Welcome to the Bottom of the World

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Travel Guide, Winter 1995-1996

Welcome to the Bottom of the World

New trips to the deep, deep South
By Laura Billings


Fjord Explorers
Patagonia's howling winds, pelting rains, and Andean chubascos can make a visitor wonder how the natives of Tierra del Fuego ever made it sans Gore-Tex. But a little capricious weather won't stop this year's onslaught of adventurers.

A new 12-day expedition aboard the Alla Tarasova gives new meaning to the term "weather permitting." The ship's Russian officers will take 94 passengers south from Puerto Montt through the fjords of Chile's seldom-traveled inside passage and the glacier-filled northwest arm of the Beagle Channel. After a glimpse of Cape Horn--known to sailors as the biggest ship graveyard on earth--you'll dock in Ushuaia ($1,990-$3,990; six-day segments, $875-$2,380; trips run November 6-17 and March 10-20; call Quark Expeditions, 800-356-5699).

For a dolphin's-eye view of the fjords, sign on for Mountain Travel-Sobek's new 15-day sea-kayaking odyssey through the islets and beech forests of central Patagonia. The trip starts and ends 250 miles south of Puerto Montt at Puyuhuapi, a luxury hot springs ecolodge accessible only by boat ($2,850 per person; February 24-March 11; 800-227-2384). Go even farther a field on Whitney & Smith's 16-day sea-kayaking expedition down the Río Serrano along the foot of the Patagonian ice cap, and into the remote fjordland of Última Esperanza, where tidewater glaciers edge evergreen forests ($2,750; departures on November 25 and December 16; 403-678-3052). The trip begins with a four-day hike amid the granite spires, Andean condors, and guanaco herds of Torres del Paine National Park, whose turquoise lakes are also the setting for new monthly mountain-bike trips offered by Southwind Adventures ($1,975; 303-9720701). Nantahala Outdoor Center's inaugural two-week sea-kayak trip takes in Paine's Lago Pehoe, the Río Serrano, and Última Esperanza, as well as the iceberg-filled waters of Balmaceda National Park ($2,100; 704-488-2175).

Calmer weather can be found to the north, although the highly technical Class V rapids of the Río Futaleufu are anything but placid. This is the first year Mountain Travel-Sobek is running 14-day raft expeditions on the powerful Futa ($2,875 per person; 800-227-2384), joining Earth River Expeditions, which offers Futaleufu and Río Bío-Bío combo trips ($1,900-$3,000; 800-643-2784).


A Glacial Pace
You might think that watching a glacier move would be about as interesting as, well, watching a glacier move. But the scientists who study ice fields say glaciers are actually dynamic forms whose ebbs and flows can tell us much about global warming. Find out more by volunteering for one of Earthwatch's three new two-week research sessions. Patagonia's Los Glaciares National Park, home of 356 known glaciers, is base camp for volunteer teams learning how to measure snow depth, water levels, and river discharge ($1,695 per person; call Earthwatch, 800-776-0188).


On a Wing and a Thud
Seen from above, Antarctica looks like a dreamy expanse of celestial blues and frosted whites. Seen from above while waiting to skydive from the open hull of a Twin Otter aircraft, it looks like something else entirely: a really hard landing. But that won't stop the cash-rich, thrill-starved souls converging on the South Pole for this first-ever experience. The payoff is an inebriating, powerline-free landing on the coldest place on earth--and a lifetime of attendant bragging rights. Jumping onto the South Pole presents some unique challenges: The extreme altitude (18,000 feet) increases divers' descent speed, and heavy fuel costs to the Pole translate to a hefty price of nearly $22,000. Trips run December 4-15 and January 3-14. Call Forum Travel International, 510-671-2900.

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