Owned and managed by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), Union Glacier Camp is located in the southern Ellsworth Mountains, on the broad expanse of Union Glacier. 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.
The camp is 1,870 miles (3010 km) from the southern tip of Chile and a stone’s throw from Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. The camp's neighbours are at the South Pole, just over 600 miles (1000km) away. The geographic location is 79°46'S 82°52'W and the elevation 2, 297ft (700m) above sea level.
The Antarctic climate is generally cold, dry, and windy. Even though it is summer, the temperatures remain below freezing at all times. Camp is typically less windy than other areas, such as the blue-ice runway, and temperatures range between -12° to 30°F (-24° to -1°C). Please keep in mind conditions can change rapidly and wind chill can make temperatures feel colder. You must bring everything on our required clothing & equipment lists so you are prepared for all conditions.
Union Glacier Camp is only accessible by air and your journey begins with a 4 ¼ hour flight from Punta Arenas, Chile. A 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.
Union Glacier is the only facility of its kind in Antarctica. The full-service camp operates during the Antarctic summer (November through January). ALE also maintain and operate the ice runway, a separate skiway and an efficient logistics hub to provide support to private expeditions and National Antarctic Programs.
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. A 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.
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 ALE. The tents are naturally heated by the 24-hour sunlight and interior temperatures sit around 60°-70°F (15°-21°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 chefs. Self-serve snacks and beverages are available anytime. Fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meats and a variety of beers and Chilean wines from Punta Arenas, Chile are regularly flown in. 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. Take a fat bike for a ride. 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 our heated multipurpose tent. Sketch or paint. Meet other explorers and adventurers from around the world. Or relax with a book from the library. Whatever you choose to do, take time to experience the immense space and solitude that is Antarctica.
Union Glacier 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. The camp stocks a selection of medications 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. The camp uses satellite phone, VHF and HF radio to maintain regular contact with the Punta Arenas office, 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 at Union Glacier or Vinson Base Camps. A meteorologist uses local observations, information from the local automatic weather stations and satellite imagery to provide wind and weather information to flight crews, climbers and expeditions.
The electrical systems are solar-powered to minimize our environmental impact. The camp is able to offer limited solar/charging facilities to 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. They also own 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.
Three 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.