Antarctica. You know, that giant continent at the bottom of the earth that’s ruled by penguins and seals.
C.B. Cook

Claim to fame

Vinson is the highest mountain in Antarctica. It stands 4 892m/16 049ft in the Vinson Massif. The 14 million square kilometres make Antarctica bigger than Europe and it is the world’s coldest continent.

Belonging to no one

Antarctica is the only continent without an indigenous population, unless you count seals. Or penguins. It has no government and belongs to no country. It’s controlled by the 1959 Antarctic treaty.

Average temperatures

In summer, November to January, the temperature can be anywhere between -15°C to -30°C and below. In winter, the other nine months of the year, the temperature can drop to a cool -89°C.

The contradiction of water

It’s both the driest and wettest place on earth at the same time, so to speak. It’s the driest continent on earth – some areas haven’t received rain in 2 million years. It’s also the biggest body of fresh-water on earth, containing 68 percent of the world’s fresh water and 90 percent of the world’s ice. The earth’s oceans would rise 55m/180ft if Antarctica melted. It’s also the highest continent on the planet.


A vast whiteness, the like of which I had never seen before.

It wasn’t the first time I had met both cold and mountain but it was the first time I had encountered such an incredible sense of remoteness. It’s a tough environment and one that doesn’t care for one’s personal travel plans. At least that’s how it appeared to me in 2008.

We had to wait a few days for a good weather window to fly to Patriot Hills and land on the blue ice runway. From there, we flew onto the Branscombe Glacier, where we were lulled into a false sense of security thanks to a few days of clear, warm days during which we hauled our sleds to the headwall. Leaving them there we pushed on to high camp. And Antarctica came to visit. The weather changed to such an extent that when we summited Vinson it was so cold (-40°C) that the autofocus on my camera seized up.

Back at base camp we had to wait five days before the Antarctic would let us fly back to Patriot Hills. The weather wasn’t finished with us. It kept us on that coldest of all continents until 28 December. Two weeks longer than planned. I missed Christmas with my family, the hardest blow the ice could have dealt.  It has taken me a while to live that one down!

Antarctica is as close as you will ever get to another planet without leaving this one.

Phil Ershler