Our approach to Antarctica took place at 10,000 feet of altitude but our height did not spare us from the fury of the storm raging on the surface. At times it took both pilots working together just to maintain a level attitude. The updrafts from the icy storm kept trying to roll us upside down and draw us down to those freezing waters. The struggle against these uncommonly high winds and violent updrafts lasted for several long hours adding considerably to our weariness once the sixteen hour flight between the South Island of New Zealand and McMurdo Sound, Antarctica was concluded.
After many wearying hours we finally broke free of this backbreaking turbulence and we found it less of a struggle to keep the aircraft headed toward that land of ice. For a long time we flew through a starless sky, an ink bowl of darkness, but we were somewhat consoled in being able to think of something other than keeping the aircraft from crashing into the Antarctic waters below.
Sometime after midnight New Zealand time a thin sliver of colored light appeared on the horizon announcing the approach of that vast continent of snow and ice and its twenty-four hours of sunlight. Slowly the sliver became longer and taller and its color went from a gray glow to bright orange. It was like nothing I had seen before. I had previously flown into beautiful sunrises and sunsets but this time it was a different experience. The glow had a mystic charm, a patch of color that beckoned one to wish for more. Ever so slowly the glow started taking on specific shapes and faint outlines of mountains became discernible. The orange color soon brightened into a soft whiteness and when it did the eye could discern greater details of the enormous mountains stretching before us.
I was seeing for the first time a land of almost total ice that was to become my home for the next sixteen months. I didn't think, at the time, of the consequences of a crash landing in those craggy, frozen peaks or of the possibility that I might sometime have to exist on the surface with survival measured in days or hours of supreme cold. I could only think that here was the start of my great adventure, an adventure that would be like no other I might ever have to face again. Here I would live and grow in experience.
Here I would face difficult and dangerous flight conditions that severely taxed my flying abilities. Here I would suffer frustration, boredom and loneliness. Here I would find part of myself, a degree of self-reliance, that had often escaped me in the past. Here I would come alive as I had never felt alive before.
Read with me as I journey through those distant skies where many might have wished to go, but few were able to make the sacrifice of time and energy necessary. I was never disenchanted with my Antarctic experience, though it seemed at times like a time without end.
I hope you find the story as absorbing in reading it as I found in living it.
|Table of Contents||Next Section|