Antarctica’s extreme conditions make it one of the world’s final frontiers. Explorers have been conquering sections of the icy continent for a century, but one company makes it their mission to find the gnarliest adventures possible. White Desert charters bespoke expeditions for everyone from Buzz Aldrin to Jordanian and Israeli Royals, creating death-defying itineraries that make even the bravest think twice.
Robyn Woodhead, director of White Desert, gave us a look inside some of their most extreme adventures. One thing became immediately clear: Antarctica isn’t for everyone. According to Woodhead, the first thing to get straight is, “you really are in the most remote place on earth and at the mercy of the weather.” With temperatures ranging from 17 degrees to -36 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re in for unpredictable and uncomfortable elements. Woodhead continued, “most of our clients like to control every facet of their lives. Here they can’t.”
While White Desert has many praiseworthy feats under their belt — like being the first team to cross Antarctica from east to west and chartering Ram Barkai’s record-making one kilometer swim — they also create more attainable itineraries closer to their Whichaway basecamp near Schirmacher Oasis. Think exploring newly-discovered ice tunnels and slacklining over a frozen lake.
Here are four of White Desert’s most captivating adventures. Don’t worry — they provide the down outerwear.
In 2016, the White Desert crew discovered a series of ice tunnels near Whichaway basecamp and have been taking adventurers through them ever since. Woodhead described the tunnels as “the size of houses.” And according to her, they’re “formed as pressure ridges on the sea ice. Melt water causes extraordinary tunnels to be formed in between some of them.” Exploring the 650-foot long tunnels is one of White Desert’s most popular experiences.
To take the insanity further, White Desert often takes clients slacklining in the frozen mountains near Schirmacher Oasis. Woodhead says, “the slacklining is done between two colossal cliff faces that are one thousand feet from Whichaway camp.” And that’s not to mention the line is rigged near an epic icefall and frozen lake. To prepare, White Desert makes their guests begin at ground-level before advancing to the extreme stuff.
White Desert’s most popular activity is ice climbing, with “clients of all ages and skill,” says Woodhead. The cliffs near basecamp are made from extremely hard, compacted blue ice. The biggest challenge to overcome is the constant 24-hour sunlight during the summer months in which the team operates. “We have to be very careful of the sun melting out the ice screws, so there is a time limit involved each day,” Woodhead expanded. While she notes it’s an incredibly tricky place to learn to climb, the payoff is clearly worth it.
Since the area around Whichaway basecamp is pretty flat, there’s not much to offer downhill skiers. Luckily the White Desert team came up with a solution: kite skiing. Patrick Woodhead, CEO of the company, is an accomplished kite skier (having taken the world record for fastest crossing of Greenland recently), so he naturally incorporated it into their business plan. But Robyn Woodard cautions, “no one really cares about the daring feats you do, apart from yourself. So do them for yourself and your own sense of purpose and achievement, not for the praise of anyone else.”
Next up on White Desert’s agenda? A top-secret (and “cutting edge,” according to Woodhead) expedition they can’t reveal until completed. Check back in February 2017 to see what extreme feat they accomplish next. Our best guess involves the Pope.