Mar 04 2022. views 2877
Sri Lankan born Dinuka Karunaratne successfully conquered the challenging Geographical South Pole in Antarctica. The elusive White Continent has been the fascination of many explorers since it was discovered in 1820 but it’s not without its many hardships. As the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth, Antarctica is devastatingly beautiful and enchanting but equally dangerous for the unprepared.
For travel enthusiast Dinuka who has visited 36 countries and now travelled to all seven continents, Antarctica has always been on his bucket list. Navigating travelling in the midst of a pandemic, Dinuka talks to us about exploring the Antarctic – a place like no other on earth.
Q What drew you to the South Pole?
The Geographic South Pole is the point where the Earth’s rotational axis and earth’s surface intersects in the Southern hemisphere. From the Geographic South Pole, all directions are north. Why would you not want to visit such a unique point like that on planet Earth?
Q You decided you’ll make the trip in August 2021 and had just 6 months to prepare. How did you organise your visit?
Typically, you must sign up with a tour company at least two years in advance to go to the Geographic South Pole, Antarctica. Due to the ongoing unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic, tour companies had suspended their tours in the past 2 years, and they were just starting again. I wanted to take advantage of this. Like anyone else, my research on “how to get to the geographic south pole” also started on Google. I wanted to do four main things on the continent. Firstly, visit the Geographic South Pole, secondly, stand on the ground in Antarctica, thirdly to visit and walk on a glacier and finally to cross country ski across the white desert in Antarctica.
Fortunately, through a mutual friend, I was told about an organisation called “International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators”. (www.iaato.org). This organisation is a collocation of tour companies that helps safe travel to Antarctica. In this organisation, I found a land-based operator called “Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions – (ALE)” that takes adventure travels to the Geographic South Pole. By reaching out to ALE, I was able to sign up for a tour with them in early January.
Q There must be some training and acclimatisation you had to undergo before visiting Antarctica?
Yes of course. To visit a remote place like Antarctica you must be mentally and physically healthy. I had to undergo a medical health screening process. Once I passed that, I was able to sign up for the tour. Training for extreme cold weather and high altitude is not an easy task but this was also not my first time as I had previous experience being at 5000+ metres altitude and cold climate. For my trip to Antarctica, I focused and trained on improving my cardio and strength endurance.
Q When you finally reached Antarctica, how did your tour unfold?
A traveller can get to Antarctica from Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Argentina, or South Africa. I reached Antarctica from Punta Arenas, Chile. In the summer months of Antarctica, it has 24 hours of sunlight. Since you don’t have day and night, I kind of lost the sense of time and day. I stayed in Antarctica for 5 days and I’m happy to say I got to complete my Antarctica bucket list! During my stay, I got to go to the Geographic South Pole, I did the Elephant Head hike so I could stand on land in the continent, I did cross-country skiing in the white desert and finally, I explored the Union Glacier and Drake Icefall.
Q What were some of the challenges of the visit?
Travelling during the peak of a pandemic is not an easy task. Especially, when you have to hop three continents to get to your final destination where there are almost no health resources. There was a lot of unexpected quarantining and COVID testing! Other than planning and preparing for the obvious extreme cold climate, I went with an open mind to adapt to the surrounding environment as needed. Especially when you are going to a place with no life inhabitants it really helps to have an open mind.
Q What was the highlight of conquering Antarctica?
Obviously, standing at the Geographic South Pole. I was also excited to see a fossil during the hike to the Elephant Head. It was an unexpected and rare opportunity that proves Antarctica was once part of a supercontinent that had lived on it.
Q You travelled with a tour group – do you think that makes the experience better or would you recommend solo travelling?
I don’t think what you do or see in Antarctica will make a difference if you do it solo or in a group. But travelling with a group is much safer. While solo travelling is possible, you need to have a very special survival skill to survive in Antarctica by yourself.
Q What was your final impression of Antarctica when the visit ended?
A place that anyone can visit freely. It is not owned or governed by anyone or a country. Truly a land of the free that we must preserve for future generations.
Q Would you return?
Yes actually. I hope to return to climb Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica.
Q You travel frequently, you’ve actually visited all seven continents already. Are you travelling with any particular goal in sight?
Not particularly. I think I want to explore planet Earth as much as I can.
Q From your travels, what’s a travel destination you’d recommend?
Apart from the obvious, I think the continent of Africa is very understated in the travel itineraries usually but Africa is such a fascinating continent! It has some of the most beautiful landscapes and wildlife I’ve ever seen and some of the most amazing people.