South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery
Long-distance swimmer and author Lynne Cox traces the path of polar explorer Roald Amundsen – just in time for the centennial of his arrival at the South Pole.
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That’s too bad! Before “South,” she wrote two excellent books specifically about her swims. First was “Swimming to Antarctica,” which detailed many of her long-distance and cold-water swims in gripping detail, leading up to her astonishing 25-minute, 1-mile swim in Antarctica. “Antarctica” is a page-turner, with brilliant descriptions of her swim environments and locations. Then there is the wondrous “Grayson,” about swimming with a baby gray whale off the California coast.Skip to next paragraph
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Separating out much of the material about swimming in “South,” along with the chapters at the end about today’s challenges flying to the South Pole, there is a core book here that is vivid and compelling.
Cox describes in horrifying detail how Amundsen, as a young man, almost perished in the snow. One winter he and a friend went skiing along a plateau west of Oslo, Norway. They took insufficient food and equipment, became lost, and when night fell Amundsen built himself a snow cave. Melting snow formed ice, which entrapped him, and if not for the efforts of his friend, Robert Falcon Scott would now be credited as being first to the South Pole.
(Scott reached the South Pole only five weeks after Amundsen conquered it. He and his team, having discovered Amundsen had gotten there first, perished of cold and hunger on their way back to base camp.)
Much of “South” is given over to telling the story of Amundsen’s crossing of the Northwest Passage – a first as significant as reaching the South Pole. Cox juxtaposes this with extensive details of frigid swims she makes along his route – accounts of sporadic interest, engaging mostly only in that they provide a view of these isolated, icy places today.
Then, Cox describes Amundsen’s trek to the pole – climbing through mountains, sometimes in blinding snow, for hundreds of frigid miles. Meanwhile, his magnificent dogs pulled the sledges – and, alas, were gradually slaughtered for food.
When the team passes the point Ernst Shackleton reached before turning back – further south than anyone else had been before – “Amundsen was overcome with emotion, more than at any time during the journey. Tears filled his eyes....” Finally, Amundsen and his team crossed a 9-thousand foot plateau and reached the South Pole.
Cox is an extraordinarily talented swimmer/writer. Here’s hoping her next effort is a return to form.