Base W in Antarctica was abandoned in the 1950s by the British Antarctica Survey, but it is now a historic landmark that you can visit.

This Abandoned Antarctic Base Has Not Changed Much Since It Was Forsaken in the 1950s

This Abandoned Antarctic Base Has Not Changed Much Since It Was Forsaken in the 1950s

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Dec. 10 2015 12:30 PM

Abandoned, But Not Neglected: Base W in Antarctica

Base W on Detaille Island.

Photo (cropped): Lewnwdc77/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

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Sitting in the desolate silence of Detaille Island off Antarctica's Arrowsmith Peninsula is Base W, a former research station of the British Antarctic Survey that was quickly vacated after the unstable ice around the island cut the scientists off from their supply ships. Since then it has sat abandoned but not neglected.

The small base was first established by the BAS in 1956. Consisting of one long building and a pair of smaller outer structures, like a dog pen, the outpost was small, but the interests of its researchers were varied, ranging from conducting meteorological studies to gathering geological data to simply mapping the area. In theory, the team would travel by dogsled across the frozen sea ice between the island and the Antarctic mainland where they would conduct their tests, but it was not long before this proved to be an issue as the ice around the island was unstable and dangerous to traverse.


In fact Base W was only in use for two short years before it had to be abandoned. In the winter of 1958, the yearly freeze blocked the team's supply vessel from reaching them. A pair of American icebreakers even came to help, but it was no use. Thus the decision was made to cut their losses and vacate the base before things got any worse. The entire team packed up their essential gear, locked down the huts, and trekked across 25 miles of treacherous sea ice to reach the waiting ship.

The base was officially abandoned in 1959, but its story was not yet over. Members of the BAS returned to Base W in the 1996–97 season to find that the site had become a perfectly preserved snapshot of 1950s Antarctic life. The old Hoover washer was still there along with all the old log books, leftover supplies, and other everyday items that had to be left behind in the scramble to the boat. Leaving everything in place, they cleaned and winterized the site before returning home.

In 2009 the base was officially named a historic landmark that is now kept up by the BAS, and while there is no one in permanent residence, anyone who manages to make the trip is free to explore the old base so long as he or she doesn't disturb the historic site. The doors are left unlocked, and there is even a guest book and a little cleaning kit, to both make your mark on the site and erase it. More than maybe anywhere else in the world, Base W's hauntingly abandoned 1950s glory resembles something out of a Fallout game.        

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Eric Grundhauser is a head writer and editor at Atlas Obscura. He lives in Brooklyn with his comic book collection. Follow him on Twitter.