How Prince Harry Prevented Me From Reaching the South Pole

After years of planning plus a lot of money, sweat and time I arrived in Antarctica with aspirations to reach the South Pole. Having already been to every country on Earth, the South Pole had always been a target on my travel list-right at the top. The list of people who have been there is short and only a few dozen get there each year. But after a combination of several factors, my group was unable to reach the South Pole. Bad weather, bad luck and Prince Harry prevented me from reaching the South Pole.

Antarctica boarding pass, Ilyushin-76, Ilyushin, Antarctica

My boarding pass to Antarctica!

First, I want to state for the record that I do not blame Prince Harry personally or his ‘Walking With the Wounded’ group. I think it’s a great cause and wish them the best. They did nothing to my group or me intentionally and every one of them including the Prince himself was very nice to my group and myself. Here is what happened.
Ilyushin-76, Ilyushin, Antarctica

On the tarmac at Cape Town Airport waiting to board the Ilyushin to Antarctica

The Ilyushin-76 was supposed to fly from Cape Town to Novolazarevskaya Station and the Novo blue ice Runway on November 19th at 10pm where we would start our 10-day Antarctic expedition. The flight was delayed for 24 hours, then 48 hours and then another 12 hours. So by the time we ended up leaving from Cape Town it was Friday November 22nd at 9am. The flight to Novo is 6 hours and we arrived around 3pm.
Prince Harry, Prince Harry sleeping on plane, Ilyushin 76, Antarctica flight, Antarctica

Prince Harry sleeping on the flight to Antarctica

I had first heard that Prince Harry and the ‘Walking With the Wounded’ team would be on my flight about a week beforehand. I must admit I was pretty excited to see and meet the Prince. Why not?! It would make my dream trip to the South Pole even more memorable. You don’t meet royalty every day.
Ilyushin 76, Ilyushin, flight to Antarctica, inside of the cabin

The inside of the Ilyushin 76 plane which flies from Cape Town to Novo Base in Antarctica

Sure enough I met Prince Harry on the tarmac outside the Ilyushin-76 in Cape Town. I went and said hi. He was very polite. We chatted for a second and shook hands. Then we boarded. Prince Harry sat in the only window seat on the whole cargo plane a few rows in front of me.
toilets on the Ilyushin 76, Ilyushin 76, toilets, Prince Harry

The toilets on the Ilyushin 76

The plane was pretty unique and really awesome to be honest. I had never flown on a cargo plane like this before. The most shocking thing to me was that the toilets in the back were actually port o’ potties! People on the plane were joking that the Prince would have to go to the bathroom the same as everyone else in the filthy toilets. He did…twice!
Prince Harry, Prince Harry arrives in Antarctica, Antarctica, Ilyushin 76

Prince Harry stepping off the Ilyushin 76 plane we flew in on to his waiting camera crew

We landed at Novo base and everyone got off the plane but Harry waited to leave last. His television crew gets set up outside the plane and waits for him to come down and make some statements on arrival. I must say it was pretty cool and very exciting to watch and be a part of it. Too bad it was beyond freezing!
Prince Harry, Prince Harry arrives in Antarctica, Antarctica, Ilyushin 76, TV crew

Prince Harry does an interview on arrival in Antarctica

So after all the Prince Harry hoopla, their group goes to their camp at Novo and we go to ours at the White Desert camp site a few kilometers from the base. By the time we arrived it was nearly 5pm and the weather was awful so there would clearly be no flying that day.
Prince Harry, Prince Harry arrives in Antarctica, Antarctica, Ilyushin 76

Prince Harry arriving in Antarctica

The next two days were almost equally as awful for weather if not worse so we would be relegated to hiking around camp. Finally, on Monday the weather started to get better and they were saying that planes would start flying to different destinations in Antarctica. We thought we would be flying to the South Pole. But that wasn’t the case.
Prince Harry, Prince Harry arrives in Antarctica, Antarctica, Ilyushin 76

Prince Harry waiting around after arriving in Antarctica

There are only two planes at Novo Base that are suitable for flying. A twin otter; which doesn’t have the range to reach the South Pole or even the refueling station at 83 degrees (everything in Antarctica is done via degrees). There were two DC-3’s but one was involved in an accident and wasn’t fixed yet. So there was only one DC-3 that could fly people to the South Pole.
DC-3, DC3, plane to South Pole, Antarctica

The DC-3 that was supposed to fly my group to the South Pole

Prince Harry’s team was quite large. There were some 30 people or more. The capacity for the DC-3 is about 12 passengers. Therefore, his group would basically need to fly 3 times. That is what ended up happening on 3 consecutive days. So they utilized the plane until Thursday.
Prince Harry, Novo Base, Antarctica

Prince Harry at Novo Base the day he flew down to 87 degrees

We were completely unaware of this pecking order or priority system and people started to get very angry in the group. We were supposed to leave Antarctica on that Thursday night and figured there was no way we would get there. We found out that the Ilyushin-76 had been delayed for 24 hours until Friday so we thought maybe there was a small chance that we would get use of the plane.
Ilyushin 76, Ilyushin, plane, Antarctica, blue ice runway, Novo base

The Ilyushin 76 after arrival at Novo Base in Antarctica

That didn’t happen. They refused to let us fly so close to departure because you must spend a night at the South Pole because it’s a 6-8 hour journey one-way and the pilots need to rest. Plus the weather is so unpredictable they didn’t want us to miss our flight back to Cape Town. So we got shut out for the South Pole.
Ice caving, Antarctica, Lee Abbamonte, White Desert

Ice caving instead of going to the South Pole

Bad weather, bad luck and Prince Harry prevented me from reaching the South Pole. That said; I still had an absolutely amazing experience in Antarctica and my experiences, both amazing and frustrating, will last as lifetime memories. I made some amazing new friends on the trip and will be detailing my trip in the coming days and weeks on my site and you can already view some of the pictures on my Facebook page.
Emperor Penguins, Antarctica, White Desert

Emperor Penguins on Antarctica

However, I am still extremely disappointed that we didn’t achieve our goal of making the South Pole. But I will be back in Antarctica to try again next year. I will not be denied twice! I just hope Prince William doesn’t decide to go to the South Pole next year!

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  1. You don’t even sound angry in this post. I would have been irate given that scenario if I had gone all the way down there and was not able because of royal preference. Good for you. I guess you have to have that attitude doing as much travel as you do. I am sure it was still an amazing trip but I know you wanted to get there badly.

    • Steph, I am and was completely enraged believe me! However, it’s been a few days and a lot of drafts of this story to realize that it really wasn’t in the control of myself or the tour operator. They certainly could have done more I think but with the 3 days delay with the weather to start and the weather delays the first few days-we were in trouble as 10 days quickly became 4.

      I wouldn’t have written this if I wasn’t annoyed but if I scream and yell-what happens? I sound like a whiner and still nothing happens differently. So I accept and move on and look at the bright side of things. What else can I do. I have had trips cancelled in the past and been upset…this was worse because I was in ANtarctica and was tough because we were completely powerless and the communication was awful.

      • How does that saying go about best laid plans? Isn’t it always the rule of thumb with travelling that you have to be flexible and roll with the punches? Good for you for not letting it ruin the trip.

  2. Any way you slice it, that is an amazing story to have to tell people! And you have the pictures to prove it. I am jealous and I have no doubt you will make it next year. I don’t know you personally but you strike me as a person who gets what he wants and will do whatever it takes to get it. Good luck and thanks for getting my Monday started off nicely.

  3. You’ve definitely got the right attitude about it. Sounds like there was nothing you could do about it. I can imagine how frustrating that must’ve been though. Especially because you were so close.

  4. That is truly an amazing story that only a small handful of people can possible ever say. You probably have a ton of people today telling others your story.

  5. I’m sure the trip was very expensive. What kind of refund (by %) do you get for having your trip so disrupted? Were you subsidized at all by the operator — is that why you sound so nonchalant? Did the operator agree to offer you (and others) a discount on the 2014 trip?

    • The South Pole portion of the trip was or will be refunded and I can or could push it toward next year.

      I have a few options with regards to a trip for next year and I am evaluating them. I cannot speak for the others but I know for a fact they were refunded the money for the South Pole portion which percentage wise is a massive piece.

    • Also believe me there is nothing nonchalant about how I feel. I just think being positive is the best way to handle this situation and I have options so I need to evaluate and figure them out.

      Of course I wish it just went smoothly-everything would have been easier but shit happens as they say.

  6. I would have blown my top all over his designer snow gear!

  7. But hey, it makes for a good story AND you got to meet royalty! That’s still pretty cool anyway =)

  8. I can only imagine your frustration out there, those royals, ts..ts… Amazing experience nonetheless, the penguins alone would have been worth it. Maybe next year we can join you and then everything happened for a reason :-))

  9. Giovanni Morales says

    Hi lee, im from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, im a lawyer and a world traveler like you, i keep track of all your posts in facebook, can you please suggest me any travel agency with good excursions around the world please, i will appreciate your answer thanks.

    • Hi Giovanni, I work with a tour company called Kensington Tours. They offer tours and excursions all over the world. I used a company called White Desert for the Antarctica trip. If you are interested in either, let me know and I can put you in touch with the right people.

  10. Dang Prince Harry! He is all over the place. So sorry he (and bad weather) screwed up your trip. I had a similar experience, although, not so grand, only at the Biltmore Hotel in Colorado Springs last year when he arrived!

  11. Wow… still an amazing adventure for sure but surely I would be really disappointed after all that effort in planning and $$$ for probably a once in a lifetime opportunity!!! But what can you do. TIA (this is Antarctica?) I guess there is always next year.

  12. Wow that is really some story Lee. How would I go about joining you next year in the trip?

  13. Unbelievable story Lee!

  14. How long was the flight from Cape Town?

  15. That sucks that you didn’t make it to the South Pole. But at least you got a photo of Prince Harry sleeping!

  16. Look at this way—the South Pole isn’t going anywhere–well, actually I think it has moved a little–but if/when you go back, it will still be there, hanging out at the bottom of the earth. However, Prince Harry is mobile. So, there’s no telling if you and he will ever cross paths again—let alone use the same port-a-potty.

  17. Selma weisbein says

    Awesome recount of events . Thanks for sharing .
    Good luck next year .

  18. It’s all part of the adventure – and it wouldn’t be an adventure if things just go as planned. You got to visit Antartica and that’s something not many people have the opportunity to experience. You’re still very fortunate. Maybe we’ll catch up next year Lee! All the best, as usual

  19. Lee, I know you are a student of history. In these situations I think it’s best to pull a page from French history. You know how they dealt with meddling Royals. Think you exercised Zen-like restraint, well done.

  20. Why are there flags in the plane?

  21. Sorry you did not make it this time. Next time. Yes the Antarctic is very addictive. Look at the history of the explorers – Scott, Mawson, Amundsen, Shackleton etc. All were veery addicted to the ‘Ice’. Once you go there (not the tourist spots) you are hooked. Most amazing place on the earth especially as it is only 100 years ago that explorers could explore the place.

  22. Nice story very interesting!

  23. You got an amazing attitude!! we always make plans, but life got its own
    congrats for that trip
    I wanna go too 🙂

  24. Jessica Acton says

    That is really an adventurous story and trip. Glad to see all that

  25. Awesome story! I got some great memories of Antarctica including some amazing photos/video of penguins, but your story of prince harry is awesome. I hope you were able to attract some media attention for your version of the story.

  26. I once read Mind Over Matter by Sir Ran Fiennes and its a great read. Dr Mike Stroud who accompanied him did all the testing for how the body copes physically and calorie-wise. I also once read Alone by Admiral Byrd. Happy reading to anyone who is enthused about the Poles and wants to the footsteps of these guys and Lee!

  27. I wonder if Prince Harry has read your post by now. He is probably annoyed there are pictures of him sleeping lol. A little late to the party but cool story!

  28. Prince Harry was walking with wounded ex War Veterens. This was done for a cause. It was not his fault but organisers, They should have told you

  29. Carolien says

    Interesting read, but let’s get this straight though: you snuck in a photo of Prince Harry while he’s sleeping? The guy on his left literally seems to warn you to butt out, and rightfully so. And then you proceed to share how often he used the bathroom. Wow, how classy.

  30. Cheryl Fertig says

    Amazing Read once more:)

  31. At least you can say you’ve been to more countries than Harry has and he’ll probably never catch you up.

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