Research Blog Antarctica #154 – Riding the Ice Wind

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Non-fiction: Alastair Vere Nicoll: Riding the Ice Wind (I.B.Tauris 2010)

By now, books about moderns expeditions to Antarctica are a relatively big genre. Earlier examples on this blog can be found here, here and here. The challenge of this sort of book is that it’s always the same story.

1. Decide to go to Antarctica.

2. Engage in tedious fundraising.

3. Travel through the Antarctic continent, often in an attempt to do something new.

4. Gain important life lessons.

In Alastair Vere Nicoll’s book Riding the Ice Wind, there’s an added human element where Nicoll’s baby is going to be born roughly at the same time as he’s supposed to finish the expedition. Will he make it in time?

Nicoll is frustrating as a writer. He seems very honest and straightforward, and for much of the book, manhauling a sledge of provisions on Antarctica seems like hellish drudgery punctuated by moments of pure wonder. Yet Nicoll doesn’t really transcend the format of this type of a book, and in his more philosophical moments he’s very much on safe ground.

There’s one very interesting detail in the book. The route of Nicoll’s team goes through the South Pole and they stop at the American Amundsen-Scott station. They aren’t much impressed with it, and Nicoll mentions that the staff offhandedly says they’re using their scientific equipment to spy on the Chinese nuclear program by detecting the emissions that travel through the planet.

I’ve never read about this anywhere else, but it flies in the face of so much high-minded Antarctic rhetoric that I would very much like to know more.

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