RIDGWAY – Before John Wright completed the journey in 2006, no one had survived a trip on the ice from McMurdo Station to the South Pole and back. The last man to try it, Englishman Robert Falcon Scott, in a race to the pole with Roald Amundsen, famously froze to death in 1912.
Of course, supply flights to the U.S. scientific mission at the pole are common now, in summer. And adventurers of various stripes slog, ski, or ride the wind to the pole via other routes with some regularity. But no one had done it on the ground from the U.S. supply base at McMurdo until Wright and his team succeeded on what was called the Proof of Concept Traverse, achieved over four Antarctic summers early in this century.
Silverton geologist and mining consultant John H. Wright will read from and sign copies of his book, Blazing Ice: Pioneering the Twenty-First Century’s Road to the South Pole, at Cimarron Books in Ridgway, this Saturday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m.
Wright not only wrote the book about forging a 1,028-mile, practical haul road to the pole, he lived it, leading a team of mountaineers, explosives experts, engineers and cat drivers across scores of “shear-zone” crevasses, through a 300-mile long, tread-sucking “snow swamp,” and fields of wind-whipped sastrugi so hard a Caterpillar D8 left no tracks – snow “as hard as the back of God’s hand,” in Wright’s words.
On top of all that, the road “will not be in the same place this year as it was last year,” Wright told The Watch, in a pre-publication interview last spring. “The ice shifts, up to six feet a day, a half mile a year.” You can’t use GPS to navigate your way through. If you did, your snow tractor would fall into a crevasse that wasn’t there the year before. Instead, crews hauling supplies to the pole (and saving dozens of expensive, polluting airplane flights per year) follow the flags Wright’s team placed in the snow every 300 feet for the entire 1,000 miles.
Why build a road at all? Why wasn’t this done sooner? The author will tell the story on Saturday. Suffice it to say, the National Science Foundation, which manages all operations of the U.S. Antarctic Program, wanted a road. And miner John Wright built them one.
The book debuted at the Silverton American Legion Post 14 on Oct. 2 of this year. Wright has done presentations at Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz., and at the Old Explorers Association in San Diego. He plans to present at the American Institute of Professional Geologists Annual Meeting in Denver later this month.
Blazing Ice: Pioneering the Twenty-First Century’s Road to the South Pole (336 pages, $29.95) is published by Potomac Books.