Enchanted by Polar Exploration; The path towards Antarctica

To appreciate the sheer scale and endless beauty around us, humans explore the world and their surroundings. The act of searching, for the purpose of discovery or acquisition of knowledge, information and resources, dates back to the beginnings of human history, when the Phoenicians traded through the Mediterranean Sea, and later with the Romans, Greeks and Chinese Empires, defining the territory of the world.

With a vastly different topography from the Arctic, 98% of the Great White Continent is covered in ice by smooth ice-sheet and glaciated mountains with volcanoes. Sculptural white  icebergs, ice floes and deep blue seas flank the barren, rocky coastlines, which are home to moss, lichens, liverworts and even two small flowering plants – the Antarctic pearwart and Antarctic hair grass. Reaching further northward, the sub-Antarctic islands and Falklands have tundra-like landscapes.

The appetite for exploration also has a strong history here in Scandinavia. From about 800 AD to 1040 AD, the Vikings explored Europe and much of the Western Northern Hemisphere via rivers and oceans.
It is known, for example, that the Norwegian Viking explorer, Erik the Red (950–1003), sailed to and settled in Greenland after being expelled from Iceland, while his son, the Icelandic explorer Leif Ericson (980–1020), reached Newfoundland and the nearby North American coast, and is believed to have been the first European to land in North America.

After the Age of Discovery, which focused on geographical exploration and as a result gave us the map of the world as we know it today, the act of exploration focused on scientific discovery and, in later years due to the advances of technology, informative/ scientific expeditions.

But although most of the world had been traversed, examined, conquered and populated, the remoteness and harsh environment of the Polar regions made them unreachable locations for many centuries. Greek philosophers theorized that the planet was a spherical Earth with North and South Polar regions from 600 BC, but it was only until the 1900’s that the poles were finally reached.

Through arduous travels on foot and sled, Frederick Cook (accompanied by two Inuit men, Ahwela and Etukishook), claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908, (although his claim is generally doubted), and Robert Peary, accompanied by Matthew Henson and four Inuit men, (Ootah, Seegloo, Egingway and Ooqueah), claimed to have been the first in recorded history to reach the North Pole in 1909.

Due to their claims, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who had extensively fundraised and obtained the exploration icebound ship Fram, cancelled his plans of reaching the North Pole and instead, in secret, decided to conquer the geographic South Pole, only revealing the destination to his crew once they had left their last port. Another group of explorers left from Britain five weeks later with the same purpose. Called The Terranova Expedition and led by Robert Falcon Scott, their arrival to the South Pole was successful but they did not survive the return journey. When Roald Amundsen successfully returned to base with his team, they found out of the tragic news of what could have also become their destiny.

Another name of great esteem when it comes to discussing Polar exploration is, without a doubt, that of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, a British Merchant Navy officer and incredibly ambitious Antarctic explorer, whose dreams of conquering the South Pole were scratched by Amundsen’s conquest, leading him to set a different goal: Being the first to cross the Antarctica through the Pole from Sea to Sea. The result? A disastrous, 22-month-long, stormy, 720 nautical miles voyage which will always be remembered as one of the most adventurous stories of survival in the Polar regions.

Ever since, Polar exploration has been accomplished through the use of modern technologies, for a while through air exploration and recently through other modern inventions, particularly satellite imagery, as well as expeditions for the purpose of studying hydrographic, geographic, geological, meteorological and electromagnetic propagation conditions in the area.

Other highlights of the history of Antarctic exploration include the creation of the Antarctic Treaty System in 1959, which triggered international scientific collaboration and research in the area. The treaty entered into force in 1961, setting aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and banning military activity on the entire continent.

Here in Albatros Expeditions, we are amazed by the grandeur of Mother Nature’s last great, untamed wilderness. Antarctica's beauty exceeds everything imaginable and its history is what explorers’ dreams are made of. For this reason, we have developed a series of voyages to this region on our small ship Ocean Atlantic, (accommodation for 200 passengers per journey), facilitating access through isolated fjords and icy waters. This strong, elegant vessel will allow you to follow the paths of the great explorers and see with your own eyes the greatness of the incredible continent.

Departures are available in the southern hemisphere’s summer months of November to March. Characterized by stable weather and tolerable temperatures, the austral summer brings life to the otherwise jagged coastlines of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. The season is short and animals are working hard preparing for their young's arrival before ice once again encapsulates the Great White Continent. We invite you to join us in an Antarctica journey and experience an adventure you will always cherish.