This unique Antarctic campsite is located in the remote, southern Ellsworth Mountains, on the broad expanse of Union Glacier. This is the only facility of its kind in Antarctica. The full-service camp operates during the Antarctic summer (November through January). The camp maintains and operates an ice runway, a separate skiway and an efficient logistics hub to provide support to private expeditions and National Antarctic Programs.
The setting is spectacular. The accommodation spacious and comfortable. The meals fresh and delicious. The service and support unparalleled. Majestic peaks rise in all directions offering plenty of opportunities for scenic excursions, technical climbs and ski tours. At camp there is little wind, providing a comfortable environment to relax and take it all in.
Union Glacier Camp is only accessible by air and your journey begins with a 4 ¼ hour flight from Punta Arenas, Chile. The wheeled aircraft lands on a naturally-occurring ice runway on the Union Glacier, where you take your first steps in Antarctica. Climb aboard one of the specially adapted vans for the 5 mile (8km) ride to camp, where a warm welcome awaits you.
Much goes on behind the scenes to ensure your safety and comfort on the ice. Communications experts keep regular contact with the outside world. Heavy equipment mechanics maintain and operate a fleet of transport and runway maintenance equipment. The camp meteorologist provides weather information to flight crews. Experienced pilots fly you to onward destinations. And general support staff do the thousand-and-one tasks that keep camp in tip-top shape.
The double-walled sleeping tents are roomy and comfortable. They are well suited to Antarctic conditions and are based on a design used by Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Each tent houses two guests. You sleep in your polar sleeping bag with a double mattress, pillow and linen provided by the camp. The tents are naturally heated by the 24-hour sunlight and interior temperatures range from 25°F – 68°F (4°C - 20°C).
The dining tent is the heart of the camp. It has a full kitchen and dining area and serves as a gathering place for meals, activities and conversation. You will enjoy hearty, fresh-cooked meals, baked goods and tantalizing desserts prepared by the camp chefs. Self-serve snacks and beverages are available anytime. There is a regular supply flown in of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meats and a variety of beers and Chilean wines from Punta Arenas, Chile. Wine and beer are served with dinner.
At each turn a new experience awaits. Take in wide open vistas from the top of Charles Peak. Explore ice pools in the Elephant Head Valley. Ramble along multi-colored Spectrum Ridge. Cross country ski over frozen fields of sastrugi. Photograph wind sculpted clouds, unusual snow features and a thousand shades of white. Navigate using GPS. Carve snow sculptures. Or simply relax and take it all in. For the more adventurous, try ice climbing on the massive windscoop surrounding Charles Peak, scramble up the serpentine Ridge of Mount Rossman or camp out on the polar plateau.
Poor weather days provide opportunities for talks and skills sessions on diverse Antarctic themes. You can escape with a puzzle, game or DVD in the heated multipurpose tent. Sketch or paint. Meet other explorers and adventurers from around the world. Or relax with a book from our library. Whatever you choose to do, take time to experience the immense space and solitude that is Antarctica.
Union Glacier camp has a small clinic staffed by a doctor and medic. They are available to treat minor injuries and illness or in case of a medical emergency. A selection of medications is stocked and fundamental equipment for the care and stabilization of patients.
Good communication and weather information are crucial for safe operations. Not surprising then that the Comms facility is the center of “on ice” operations. Satellite phone, VHF and HF radio are used to maintain regular contact with Punta Arenas, field parties, aircraft and other bases. You can make outgoing Iridium phone calls from Union Glacier and Vinson Base Camps. Pre-paid phone cards may be purchased. The meteorologist uses local observations, information from our automatic weather stations and satellite imagery to provide wind and weather information to flight crews, climbers and expeditions.
Systems are solar-powered to minimize environmental impact. There are limited solar/charging facilities to camp guests. You will need a 12V DC-DC charger capable of plugging in to a “female” cigarette lighter socket, or a 110V charger with North American plug, to use the system.
Specially adapted 4x4 passenger vans are used for excursions around Union Glacier and to shuttle guests to and from the runway. There is a fleet of specialized vehicles for snow clearing, runway maintenance and ground transportation in Antarctica. These include an industrial snow-blower, several tractors, snowcat, skiway groomer and a number of snowmobiles and sleds. A team of mechanics operate and maintain these machines.
Two twin-engine, ski aircraft transport passengers, cargo and fuel beyond Union Glacier Camp. The ski aircraft park to one side of camp and use a separate skiway.
Inside the tent
Relaxing in the communal tent