Space travel and Antarctica may not be immediately synonymous but that could change in November when the new Echo camp from exploration company White Desert opens on the White Continent. Designed to resemble space modules and composed of composite fiberglass with floor to ceiling windows revealing the rugged landscape, the six heated pods have plush interiors, en suite bathrooms and curved white interior walls that do look like they could be part of the International Space Station. They also feature photos by someone who knows what that looks like: Colonel Terry Virts, former International Space Station Commander, who visited Antarctica with the company and was clearly impressed by the terrain. “The mountains are the most beautiful I have seen across Earth, Venus and Mars,” he says.
Located inland of the continent’s north coast, three miles from Wolf’s Fang, the company’s camp that opened last November on a glacier in Queen Maud Land, the new camp is within walking distance of the blue ice runway that brings in guests of all the camps, including the original Whichaway, from Cape Town. (The specially treated 8200 foot runway is exclusively for private jets, either the company’s Gulfstream or ones belonging to guests.) To celebrate their arrival after the five hour flight, guests are treated to a welcome cocktail with 10,000 year old ice in Echo camp’s central lounge; the camp also has a dining area for haute meals surprising in such a remote location including roast lamb shank, shakshuka, tagliatelle served in a Parmigiano wheel and cheesecake with passionfruit coulis composed of ingredients brought in on the flight.
Guests can be as relaxed or active as they want while in the camp: activity options include fat biking or cross country skiing over a specially groomed six mile track; climbs to a nunatak, a mountain summit penetrating an ice cap; 4X4 Arctic truck driving and abseiling down frozen cliffs under the guidance of certified mountain guides. Trips away from the camp can also be added including a 2.5 hour flight to Atka Bay to observe the 28,000 strong Emperor Penguin colony, the stars of the moving documentary “March of the Penguins.” Even more ambitious is an add-on following the trip to the penguin colony to the South Pole, a seven hour flight including a stop on a polar plateau to refuel and a chance to walk around the vast wilderness before winding up at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the lowest point on earth.
With sustainability an issue that only increased in importance during the global pandemic, it’s worth noting that Echo, like White Desert’s other two camps, was designed to be dismantled and removed without leaving any traces behind on the landscape. $1000 per person per trip will also be directed to conservation, community and sustainability initiatives. The price for a five day trip is $65,000 per person or $780,000 for a total 12 person buyout. And the evidence of a focus on bucket list trips and Antarctica in particular among travelers this year: while there are open spaces and a few dates for a total buyout available during the November 20-February 1 operating season, some dates are already sold out.