AntarcticaThe Last Great Wilderness
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe
We lived in total darkness – blackness for months – in a hut, on the edge of the world, waiting for the first sunrise. That was three decades ago, as we prepared ourselves for the longest unassisted march in human history to the South Pole. Beneath our feet was 90 percent of the world’s ice, 70 percent of its fresh water. Danger was everywhere. Crevasses lurked unseen, and the cold was so intense that the sweat inside our clothing and the liquid in our eyes turned to ice. The 1600 km walk to the South Pole gave us ample time to take in this starkly beautiful, austere, terrifying continent, for days and days. By then, in contrast to the darkness, there was just pure light. A seemingly infinite, blinding white blanket of snow stretched out in front of us. We stood in an area the size of the USA without radio communication or backup, hoping to find the station at the South Pole.
Now, in the 21st century, the ice caps are melting, transforming the one pristine wilderness left on earth. We need to listen to what these places are telling us. Huge areas of the Western Ice Shelf, the size of small nations, are breaking off, punctuating the silence with loud rumbles. As these great mountains of ice float in the ocean, I experience their intense calm beauty, while at the same time, I am reminded of their terrifying power. It is the sublime and awe inspiring power of Antarctica upon the Earth; a Friedrich painting made flesh.
Despite this, Antarctica is still a hopeful place. In 1991, The Antarctic Agreement was entered into. This 50 year pact bans any exploitation of the continent, and cannot be modified, changed or abandoned until 2041. The preservation of Antarctica and the survival of the world are linked; if the ice caps melt, it is predicted that sea levels will rise by one meter in the next 100 years. Now, 30 years after that long walk in the darkness, our international expeditions help influence the future preservation of the continent by allowing young scientists, leaders, educators, and artists to see first hand how Antarctica is such an extraordinary, uncanny, and striking place.
In the Antarctic Peninsula the turning of the seasons is marked by the regularity of sunrise and a sunset. Polar light is special and highly changeable. It might be sunny one moment, and then 15 minutes later, it feels like the end of the world has come as a storm of snow and ice engulfs you. Some mornings you wake up to a sky blazing with red light cresting over the horizon, reflecting perfectly on the silent surfaces of inlets and bays. On others, the mist hasn’t cleared and the sun barely peering through the blanket of white, creating a glow, an endless ground with no horizon. Some days, everything can seem pure, so vivid it doesn’t feel quite real. Perhaps as we become ever more accustomed to the polluted cities of our ‘developed’ world, we experience less and less of the essence of this amazing planet we live on. Antarctica is a constant reminder of what our home once was. It is the last great wilderness.