Marshall, Shackleton’s companion described travelling back over his tracks as “heart breaking work”. Scott notes, travelling up the Beardmore Glacier: “At the top of the rise I found Evans reduced to relay work, and Bowers followed his example soon after.” Even Amundsen had been forced, in places, to use two teams of dogs to haul one sled. “There could be no question of reaching the height without double teams…. We were not particularly keen on thus covering the ground twice but the conditions made it imperative.”
A classic film from 1993 by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray, a cult film in which a weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again.
Video 4 - A view of the Ross Ice Shelf and hauling up through crevasse field [video pending]
Amundsen describes the first section of the icefall as “covered with a chaos of immense blocks of ice”.
A mountain on the side of the icefall, named after the Norwegian explorer Fridjtof Nansen. Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen (1861 – 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel laureate. He led the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, and won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°13' during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, including Amundsen.
Amundsen describes the sides of Nansen as follows:
Ice blocks and sinister piles of snow told their tale of avalanches constantly tumbling from the mountains on the flanks.
Over by Fridtjof Nansen we could not go; this mountain rose perpendicularly, in parts quite bare, and formed with the glacier a surface so wild and cut up that all thoughts of crossing the ice-field in that direction had to be instantly abandoned.
A site in Northern Ireland famous for its remarkable geological features resembling a massive and chaotic playground of hexagonal stepping stones.
It looked fearfully broken and disturbed, but we could follow a little connected line among the many crevasses; we saw that we could go a long way, but we also saw that the glacier forbade us to use it in its full extent… But we could see that there was an unbroken ledge up the side of the mountain; Don Pedro would help us out. On the north side along the Nansen mountain there was nothing but chaos, perfectly impossible to get through.
Amundsen described the scene as follows:
To continue along [the glacier] was an impossibility; it consisted here, between the two vast mountains – of nothing but crevasse after crevasse, so huge and ugly that we were forced to conclude that our further advance that way was barred.
The book references Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus.
As noted in the bookmark for page 18, figures of Prometheus and Sisyphus graphically represent the particular repetitive torture of Antarctic travel where, each day, the trials of the previous day are relived in agonising monochrome, but also the grace and patience with which they bore their punishment making them positive inspirations for the passion (or suffering) that is the lot of man but that can lead to achievement. For there is no success without the ability to suffer pain and take on risk.
Martin is a very accomplished polar explorer in his own right and Time Magazine Environmental Hero for his work on the Catlin Ice Survey.
See more of his pictures at www.martinhartley.com.
Frank Hurley was the photographer who accompanied Shackleton on his Endurance expedition and was, along with Herbert Ponting (Scott’s photographer), the most famous of all Antarctic photographers.
Amundsen saw the same spectacle when he, too, passed Mount Nansen:
Crash upon crash, roar upon roar met our ears. Now it was a shot from Mount Nansen, now from one of the others; we could see the clouds of snow rise high into the air. It was evident that these mountains were throwing off their winter mantles and putting on a more spring-like garb.
Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been referred to many times in the book, it is also worth noting that in that book, Frankenstein, oppressed by the appalling situation of his own making, travels to icy mountains in pursuit of his monster and experiences a similar phenomenon:
The abrupt sides of vast mountains were before me; the icy wall of the glacier overhung me; … and the solemn silence of this glorious presence-chamber of imperial Nature was broken only by… the fall of some vast fragment, the thunder sound of the avalanche or the cracking, reverberated along the mountains, of the accumulated ice, which, through the silent working of immutable laws, was ever and anon rent and torn, as if it had been but a plaything in their hands. These sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving.
See T.S. Eliot’s 1919 essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent.
Amundsen experienced a similar sensation, camping in the same spot:
It was a grand and imposing sight we had when we came out on the ridge under which – far below – our tent stood. Surrounded by all sides on huge crevasses and gaping chasms, it could not be said that the site of our camp looked very inviting. The wildness of the landscape seen from this point is not to be described; chasm after chasm, crevasse after crevasse, with great blocks of ice scattered promiscuously about, gave one the impression that here Nature was too powerful for us. Here no progress was to be thought of.
The reference is to Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night which was centred around a traditional Medieval festival.
Wilfred Thesiger describes a similar feeling in Arabian Sands:
But I knew instinctively that it was the very hardness of life in the desert which drew me back there – it was the same pull which takes men back to the polar ice, to high mountains, and to the sea. To return to the Empty Quarter would be to answer a challenge, and to remain there for long would test myself to the limit. Much of it was unexplored. It was one of the very few places left where I could satisfy an urge to go where others had not been.
This line references Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.
The photograph, originally intended to be on the first page of the book, conveys something of the concept of those lines:
A book of the same name by Joseph Heller, which sets up an impossible dilemma.
Inspired by the oft-quoted statement by Pascal:
The source of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his own room.
-- Pensées 36
Reference to the famous promise by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George at the conference for the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to make the Germans pay for the First World War.
Allusion to the film Fight Club by David Fincher and the rebellion by the character played by Edward Norton to the sterile, identikit, pre-fabricated, false, consumer lifestyle of the modern age – all appearance and no substance. The character, following a chimera in the shape of Brad Pitt, decides to take action in a brutal and arbitrary physical rebellion to feel his freedom and vent male aggression.
The savage boy who is the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.