Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
The path untrodden?
on 5 July 2011
Make no mistake, antarctic exploration is only for the brave and the tough - but it does seem to be somewhat easier than it once was.
This book recounts how Henry Worsley and two others set out to retrace the journey made in 1908-09 by Ernest Shackleton's party. Shackleton had the extraordinary courage to abandon his quest a mere ninety-seven miles from the South Pole. At that time no man had travelled further south, but when Shackleton made the decision to turn round to save lives it must have felt in some way a failure.
Worsley's trio - all three descended from men involved in Shackleton's expedition - follow the route undertaken a century earlier but with the added determination to reach the Pole. This they achieve after severe tests of morale and fitness, most notably on the Beardmore glacier. It marks the culmination of a five-year project of planning, training and fund-raising. Admirable in every way - and yet ...
Much has changed in a hundred years. Clothing and equipment, for a start. Daily radio contact with base - reassuring in case of serious trouble (which mercifully didn't arise). No need, either, to retrace steps as Shackleton did - a plane will collect the intrepid party from the Pole. Where their arrival, incidentally, is a stop-start process to accommodate the waiting cameraman who needed to stage-manage his filming. And that brings us to that icy wasteland called Antarctica.
Waiting to set off from Punta Arenas in Chile are more than just Worsley and co. "There were Finns, Spaniards, Brazilians, Brits, Russians, Czechs, Canadians and Americans" all intent on braving the vastness on separate projects. Not quite Oxford Circus at five p.m. but a surprising picture. No less surprising than the Ross Sea area which, Worsley writes, "... was busier than I expected. Scientists raced past us on snowmobiles, cabins on skis dotted the coastline and helicopters passed us overhead." So what did they find at the South Pole? ""I was now skiing on tracks made by a snowmobile. On either side of us, cardboard boxes were piled high, some marked 'Mattresses and Pillows', others 'Broken washing machines.'"
Nothing like that appears in the accounts of Shackleton's experience, which the author intercuts with his own. And, it's a pity to have to say, Worsley's plain prose (not to mention his inability to know when to use 'I' and when 'me') suffers by comparison with his predecessor's restrained eloquence. "In Shackleton's Footsteps" is worth reading but it may not portray quite the footprints that might have been expected.