Thursday, March 6, 2014

Four to the Pole! - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 11

After going dogsledding and ice climbing during the last week in February with Olivia and Sophia, I wanted to read Four to the Pole! by Nancy Loewen and Ann Bancroft for this week's Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

The trip with Olivia and Sophia came about as a result of a grant from the Ann Bancroft Foundation that Olivia received in November. It has been a dream of hers to do both of these winter sports. I also had an interest in dogsledding for many years, but had never thought about ice climbing until Olivia mentioned it. So, reading Four to the Pole! was an interesting follow-up to the trip.

The book describes through journal entries and narrative passages the journey that four women took from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. The journey 67-day, 660-mile trip would be the first time that women reached the South Pole on foot.

The book describes the challenges that the women endured: frigid temperatures, strong winds, physical injuries, and emotional and mental struggles. They did this while skiing and dragging heavy sleds.

The insight shared through the journal entries that the women shared provided a more intimate view of the struggles that each went through to reach the South Pole.

Likewise, the narrative portion of the book noted some of the challenges that the expedition had with fundraising and corporate sponsorship as the major obstacles to being able to do the expedition at the level that they had hoped to do.

Although dogsledding wasn't part of this expedition that Ann Bancroft went on (she went on a dogsledding expedition with Will Steger and Paul Schurke to the North Pole in the 1980s), the experience I had with Olivia and Sophia with our own trip gave a perspective and understanding that I wouldn't have had if I read it, say, a couple of months ago.

Looking at the list of supplies that were needed for the expedition - collectively and individually - was a reminder of the excessive (but necessary) amount of clothing needed to stay warm during bitterly-cold weather.

As I looked at the temperatures that they skied in during the trip to Antarctica, the range was -12 to -25. The wind was mentioned more than once as being very strong, able to knock over snow walls their built when they set up camp, and potentially create white-out conditions.

When we were dogsledding with Positive Energy Outdoors on the lake, the temperature was about 5 degrees above zero. However, the wind was about 25-30 mph out of the northwest, so it felt more like -20 or -25 below zero. Frostbite on exposed skin under these conditions can occur in 10 to 25 minutes. Needless to say, it was extremely cold. I cannot even begin to imagine skiing and camping outdoors in weather like that. These four women endured conditions that were beyond what I can even fathom.

Olivia (in the dogsled), Sophia, and 
Blake (co-owner of Positive Energy Outdoors)
with their team facing our team of dogs 
(Steph - the co-owner of P.E.O. and my team).

It was also interesting to see the different items for climbing: shovels, saws, ice ax, ice hammer, lead rope, ice screws, pulley, and crampons. Had we not gone ice climbing, I wouldn't have the knowledge or understanding how each of these items are used and how essential they are to climbing.

Me at the top of the frozen waterfall at
Gooseberry State Park in Two Harbors, Minnesota.

I thoroughly enjoyed Four to the Pole! for many reasons: because it was inspiring to read about women who have challenged themselves to realize their dreams; and I learned a lot about a continent I didn't know much about. This is a book that I would highly recommend to both youth and adults who want to learn more about an all-female expedition to Antarctica.

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