Fuchs was the leader of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a Commonwealth-sponsored expedition that completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica, with Hillary. Fuchs used Sno-Cat tractors to cross the continent in 99 days, starting at Weddell Sea, ending at Ross Sea, and crossing the South Pole. Fuchs and his party arrived at Antarctica in January 1957 after camp had been set up. The party departed from Shackleton Base on 24 November 1957.
During the trek, a variety of scientific data were collected from seismic soundings and gravimetric readings. Scientists established the thickness of ice at the pole, and the existence of a land mass beneath the ice. On 2 March 1958, Fuchs and company completed by reaching Scott Base, having travelled 2,158 miles. (Source: Wikipedia)
Wilfred Thesiger in Arabian Sands comments elegiacally on meeting an emaciated old Arab:
Yet I wondered fancifully if he had seen more clearly than they did, had sensed the threat which my presence implied – the approaching disintegration of his society and the destruction of his beliefs. Here especially it seemed that the evil that comes with sudden change would far outweigh the good. While I was with the Arabs I wished only to live as they lived and, now that I have left them, I would gladly think that nothing in their life was altered by my coming. Regretfully, however, I realise that the maps I made helped others with more material aims, to visit and corrupt a people whose spirit once lit the desert like a flame.
The Rub’ al Khali is a sector of desert encompassing parts of Southern Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen known for its inhospitability and enormous sand dunes. The Empty Quarter was first crossed by Bertram Sidney Thomas in 1930 -31 and later by St.John Philby, the father of double agent Kim Philby, before being crossed by Wilfred Thesiger. It is known as the Empty Quarter as it is not even inhabited or traversed by the Bedouin, such is its hostility.
This line picks up the ruminations of the drunk, Larry Slade, in The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill:
I was condemned to be one of those who has to see all sides of a question. When you’re damned like that, the questions multiply for you until in the end it’s all questions and no answer. As history proves, to be a worldly success at anything, especially revolution, you have to wear blinders like a horse and see only straight in front of you.
The Vendée Globe is a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race considered to be one of the most gruelling and testing feats of adventure in the world. Dame Ellen Patricia MacArthur (born 1976) is an English sailor from Derbyshire. She is best known as a solo long-distance yachtswoman. On 7 February 2005 she broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. (Source: Wikipedia)
The idea is inspired from Goethe:
For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him, he must regard himself as greater than he is.
Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In the book, "Shangri-La" is a mystical, harmonious valley, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. (Source: Wikipedia)
Reference back to the expedition as Frankenstein’s monster. As Mary Shelley writes:
I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet…. by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
Blighty is a British English slang term for Britain, deriving from the Hindustani word vilāyatī (pronounced bilāti in many Indian dialects and languages) meaning a foreigner. During that the First World War, a Blighty wound -- a wound serious enough to require recuperation away from the trenches – i.e. to take someone home, back to Blighty - but not serious enough to kill or maim the victim—was hoped for by many, and sometimes self-inflicted. (Source: Wikipedia)
Orpheus is the classical hero who descended into the Underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice. Orpheus persuaded the god of the underworld to let him take back his wife, but Hades proclaimed that if he were to look back at her as they journeyed back home, she would be lost. He did and she was; he was then doomed to wander the earth in despair.
Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) is considered the foremost painter of the French Impressionist movement, famous for his depiction of light, particularly on water. One of his masterpieces is Waterlilies, renowned for its changing evocation of water; another is Impression, Sunrise (above), after which the movement was named. The snow in Antarctica is an icy inland sea and the dappling of light on the frozen ripples is reminscent of his painting.
A reference to The Odyssey by Homer.
On his homecoming, Odysseus (in Latin, Ulysses: see further pages 152 and 156 of Riding the Ice Wind) had to sail his ship through a narrow channel between a whirlpool called Charybdis that would swallow his ship whole and a cliff on which lurked a many-tentacled monster called Scylla. The meaning is the same as ‘between a rock and a hard place’ and, again, is used to bring an element of fantasy and myth to the other-worldly landscape of Antarctica and cast the crossing in the mould of an Epic poem.
Diego Velasquez (1599 – 1660) was the court painter to Philip IV of Spain. His masterpiece is the gnomic, layered Las Meninas, which is housed in the Prado and has been copied and interpreted among others by Picasso. The luxurious detailing on the dress is compared to the creamy folding of the dress.
The Axel Heiberg Glacier is a valley glacier, 48 km (30 miles) long, descending from the high-elevations of the Antarctic Plateau into the Ross Ice Shelf (nearly at sea level) between the Herbert Range and Mt. Don Pedro Christophersen in the Queen Maud Mountains. Roald Amundsen named it for Axel Heiberg, a Norwegian businessman and patron of science, who contributed to numerous Norwegian polar expeditions.
Amundsen’s diary records similar huge undulations in the sea-ice:
On the following day the character of the land began to change; great wave like formations seemed to roll higher and higher as they approached the land, and in one of these troughs we found the land greatly disturbed….. the undulation rose to such a height that it concealed a great part of the land from us.
Amundsen comments in his diary:
Running on ski felt quite strange, although I had now covered 385 miles on them; but we had driven the whole way, and were somewhat out of training.
The Rock cairn, known as 'Amundsen's cairn', on Mount Betty was erected by Roald Amundsen on 6 January 1912 on his way back to 'Framheim' (his base at the Bay of Whales) from the South Pole.
85°11'S, 163°47'W (Source: www.antarctic-circle.org)
Robert Edwin Peary (1856 –1920) was an American explorer who claimed to have been the first person, on April 6, 1909, to reach the geographic North Pole, using dogs in only 37 days. Peary's claim was widely credited for most of the 20th century, though it was criticized even in its own day and is still widely doubted, partly due to its speed. Paul Landry himself replicated the journey in 42 days, suggesting Peary’s journey was conceptually possible and then British explorer Tom Avery managed the feat a few hours quicker than Peary himself claimed (travelling with Paul’s wife, Matty McNair).
Birdie Bowers, Scott’s irrepressible Lieutenant described pulling his sled in the deep snow in the same place, in words which seemed very apt:
…the most back-breaking work I have ever come up against… the starting was worse than the pulling as it required from ten to fifteen desperate jerks on the harness to move the sledge at all… I have never pulled so hard, or so nearly crushed my inside into my backbone by the everlasting jerking will all my strength on the canvas band around my unfortunate tummy.
It was no use working in Polar clothing among these hills; the sun which stood high and clear, was uncomfortably warm, and we were obliged to take off most of our things.
Scott describes his approach to the Beardmore Glacier similarly:
The day was gloriously fine and we were soon perspiring…The pulling after this was extremely fatiguing. We sunk above our finnesko everywhere and in places nearly to our knees… All the time [the sledges] were literally ploughing the snow.
We got fearfully hot this morning and marched in singlets which became ringing wet… even now, one feels the cold directly one stops.
Scott describes being “awfully glad we have hung on to the ski; hard as the marching is, it is far less tiring on ski. Bowers has a heavy time on foot, but nothing seems to tire him.”
This is an allusion to a passage in Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. While the author strained in the harness, it is as if another part of him hovered over his hunchback frame and laughed, just as Lawrence of Arabia memorably described the divided self:
Now I found myself dividing into parts. There was one which went on riding wisely, sparing or helping every pace of the wearied camel. Another hovering above and to the right bent down curiously and asked what the flesh was doing. The flesh gave no answer, for indeed it was conscious only of a ruling impulse to keep on and on, but a third garrulous one talked and wondered, critical of the body’s self-inflicted labour and contemptuous of the reason for effort….. the spent body toiled on, doggedly and took no heed, quite rightly for the divided selves said nothing which I was not capable of thinking in cold blood; they were all my natures. Telesius, taught by some such experience, split up the soul. Had he gone on, he would have seen his conceived regiment of thoughts and acts and feelings ranked around him as separate creatures, eyeing like vultures, the passing in their midst of the common thing that gave them life.
Scott was also prone to compare himself to his team – and see his own world as the hardest. He wrote the following entry in his diary as he left the sea ice and pulled into the Trans-Antarctic Mountains:
We got bogged down again and again, and, do what we would, the sledge dragged like lead. The others were working hard but nothing compared to us.
An allusion to Sir Edmund Spenser’s Fairie Queen, a chivalric epic of the 16th Century.
This is a reference to the land of Lilliput, made famous by Jonathan Swift in his 1726 book Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver is a shipwrecked sailor who finds himself washed up on the shores of Lilliput, a land filled with tiny people to whom he is dangerous giant.