The Ice – addictive, dangerous, and deadly
Only last night I was talking for an hour with a friend of mine who’d just finished reading Dead Men, telling him how, in my short time on the Antarctic, I was nothing more than a glorified tourist, how it was an environment that was beautiful and yet incredibly dangerous, and that anyone who ventured down to the southern tip of the world was a hero, then and now. It’s something too many people in their armchairs or on their cruiseships forget.
And this morning, after telling my friend that I had held Frank Worsley’s James Caird log book in my hands, I woke up to the news that Henry Worsley, similar to me only in age, but much tougher than me, much more determined, much fitter, had died after missing out by only 30 miles on his goal of crossing the Antarctic, something Shackleton failed to do in his Transantarctic Expedition of 1914-1916. I have spent this evening talking about the awfulness of Henry’s death to a Kiwi friend of mine who was on the Ice with me in 2008, and it’s an event that’s reverberating physically in both of us, even though we’d only met Henry a couple of times.
The thing is this. The Antarctic is the most beautiful place on earth; landscape and soundscape. It is an incomparable place, and the vastness of it is incomprehensible. Those of us who have been lucky enough to set foot there, to live in its beauty, to feel surrounded by its legends and ghosts and ethereal light, have been changed forever by that experience. We have become addicted to it, as simple as that, and even we forget sometimes that it is possibly the most dangerous place on earth, that beneath its beauty hide the the cold, harsh enough to make teeth explode spontaneously, severe enough to turn your fingers into a frostbitten mess in five minutes, the driest place on this small planet, crevasses beneath the harmless-looking snow and ice, death at every turn. And time has not changed this. It’s as dangerous now as it was a hundred years ago.
I can’t, in all honesty, put together something terribly articulate about this, because I don’t feel very articulate at the moment. When someone’s killed by something they love, it is a tragedy, no matter how overused that word might be in our modern world.