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Epub ISBN: 9781407051826
Published by Vintage 1997
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Copyright Â© Sara Wheeler 1996
Sara Wheeler has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
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First published in Great Britain in 1996 by Jonathan Cape
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About the Author
Sara Wheeler is the author of five previous books, including
Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Too Close to the Sun: The Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton
and most recently,
The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic Circle
ALSO BY SARA WHEELER
An Island Apart
Travels in a Thin Country
Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Too Close to the Sun: The Life and Times of Denys
The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic Circle
To Mark Collins, finally
I owe everything to two people: Guy Guthridge at the National Science Foundation in Virginia and Frank Curry at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. Without them, there would have been no journey â just a dream.
Mario Zuccelli, who heads up the Italian Antarctic Programme, also contributed hugely by getting me to Terra Nova Bay against what looked liked insuperable odds. Malcolm Macfarlane (in summer) and Warren Herrick (in winter) made me more than welcome among the New Zealanders at Scott Base and in the field. The Chilean Antarcticans started it all by taking me to Marsh, their station on King George Island.
Many people helped me on the ice, and I want to thank them all. I can only mention a few here; the others know who they are. The scientists who took me along when they didn't have to at all include Hermann Englehardt at the Dragon on Ice Stream B, Imre Friedmann in the Convoy Range, Ross Powell at the Mackay Glacier, Brian Howes and Dale Goehringer at Lake Fryxell and John Priscu at Lake Bonney. Tony Stark helped me get to grips with astrophysics at the Pole. My thanks go to the South Pole summer crew 1994/5, with whom I celebrated Christmas, and to Gaetano Rizzi and the Italians with whom I travelled around Victoria Land. At McMurdo innumerable people helped, especially Kristin Larson and Lisa Mastro in the Crary Lab; Robin Abbott, the Helicopter Queen; Kirk Salveson, and everyone at the Berg Field Center. I especially want to thank Lucia deLeiris. She and I had our own camp on the ice for many weeks. At Rothera and elsewhere on the peninsula Ben Hodges, Al Wearden and Steve Rumble generously extended the hand of friendship at a difficult time.
In warmer climes, my editor in London, Tony Colwell at Jonathan Cape, taught me so much. âThanks' seem inadequate for what he has done for me â but I give them anyway. Joe Fox at Random House in New York took the book on and encouraged me greatly, and, tragically, he died while I was finishing it. Lawrence Larose gallantly took up the baton and made me feel part of the team. I owe a debt to my agent, Gillon Aitken; to Oliver Garnett, who created my polar library almost single-handedly; to Robin Gauldie, who ransacked his encyclopedic mind; to the endlessly obliging Shirley Sawtell and her colleagues at the Scott Polar Research Institute; and to Mike Richardson at the Foreign Office, who sanctioned
from the beginning, and told me funny stories. John Hall, Richard Hanson, Mary Sutton and Bruce Tate at the British Antarctic Survey headquarters in Cambridge were always helpful, and it was a pleasure to work with them. Many people sat through interviews: they all appear in the text, named or unnamed, and I thank them all.
Some people read
in its early versions. On the ice Lisa Williams and Bob deZafra read an entire draft and made many helpful suggestions. Bruno Nardi commented on almost every line of the first chapters in between despatching balloons into the stratosphere. On solid ground, Bob Headland, archivist at the Scott Polar Research Institute, read the typescript carefully and gave me the benefit of his imagination, insight and vast polar knowledge. The SPRI librarian, William Mills, generously helped with bibliographical queries. Professor Robin Humphreys provided a cogent reading, and so, as always, did Phil Kolvin. Cindy Riches once again proved an incomparable reader. She picked over many drafts, and her contribution was incalculable â I can see her hand on every page. More than anyone else, she has shared this journey, and that, surely, is what friendship means.
The lines from T. S. Eliot's
The Waste Land
and âLittle Gidding', both included in
Collected Poems 1902â1962
, are quoted with the kind permission of the publishers Faber & Faber. I am also grateful to Faber for permission to reprint the lines from W. H. Auden's
which appears in
; to Edwin Mickleburgh and the Bodley Head for permission to quote from
Beyond the Frozen Sea
; to A. P. Watt Ltd. on behalf of Michael Yeats for the extract from
The Cold Heaven
by W. B. Yeats which appears in
The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
; and to Mrs Angela Mathias for her generous permission to use many lines from
The Worst Journey in the World
by Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
I am indebted to STA Travel in London for organising all my commercial flights, as they always have, and to Damart for thermal gear, G. B. Britton for Goretex and Thinsulate boots, Moomba Marketing for survival aids, Taunton Leisure and Pentax Ltd for discounted goods, Sunshine Ellis in New Zealand for emergency gear repair, my local Marriott at Swiss Cottage for training facilities, and Johnson & Johnson for condoms to protect microphones against moisture.
The New Zealand Operational Support team of Roger Sutton and Jo Malcolm in Christchurch, and of course Camilla Sutton (Wellington Branch), saw me come and go four times over the course of a year, always with smiles and an open house. They made New Zealand a home for me.
Finally, the Patron of my expedition, Jeremy Lewis, did nothing Patrons are supposed to do (though neither of us was ever clear what this might have involved), and I in turn did not hang a framed photograph of him in my tent. But he did so much; so much that I cannot convey my thanks on a page. He had a clearer idea of what I wanted to write than anyone else, and talked or wrote to me about it almost daily, from the heady era of the synopsis to the crucifixion of the last months. I am miraculously fortunate to have benefited from his wisdom, and I shall never be able to repay it.
âYou wait. Everyone has an Antarctic.'
T IS THE LAST GREAT
journey left to man,' Shackleton said. He didn't mean that we all had to pack our crampons and set off, ice axes in hand. For Shackleton, Antarctica was a metaphor as well as an explorer's dream, and he added, âWe all have our own White South.' It is true that for me. Antarctica was always a space of the imagination â before, during and after my own journey. No cities, no bank managers, no pram in the hall. Some people think that before the ice came Antarctica was the site of Atlantis, the ancient civilisation which disappeared in a cosmic gulp, but when I went there I learnt that Atlantis is within us.
As I struggled out of stiff sleeping bags over waterbottles, VHF radios, batteries and stray items of scientific paraphernalia stowed alongside me in the epic battle with the big freeze, I didn't think about Atlantis or Shackleton or metaphorical allusions. I thought about how cold I was.
Until I was thirty, my relationship with Antarctica was confined to the biannual reinflation of the globe hanging above my desk, its air valve located in the middle of the mis-shapen white pancake at the bottom. As far as I was aware, the continent was a testing-ground for men with frozen beards to see how dead they could get. Then, in 1991, I travelled several thousand miles through Chile for a book I was writing. As I prodded around in the hinterland of the national psyche I discovered that the country did not come to a stop in Tierra del Fuego. A small triangle was suspended at the bottom of every map. They called it
and behaved as if it were their fifty-first state. I had to go down there if I wanted to paint a complete portrait of contemporary Chile, so one day in February I hitched a lift from a blustery Punta Arenas to King George Island, off the tip of the spindly Antarctic peninsula, on an antediluvian Hercules belonging to the Chilean Air Force.
With nothing but Chile on my mind and a carpetbag on my shoulder I climbed down the steps of the plane into the rasping air and shook the bearpaw extended by the hapless wing-commander who had been appointed as my minder. I looked out over the icefields vanishing into the aspirin-white horizon. Above them, a single snow petrel wheeled against the Hockney blue. Much later I climbed a snowhill with a Uruguayan vulcanologist, already feeling that I had found a blank piece of paper. There was no sound on the top of the hill except the occasional tap-tap as the vulcanologist scraped snow into a specimen tin, and as the shadows lengthened on the rippling Southern Ocean I looked beyond the small base in the foreground and thought â that's an ice-desert bigger than Australia. Antarctica is the highest continent, as well as the driest, the coldest and the windiest, and nobody owns it. Seven countries might have âclaimed' a slice for themselves, and there might be almost two hundred little research camps, but the continent is not owned by anyone.