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Date Author Title
2014-01-04 Steve Gardiner Challenge of Ice: From book to life

It is interesting that a young reader book published in 1963 is still on my bookshelf fifty years later.

I can remember reading that book, and I can still feel some of the emotions I experienced as a ten-year-old. Now, looking back, I realize there are scenes from that book that played out in significant ways throughout my adult life.


The book is called Challenge of Ice: Real Life Stories of Polar Explorers (Whitman Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin) by Robert N. Webb. It is a series of stories about the adventures men faced as they explored the North and South Poles. Webb asked, “What drove such men as Peary, Ross, Roald Amundsen, Richard E. Byrd, and others to face the furies of the North—the cold, the ice, the ‘land of granite,’ in their brave, desperate attempts to reach the North Pole?” Though, as a young boy, I had no idea what it meant to set out on a polar expedition, Webb’s description of the struggles they faced gripped my imagination. I could feel the wind and the cold. I could feel the exertion.


Years later, I started backpacking and mountain climbing. As I grew in those sports, I expanded my horizons and eventually found myself on three expeditions that took me north of the Arctic Circle. Two of them were expeditions into unexplored regions of northern Greenland. One goal sent us out onto the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean in search of an island which is the northernmost land on earth. We waded for hours through icy meltwater on top of the sea ice. Our feet were freezing, and while I did not think about Webb’s book during that time, I got a real-world taste of what the book was about.


On those northern expeditions, we traveled across glaciers where no one had ever walked. We climbed mountains that were untouched. We hiked through valleys no one had ever seen. We experienced both the joy and pain of polar exploration. In short, we lived the scenes I had imagined as I read Challenge of Ice in my youth.


I loved the feeling of exploration. On the northern tip of Greenland, we were about as remote as is possible in the world today. We experienced the beauty of a sun that never set in a month of days spent exploring. We walked on the sea ice, heard it cracking and shifting. We slopped through the muddy shorelines, wet with summer melt. We walked past gleaming towers of ice, stacked on end when the powerful force of flowing glacial ice rammed into the fixed ice of the frozen sea.


When I read Challenge of Ice in the 1960s, I was intrigued by a strange unknown world. I could have never guessed that later in my life, I would spend over 30 years climbing and exploring, often in the world of ice described in Webb’s book. He had speculated on the motivation for polar exploration, writing, “Why does man try anything new? He tries because of the bold challenge of the unknown. He tries, because since the dawn of civilization man has been curious. He wants to know. He must know. He is forever seeking to broaden his horizons, to add to the store of mankind’s knowledge.”


I read Challenge of Ice. I lived the challenge of ice. Now I understand.