A beautifully written and multifaceted book, covering the years between the successful 'Tiso Trans Greenland' expedition (written about in 'The Long Haul') and the current 'Dark Ice project'. Focusing mainly on the expeditions in Greenland and Iceland, Alex not only writes about the methods of travel involved, but weaves in some brilliant information about clothing and equipment; offering useful tips for survival in extreme conditions and providing in turn a realistic and vivid picture of the type of terrain and dangers polar explorers encounter. He also touches briefly on the big differences between a tourist adventurer and a polar explorer, as well as highlighting a few ludicrous expeditions and opening up for debate the issue of who should be allowed to see the Arctic.
This is not a straight forward book discussing expeditions alone but an insight into the life and mind of a professional polar explorer. Alex writes openly and honestly about his relationships with teammates (both good and bad), the highs and lows of the expeditions and the hard work that goes into creating them. He discusses his own strengths, weaknesses and disappointments, but also the passion for the work he does and his great love for the people of the Polar Regions in which he travels.
For those who are unsure what 'modern' polar exploration is all about this passage from the book sums it up perfectly:
'I think most of the handful of polar travellers currently active would agree that the following are amongst the biggest challenges of the Artic: man-hauling equipment, no resupplies, sea ice travel, new routes with little precedent, polar bear territory and darkness. Most remarkable expeditions combine two or three of these. 'The Dark Ice Project' would combine them all.'(p.146)
I thought this was a fascinating book: brutally honest, opinionated and endearing. It is exceptionally well written without overly elaborate language which makes it a very easy read. I enjoyed it every bit as much as 'The Long Haul' and I look forward to the next one.
This was a rather disappointing follow up to Hibbert's earlier excellent book, "The Long Haul". It covers 3 expeditions of the writer, each of which failed, namely a Greenland ice cap crossing speed record attempt, an attempted crossing of an ice sheet in Iceland, and an attempt to lay depots for a North Pole expedition. Interspersed between the 3 expeditions is a rather disjointed and aggressive commentary on topical polar expedition matters.
The first expedition described is an attempt at the Greenland ice cap crossing speed record, which represents a change in philosophy of Hibbert earlier evidenced in the "The Long Haul", in which he painted a picture of an expeditioner interested more in the purity of long expeditions rather than wanting to set speed records. In this section Hibbert reveals a solid determination to justify to others his self-image as a world leader in polar expeditions, hence his desire to achieve the speed record. Hibbert's strength as a writer is his ability to recount precise details of expedition travels in an interesting way and he does do this in this section, although the subject matter is less exciting than the journey described in "The Long Haul". However, the troubling aspect of this section was that Hibbert goes to great lengths to criticise other Greenland expeditions, in a manner which I considered rather arrogant and ill-conceived. For example, he describes the current British record holders as "a fairly hopeless attempt", which is hard to reconcile with the fact that they retain the record and crossed in an exceptionally fast time. The conclusion I reached from this section was that Hibbert is seeking to establish himself as the foremost authority on Greenland ice cap expeditions partly by improperly attacking others and this represents an unfortunate change in style to the young idealistic explorer of "The Long Haul".
The second section deals with a failed crossing of the Vatnajokull ice cap in Iceland. In this expedition Hibbert's tent is destroyed by wind, and I was puzzled as to why in such a lengthy section the brand of tent was not mentioned, particularly as Hibbert refers to many other expedition brands through the book. The feeling I was left with was a lack of transparency, as the brand of tent is of fundamental importance to the failure of the expedition and any proper consideration of the merits of the expedition.
The third section deals with an expedition to lay depots for a North Pole attempt, which fails due to ill-health of a team-mate. Hibbert describes the detail of this expedition well, in particular the difficulty that can arise in selecting a team mate for an expedition. As with Greenland, Hibbert attacks a number of North Pole expeditions, which comes across as lacking credibility given that Hibbert himself is yet to accomplish anything of note in the North Pole region.
This book suffers from having very poor maps, as there are numerous references to locations throughout the book which ought properly be shown on detailed maps. Similarly, the book does not have any referencing, which detracts from the credibility of the writer's opinions on historical matters.
Overall, I considered the style and content of this book to be quite a disappointing follow up to "The Long Haul".
After reading "The Long Haul", I expected "Maybe" to be a similar tale of Alex's more recent expeditions. However, the contrast between the covers of "The Long Haul" and "Maybe" says it all. "Maybe" is, in fact, an engagingly honest take on what it means to build a career in the polar regions. The pain and frustrations of near misses or "Maybe" ifs are described in detail and show the growth of a young man still dedicated to his craft but now with more than a few battle scars. The descriptions of his time spent planning routes, building teams and sorting his logistics are vividly interspersed with his recent journeys. The challenges of building relationships under these conditions give real insight into what makes polar types tick, and how different they can be. At times he is opinionated, and maybe even a little angry, but I found this to speak more of a person forging a different and difficult path. This is no airbrushed story of easy success, and it is the better for it.
As a writer his style has matured, more clearly stating his vision and opinions, and leaving you with no doubt of his future intent. I can't wait to see where this takes him.
Having been such a fan of 'The Long Haul', I wasn't sure what to expect from 'Maybe' but if anything, I enjoyed it even more. Written in Alex Hibbert's typically honest style, it provides a great background into the planning and preparation required for a polar expedition, the relationships between team members and the trials of a true, unsupported expedition. Alex's experience and knowledge of the polar regions is clearly evident, as is his genuine affection for the people who live there. He is clearly a perfectionist, who sets the highest standards for himself and expects no less of his team-mates and any individual who chooses to call themselves a polar explorer. Whilst uncompromising and often openly critical of others, he offers well presented and reasoned arguments to support his opinions and draws some interesting parallels between the worlds of polar exploration and mountaineering.
For anyone interested in the polar regions, the driving force that compels a handful of individuals to explore these difficult and dangerous regions and the future of this fascinating field 'Maybe' is an absolute must-read.