Two Winters and a Summer in Antarctica…
Author: David Roberts
For aficionados of the glory days of Antarctic exploration at the beginning of the 20th century, three leaders stand out above all others: Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton. But despite the enduring qualities and epic sagas attached to these three heroes, there was another man who may have out done them all. Undoubtedly Australia’s greatest Antarctic explorer, Douglas Mawson accomplished feats that rival all others and, in Alone on the Ice, the acclaimed mountaineer and writer David Roberts tells his story.
While the book describes Mawson’s early exploits, including the first ascent of Mt Erebus – Antarctica’s only active volcano – and the first attempt to locate the southern magnetic pole, its primary focus is the Australasian Antarctic Expedition from 1911 to 1914. This ambitious mission was led by Mawson and set out to explore the previously uncharted parts of the continent south of Australia.
Following a brief introduction, Roberts describes the team’s hazardous journey by ship from Tasmania to Cape Denison on Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica. Having unknowingly chosen what would subsequently be shown to be the windiest coastal area on earth – with winds averaging more than 50mph with gusts to 200 – Mawson’s men struggled mightily to set up a base camp amongst the penguins as well as an additional smaller camp on an ice sheet 1500 miles to the west. They proceeded to winter over in 1912, preparing to start exploring the continent during the summer of 1912-13. Eschewing others’ efforts to reach the geographic pole, Mawson’s focus was on science, including geology, geography, biology and meteorology. Between the two camps, a total of seven death-defying exploratory ventures were sent out into the continent.