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Pole to Pole

Day 138: Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAs we climb to our cruising height of 10,000 feet the first wisps of cloud drift by the windows and we catch a last glimpse of the majestic, snow-capped Andes mountains running 4500 miles north from here to the shores of the Caribbean.

Using a National Geographic map of Antarctica pinned to the partition, Rob, a tall, slim young Canadian from Adventure Network, runs down the eight-and-a-half-hour journey for us: 1700 nautical miles at 220-knot cruising speed, estimated time of arrival 8.30 this evening. First four hours over the Drake Passage. Nearer to the continent the first sight of icebergs and the ice-shelf as we cross the Bellingshausen Sea. Landfall over Alexander Island, at 70 degrees South, and in over the Ellsworth mountain range.

Unlike the Arctic - a moving ocean covered with ice several feet thick - Antarctica is a landmass, covered with an ice-sheet 12,000 feet thick in places. It is larger in area than the USA and yet there are probably fewer than 4000 people on the entire continent. (By my rough calculation, this means that if and when we land our film crew will make up one six hundred and sixtieth of the total population of Antarctica.)

About three hours' flying time from Punta Arenas, as we're all walking about finishing a serve-yourself picnic lunch, the plane appears to make a very quick jump, dipping and almost instantly regaining height. As we struggle to regain our balance Bruce's laconic tone can be heard over the intercom.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 138
  • Country/sea: Pacific Ocean
  • Place: Drake Passage
  • Book page no: 306

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