Quick: when I say the word “vacation,” what comes to mind? Palm trees? Beaches? Sipping cocktails in your swimsuit?
What about 3,000-foot-deep sub-glacial lakes, bathtub vodka, and a sneak peek into the secret military missions of WWII?
It’s time to re-envision what it means to take a high-adventure vacation, and I want to introduce you to the mysterious, mystifying, and secretive place that is Antarctica. Here is a sub-zero desert that by its very nature preserves everything that is left there, leaving an environment where events that occurred decades ago are literally frozen in time, which offers a unique view into world history, politics, and exploration.
First stop: the Faraday Atmospheric Research Station, built in the 1950s and the first place in the world where men noticed the widening hole in the earth’s Ozone Layer.
The British built their Faraday base at the tip of a large sub-glacial lake named Lake Voskok. This sub-glacial lake is located under two thousand feet of solid ice. This is the largest lake discovered in the last 100 years, and it is roughly the size of Lake Ontario, but it is much deeper — in some places, it is over 3,000 feet deep.
It is also noted for being the coldest place on earth. The temperatures were reported in 1998 at -128.5°F, with unofficial readings as low as -135°F. The lake has been isolated under an ice sheet for the last 13,000 to 14 million years, depending on the scientist’s theory. Because the lake is liquid, scientists know there is a heat source beneath the water. The lake, therefore, has all the ingredients of an incredible scientific find: a completely isolated ecosystem. Today Lake Voskok still makes the news.
By the 1960s, the station was getting rough around the edges and needed work. Carpenters working at England’s Faraday Atmospheric Research Station received a shipment of wood. The carpenters were supposed to use the wood to replace the pier, but instead they built a British tavern. Given their isolation, it was probably the right decision.
In 1996, the British base Faraday was transferred to the Ukrainians. And today, ladies can eat and drink free for life at Faraday Bar. Yes, you can trade your bras for free food and bathtub vodka, which you sip under wilted photos of English explorers, while tapping your feet to Ukrainian music and chatting with the wonderful Ukrainian scientists.
In 1938, Nazi Germany sent an expedition to Antarctica on a mission to investigate sites for a base for the Third Reich. They invited Richard Byrd to lecture on what to expect.
Nine years later in 1947, now Admiral Byrd of the USN was sent to Antarctic, on a mission that was code-named “Operation High Jump” which was shrouded in mystery. He led 4,000 military troops from the US, Britain and Australia in an invasion of Antarctica. Many claimed that the task force was sent to eradicate a secret Nazi base.
The infamous Lost Admiral Byrd dairies say that they followed a tunnel for miles and eventually found a vast underground cavern with underground lakes and mysterious artificial lighting. According to the dairies, the Nazis built a huge base into the caverns and had even built docks for U boats. There were also hangars for strange planes and excavations that were documented.
It has been rumored that instead of committing suicide, Hitler fled Germany for the frozen continent, took up painting in Antarctica, and lived out his life at Lake Vostok.
For an unforgettable glimpse into the world of arctic exploration, another fabulously interesting place is McMurdo Station, which was established in late 1955. As the largest station in Antarctica and an important search and rescue center, it is known as the hub of the United States Antarctic program and the gateway to the South Pole and to the interior of Antarctica. It has an airstrip and helicopter pad on an ice shelf, all built on volcanic rock.
In this same area you will find the hut that Robert Scott built in the 1900s. Scott left the hut in 1904. However, the cold, dry air of the Antarctic tundra helps to preserve the hut and its contents, which include a pantry full of food. It is now a living museum.
Robert Scott reached the North Pole in 1912 only to find that Roald Amundsen had made it to the North Pole a month earlier. Amundson made it to the South Pole before Scott because he had a dogsled and a team of dogs to pull his supplies, and Scott pulled his own sled. On Scott’s return trip, his entire team died, only 11 miles away from help. He was only 43. The bodies were found sleeping in a tent and are still there today, and the site is marked with a cross.
Roald Amundsen disappeared in 1928 while taking part in a rescue mission. Amundsen is also known to have reached the North Pole.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, as they say. Antarctica is a place full of wonder and mystery, a place you will never forget. At the other end of the endless Southern Ocean is a hidden part of the world. Put on your snow boots and come and be a part of the great adventure!
Disclaimer: Like most travelers, I’m fascinated by the cultural and historical contexts of the places I visit. I read books and articles and check online sources to broaden my understanding of the places and people I encounter. That said, I might occasionally miss a date or mix up a fact. I appreciate your understanding.