A VIEW FROM THE ICE
Polar Plateau, 88 degrees south, 21 December 1997:
The mind struggle has begun. The whole world is ice. Each day is an eternity; every hour an ordeal. We pull our sleds across the emptiness for ten and more hours a day, every day, without respite. The day comes to an end, and we camp. Only our silent oracle, the satellite navigator, tells us we have moved at all. Another day closer, fiftytwo gone, perhaps ten more to go: it is too many. This is the ‘graveyard shift’: the final two-and-a-half-hour hauling session for the ‘day’. I try to confine myself within the orbit of my parka hood. Then, as I plod along,
I am not confronted by the vast horizon, now even more vast, even frightening, since we left the lumps and bumps of sastrugi behind. Head down, I won’t see my two companions shrinking like tiny black ants into the shimmering distance, pushing on to make camp. Later, our tent will come into view as a tiny scab on the perfect white horizon, slowly growing into a limpet afloat on a shining sea. Just a thin smear of fabric, but it is our refuge, our survival. To avoid a disheartening sight of the tent too far away, I resolve not to look up again until the tracks inevitably lead me there. Slide slide slide slide.
Instead, I look down onto a few square metres of bright snow, encompassing the essential geometry of our journey: tracks pointing due south, my own deep blue shadow, and the infernal shadow of my right ski stock, my timepiece. So close to the summer solstice and to the Earth’s axis of rotation, the sun performs a perfect 24-hour circle, twenty degrees above the horizon. Each hour the stick-shadow sweeps through fifteen degrees of the spinning circle. I see it will be another hour before the sun is due west, when the shadow falls perpendicularly across the ski tracks: 6 pm, the allotted time for my companions to stop hauling and camp for the ‘night’.
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