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The Mammoth Book of Travel in Dangerous Places: Arctic

John Keay

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The Hungry Student, Prose: non-fiction, Travel writing

Four Years in the Ice - John Ross
Disgraced and dishonored for his report of an imaginary mountain range blocking the most likely access to the North West Passage, in 1829 Ross returned to Canada's frozen archipelago to vindicate his reputation. He rounded the north of Baffin Island and entered what he named the Gulf of Boothia. Here the Victory, his eccentric paddle-steamer, became frozen to the ice. Through three tantalizingly brief summers the expedition tried to find a way out and through four long winters then endured the worst of Arctic conditions in a makeshift camp. In July 1832, with the ship long since abandoned, Ross made what must be their last bid to reach open water.

Living off Lichen and Leather - John Franklin
In 1845, looking again for the North West Passage, two well-crewed ships under Franklin's command sailed into the Canadian Arctic and were never seen again. There began the most prolonged search ever mounted for an explorer. For Franklin had been lost before and yet had survived. In 1821, returning from an overland reconnaissance of the Arctic coast north of Great Slave Lake, he and Dr. John Richardson, with two Lieutenants and about a dozen voyageurs (mostly French), had run out of food and then been overtaken by the Arctic weather. Franklin's narrative of what is probably the grisliest journey on record omits unpalatable details, like the cannibalism of one of his men, the murder of Lieut. Hood, and Richardson's summary shooting of the murderer; but it well conveys the debility of men forced to survive on leather and lichen (triple de roche) plus that sense of demoralization and disintegration that heralds the demise of an expedition.

Adrift on an Arctic Ice Floe - Fridtjof Nansen
Norwegian patriot, natural scientist, and Nobel laureate, Nansen caught the world's imagination when he almost reached the North Pole in 1895. The attempt was made on skis from specially reinforced vessel which, driven into the ice, was carried from Siberia towards Greenland. The idea stemmed from his first expedition, an 1888 crossing of Greenland. Then too he had used skis and then too, unwittingly and nearly disastrously, he had taken to the ice. Arrived off Greenland's inhospitable east coast, he had ordered his five-man party to spare their vessel by crossing the off-shore ice floe in rowing boats. A task which he expected to take a few hours turned into an involuntary voyage down the coast of twelve days.

The Pole is Mine - Robert Edwin Peary
Born in Pennsylvania and latterly a commander in the US navy, Peary had set his sights on claiming the North Pole from childhood. It was not just an obsession but a religion, his manifest destiny. Regardless

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