Monday, 30 November 2009
Friday, 27 November 2009
Moorhouse was to publish over 30 titles but one his bestsellers was The Fearful Void, the tale of his epic camel-back journey across the Sahara.
The 41-year old began the 3,600 mile trek in October 1972, the main reason being to examine the roots of his fear and to explore the extremes of human experience. He explained: ''It was because I was afraid that I had decided to attempt a crossing of the great Sahara desert, from west to east, by myself and by camel. No one had ever made such a journey before...'
Despite being tormented by lice, chronic dysentery and finding the food, when there was any, revolting, Moorhouse’s biggest problems stemmed from the local labour he hired to help him on his quest. Amongst other things, they stole food, disappeared into passing tents for affairs d'amour, spilled precious water through carelessness, and broke his sextant.
The journey ended in failure with Moorhouse ill and exhausted, giving up 1,500 miles from his final destination. However, the resulting book did provide a moving record of his struggle with fear and loneliness. There’s a fine Elspeth Huxley essay about it in Those Who Dared, while an interview about the journey can seen below (The Guardian, February 27 1974.)
It must be remembered though that the expedition wouldn’t have happened without the help – however unreliable Moorhouse considered them – of indigenous people (see Hidden Histories posting). In 1987 the British desert explorer Michael Asher and his Italian wife Mariantonietta Peru became the first people to complete the journey by camel across the Sahara Desert, east to west.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
The diary entries of the Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott are published on Twitter today, nearly 100 years after they were originally composed. Daily postings will be made by Cambridge University's Scott Polar Institute, which holds many of the doomed explorer's manuscripts, to mark the centenary of his final journey.
The first entry, dated November 26 1910, tells how his team boards their ship in New Zealand. The final one will be on March 29 1912, the day he and his comrades died.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
There is yet another 'Best of' list of books to read, this time being Outside Magazine's The 10 Greatest Adventure Biographies. It's a wide-ranging collection featuring such diverse characters as Ernest Shackleton, Bruce Chatwin, Henry Morton Stanley and Marco Polo. And then there is Donald Crowhurst.
Donald Crowhurst was one of nine competitors who in June 1968 set out from Falmouth, England, on the Sunday Times Golden Globe, the world's first singlehanded nonstop round-the-world sailboat race. After battling with hurricanes and damaged equipment in a boat that many thought was unsuitable, the British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston was the only person to complete the race. His feat though was overshadowed by the bizarre journey of Crowhurst, who had secretly abandoned his attempt while reporting false positions in an attempt to claim the prize money without actually circling the globe, and then committed suicide. While he had designed marine navigation devices, it turned out that the man was in fact an inexperienced sailor who had bluffed his way into the event.
I always wanted to include the Crowhurst story in Those Who Dared but there was very little material about him in either the Guardian or the Observer. I eventually came across an excellent Malcolm Muggeridge review of The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. For an in depth essay about the sailor, I'd recommend Geoff Powter's We Cannot Fail: The Dark Psychology of Heroic Adventure.
Monday, 23 November 2009
It has long been said that there are better maps of the moon than the Earth's ocean floor but the new Census of Marine Life reveals a little more about the 'twilight zone' where light barely penetrates. See a film about it here.
The census, a major international project surveying oceans, identified 17,650 species living deeper than 200 metres - the area where photosynthesis is impossible. Bizarre finds include an otopus with an elephant-like appearance, a tiny golden crustacean called a copepod (see left) and, more than 1.7 miles deep, a transparent sea cucumber filmed creeping forward on its many tentacles. Robot submersibles and sea-floor rovers, coring drills, dredges and trawling nets were used for the survey.
The news of this survey reminded me of reading about the excitement surrounding Dr William Beebe's deep sea discoveries in the 1930s - made with the help of the Bathysphere. This was a steel sphere equipped with look-out windows of fuzed quartz that made nearly twenty dives off Nonsuch Island, in the Bermudas, reaching a depth of 2,220 feet, the farthest that living man had then penetrated into the ocean.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Monday, 16 November 2009
Two crates of Scotch whisky dumped in the Antarctic by polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton are to be recovered after a century buried in the ice.
The rare Old brand of McKinlay and Co whisky was left by Shackleton when he was forced to abandon his expedition to the South Pole in 1909. The crates were discovered under the Cape Royds hut used by the team, in 2006. Now, distiller Whyte & Mackay has asked explorers from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust to retrieve the the precious liquid – either the actual bottles or a syringe full – so that they can recreate the unique flavour.
Shackleton's 'Farthest South' expedition came to within 97 nautical miles (about 112 statute miles) of the South Pole on January 9 1909 but was forced to turn back due to a lack of food.The picture of three of the four-man expedition (Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams), appeared in the Manchester Guardian on November 4 1909.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Alain Robert, the French 'Spider-Man', who has spent the past two decades climbing more than 100 of the world's tallest buildings describes what exactly motivates him in Saturday's Guardian. Using window frames, piping and protusions for handholds, and dispensing with a rope, this free solo climbing provides him with ' blissful solitude mixed with the exhilaration of being caught in a place between life and death.'
A true original, who goes where few, if any, are willing to venture, I was keen to include something about Robert in Those Who Dared but unfortunately couldn't find the right kind of piece - most being either extended photo captions are very long features. Channel 4 recently showed The Human Spider and there's a clip of it on YouTube.
Alain Robert is speaking at this year's Kendal Mountain Festival.
Friday, 13 November 2009
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Monday, 9 November 2009
Sunday, 8 November 2009
In his 2004 book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, the Indiana-born mountaineer described the moment his arm became trapped under a boulder while solo-canyoneering (called canyoning in the UK):
"The rock smashes my left hand against the south wall; my eyes register the collision, and I yank my left arm back as the rock ricochets; the boulder then crushes my right hand and ensnares my right arm at the wrist, palm in, thumb up, figures extended; the rock slides another foot down the wall with my arm in tow tearing the skin off the lateral side of my forearm. Then silence."
Ralston was then pinned against the mountainside for five days. He survived by drinking his own urine and even videotaped a farewell message for his friends and family. He eventually escaped by hacking off his arm by using a blunt knife and a pair of pliers: "I thrash myself forward and back, side to side, up and down, down and up," he wrote. "I scream out in pure hate, shrieking as I batter my body to and fro against the canyon walls."
Some have criticised Ralston for not telling anyone where he was going and for being ill-prepared for his trip. However, the story makes it into Those Who Dared for being a true feat of endurance and determination to survive – at all costs. Self-amputation is a repellent thought but Ralston’s account provides a glimpse of the thought process that leads to such an act.