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Extreme Polar Travel: Bucket List Adventures at the Bottom of the Earth

These days, getting to Antarctica is a virtual cake-walk — even your granny is probably fit enough to board a polar cruise. But, truly exploring the interior of the lost continent remains almost as difficult today as it was when Scott and Amundsen set out to “conquer” the South Pole in 1911. Several tour companies specializing in polar travel offer bespoke, once-in-a-lifetime journeys to relive the thrill of their adventures if you’re up to the task. Here are three of our favorites.

Ski to the South Pole (Adventure Consultants)

Ski to the South Pole (Adventure Consultants)
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Every journey on Adventure Consultant’s menu of expeditions targets adventure travelers who feel as though they’ve already “done it all.” The company’s highly specialized itineraries include conquering the Seven Summits, tackling Mount Everest, crossing Greenland, and skiing to the South Pole. The latter — aptly named South Pole – All the Way — is a brutal, 62-day slog that would challenge even the heartiest polar traveler. What it lacks in technical difficulty (previous mountaineering experience is not required), it more than makes up for in sheer distance and environmental challenges. This is literally one of the harshest climates in the world. Travelers start in Punta Arenas, Chile, then hop two flights to the start of the journey. From Hercules Inlet, the 730-mile ski trek to the South Pole begins. There is no support vehicle and no mechanized assistance of any kind — explorers must carry all of their gear and essentials via sledge for the duration. Prices from $72,500 USD.

Kite-Ski Ulvetanna in Queen Maud Land (Icetrek Polar Expeditions)

Kite Ski Ulvetanna in Queen Maud Land (Icetrek Polar Expeditions)
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For the man who has everything, including nearly $50,000 in disposable income, Icetrek Polar Expeditions offers a once-in-a-lifetime kite-skiing expedition to one of the lost continent’s most spectacular mountain ranges. Beginning in Cape Town, South Africa, expeditioners hop a late-night flight to ALCI Airbase in Antarctica. From there, it’s a full 16 days spent on the ice with up to two full weeks of kite-skiing in the rugged Drygalski Mountains toward the 9,600-foot peak of Ulvetanna (“The Wolf’s Tooth”) in Queen Maud Land. The continent’s dramatic landscape — including intense wind, snow, and a harsh, rocky terrain — provide the perfect backdrop for kite-skiing that’s unlike anywhere else on earth. Per-person rate: €39,950 (approximately $47,000 USD).

“Road Trip” to the South Pole (Explorations Company)

“Road Trip” to the South Pole (Explorations Company)
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If all this leg-powered hiking and skiing and kiting seems like too much, well, work, Explorations Company offers something completely different. This November, the company will launch a driving expedition across Antarctica — literally, a “road trip” to the South Pole. After flying in on a rather imposing Russian Ilyushin-76 jet, expeditioners pack into 6×6 Toyota Hiluxes. The fleet of 19 purpose-built trucks is fitted with a specialized, freeze-proof fuel and a wealth of high-tech, cold weather kit thanks to Arctic Trucks (a company which outfitted Prince Harry with the means to reach the South Pole on his 2013 charity trip). The 1,150-mile journey takes ten days, although the unpredictable weather is the deciding factor. This is about as close to luxury camping as one can get given Antarctica’s landscape and climate. A chef prepares meat and carb-heavy meals each day, hot water bottles are available to help warm up sleeping bags, and the mobile camp is well-insulated against the cold. Still, the company insists this is an expedition and a difficult one at that. Per-person rate: $165,000 USD. (But, if you have to ask …)

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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