Goodbye to Patriot Hills - Welcome to Union Glacier

Published on 18.11.2010 - General Info

The adventure in the Antarctic is continuing in all its splendour… This is the message that has just been communicated by the ALE operator and his ANI TO announcing the installation of a new base camp at the same time as the opening of a new landing strip on the blue ice.

Not an ideal location...

Why this development ? Quite simply because the Patriot Hills camp’s very location, planted right beside several high mountains, often caused gusts of strong winds that were as uncontrollable as they were unforeseeable. As long as the quota of tourists did not exceed a certain number, the persons in charge could manage the situation without any problem and get all and sundry to accept the delays due to the ever-capricious weather in that particular area of the Antarctic.

But the 6th Continent has not escaped the increasingly frenetic development of global tourism, even though in this part of the world it is only fairly well-heeled travellers who can allow themselves such experiences. On the one hand, the simple travellers curious to come to discover this open-sky laboratory are therefore increasingly numerous - because of the fact that people’s attention is more drawn by the media than in the past to the fragility of these pristine regions. On the other, one also notes an upsurge of sportsmen of every hue who feel strong enough (or who consequently train themselves) to pit themselves against a mini crossing of the Continent – from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, in actual fact, that is to say nearly 800 kilometres. Lastly, this passion for the great adventure has led to a build-up of the number of tourists who have made a success of this itinerary, which, it has to be said, has become “the” South Pole classic. One learns, one gets information, one puts ones toe in the water and one day, inevitably, one says “why not me”?

A few figures for a better understanding: during the 2005-2006 season, there were in all 29,823 tourists who had visited by sea or by air, or even by land, the latter having chosen to make a trek on the continent in itself. Last season (2009-2010), the number of polar visitors had climbed to 36,875, that is to say an increase of more than 30% in four years! (Source IAATO, International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators)

Patriot Hills is now 'the former' base camp og ALE/ANI

Patriot Hills is now 'the former' base camp og ALE/ANI

© Alain Hubert / IPF

In 2006, the new site was found

Adventure Network International (ANI), the pioneer in terms of client expeditions on the 6th Continent jointly with the operator Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), reached agreement on the establishment of new Patriot Hills and on the simultaneous opening of a new “Blue Ice Runway”. They has been searching for several years and in 2006, they found a place that seems suitable for the installation of a duly modern base camp and for the levelling of a field of blue ice for the landing of the large Russian Ilyushin transport aircraft that unload their ever-growing cargoes of tourists coming from Punta del Este.

Here is their story as published in their latest press communiqué :"More than 20 years ago Adventure Network International (ANI) made history by establishing a blue-ice runway at Patriot Hills and flying tourists into the interior of Antarctica. ALE purchased ANI in 2003 and continued to develop and improve operations in that same pioneering spirit. ALE has now completed a four year process to assess and certify a new runway that will improve flight reliability and open up new frontiers for exploration.

Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway (SCGC) has been inspected and is a fully certified runway that can take intercontinental jets from South America. Proving flights were successfully undertaken by ALE's Ilyushin in December 2009 and January 2010. ALE's first passenger flight from Punta Arenas, Chile to SCGC will take place mid-November 2010 at the start of our 2010 Antarctic season.

After much research, ALE identified Union Glacier as a potential landing site in 2006. Two seasons of weather data was gathered and detailed surveys carried out on the blue-ice runway to determine its suitability for landing heavy aircraft, before certification by the Chilean Civil Aviation Authorities in November 2008.

ALE's new, into-wind runway will allow us to offer a more predictable flight schedule; less likelihood of delays to our programs; and enhanced logistic support in Antarctica. Henceforth, intercontinental flights will operate into SCGC. Patriot Hills will remain as our secondary runway in Antarctica."

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