Sunday, August 22, 2010
Jon Stephenson was the first Australian to reach the South Pole since the Amundsen expedition in 1913. But the adventure was to remain locked in his memory until recently when he decided to commit his story to print. Published in 2009, Crevasse Roulette is Jon’s remarkable story of the 1957-58 trans-Antarctic crossing. Although it happened 50 years ago, it reads as if it was only yesterday.
In 1956, the young Australian geologist was studying in London. He had dreamed of going to Antarctica, so imagine his delight when ‘Bunny’ Fuchs invited him to become a member of the 1957-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The plan was to cross from the Weddell Sea, via the South Pole, to Scott Base at the other side of the continent. It was to be the first overland crossing of Antarctica.
The expedition included 18 huskies. Driving one of the two teams to the South Pole, Jon was the first to do so since Amundsen in 1912. He remembers the attachment he had for his dogs. Today dogs are prohibited from travelling to the continent for fear they may transmit disease. This makes Jon’s trek even more remarkable, as such a journey will never be repeated.
Jon experienced a winter of 24 hour nights and freezing temperatures, and as one of the two pathfinders for the mission, recollects setting off on the 2000 mile journey crossing ‘country which no one had ever seen’. He zig-zagged the unforgiving ice which, at any time, could collapse beneath him, plummeting him and his team down a crevasse. He describes one lucky escape: ‘I felt the ground suddenly give way under me and just managed to catch myself on one elbow and my chin.’ With a gaping dark hole beneath him, he describes it as: ‘the stuff of nightmares’.
Crevasse Roulette is well written and is illustrated by Jon’s remarkable original photographs. For anyone who loves a challenge, has a sense of adventure and is awed by the aura of the unforgiving Antarctic continent, I thoroughly recommend this real-life adventure.