The guide on Antarctica Flights, Diana Patterson, is well qualified to explain the frozen landscape unfolding below. She was the first woman in the world to lead an Antarctic research station, spending 13 months in charge of Mawson Station with a team of 25 and responsible for a total of 60 people.
That was in 1989.
“It was before the internet, so it was real isolation,” says Patterson, whose time included nine months through the black polar winter. “But in those days we really relished that. I took a short wave radio thinking I would need to try and keep in touch with events, but in the end I never listened to it once. You just lived for the moment in the environment.”
It is an environment clearly congenial to Patterson, who wrote a book about her experiences there, The Ice Beneath My Feet.
Now, when not in New Zealand where she lives, or providing commentary on the one-day flights over Antarctica, her destination of holiday choice is on a busman’s holiday cross-country skiing in Sweden or Finland.
She has been giving here expert guidance on the Antarctic overflights for 20 years.
“It’s a wonderful trip, with four hours flying down there then three or four hours over the continent,” she says. “Due to the weather you don’t know the exact route until the day but there are so many wonderful paths we take – over the magnetic South Pole, or we can track east over Cape Denison and Mawson’s huts.
“The past few years has seen the enormous increase in sea ice and it’s been fascinating to describe the formation of it – it’s a bit like Ice 101.”
She says people often ask what can be seen at 10,000 feet.
“It’s really a wonderful vantage point,” she says. “You can get a feel for the enormity of the continent and the scale of the ice cliffs. The Transantarctic Mountains between the Ross Sea and the Weddell Sea are spectacular. On other occasions we will fly up the centre of the glaciers, flying figure of eights around it.
“My commentary covers both the history and the science. I still find it exciting after all these years.”
Antarctica Flights operate one day sightseeing flights over Antarctica departing from Australia every summer. Taking around 12 hours the flights are the easiest way to view this great white Continent. Learn more about the flights here or subscribe to Cosmos magazine before 22 December and automatically go in the draw to win a scenic flight for you and a friend. More here.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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