obviously no terminal by the blue ice runway of Union Glacier so we had to leave Chile in full polar gear, a rather ridiculous sight when going through the civilian terminal at Punta Arenas Airport.

When the metal detector went off as I walked through I was gutted at the thought of having to tear off my multiple layers and endless metal zippers, thankfully it turns out any kind of attack on penguin colonies are very rare this time of year, and I was waved through without the need for any intravenous searches.

The flight out to Union Glacier on the Iluyshin is as bizarre as it is epic. You’re being flown by a (rumoured to be) ex Soviet test pilot, and the crew are all the most intensely nails looking Russians you can imagine. Rather than much of a safety brief they just hand you ear plugs to help with the deafening roar of the enormous engines required to get the massive aircraft off the ground. The nails Russians then get all the more confusing as they proceed to put on Pretty Woman on the screen which is welded to the front wall of the fuselage. Who knew Richard Gere was so big in Moscow.

After 5 hours we touched down on the blue ice of Union Glacier, the doors open and ice cold wind filled the plane. Due to the difficulty of landing on blue ice the conditions have to be very excellent so I was expecting blue skies as I emerged. Instead it was very very limited visibility and surprisingly windy. Considering the Glacier is surrounded by mountains I have absolutely no idea how the pilot managed to land!

It was then on to Union Glacier Camp 8km away, the Camp is protected from the worst weather by surrounding mountains and I couldn’t believe how warm it was compared to the runway. It felt like a winters morning in Sussex. The sky cleared around the Camp and I finally got to see Antarctica in all its glory and feel extremely privileged to be here, it is like nothing I have ever seen before, the scale of everything and pristine untouched landscape is beyond words.

I’m hoping to fly out on the twin otters to my start point at Hercules Inlet tomorrow night as long as the weather holds.