Almost immediately it feels absolutely glorious and although it’s as icy as on arrival I quickly put quite a distance between myself and the camp. I am now completely on my own. I cross over a high hump and the camp vanishes from sight. It’s an eerie feeling. I am totally isolated and it would be so easy to head off in the wrong direction and become lost. The crystals in the ice sparkle like diamonds and lure me on like an illusion impossible to attain. The first mountain ridge is directly in front of me and I keep it firmly in view.
Antarctic Desert Map Photo Gallery
Occasionally I trek into a lengthy ice gully and then nothing can be seen in any direction and for several rather agonising minutes there is nothing to indicate the way ahead. But then there is always the sun to guide me and therefore I can’t really go wrong. Or could I? But what if the sun were to exit? If heavy winds suddenly occur and whip up the loose snow it would certainly blot out any vision and it would be all too easy to lose one’s bearings. Fortunately that does not occur. However, it is always a possibility in this totally isolated region and I wonder if it was a correct decision to allow me to go off on my own. Particularly on my first day, before I’ve got to know my way around or for them to know my capabilities. I guess they assume that anyone who chooses to come this incredibly long way is going to be responsible. Someone who is not going to behave in a manner which will not only endanger his or her life but cause others to be endangered in needing to send out a search party and attempt a rescue.
It’s much further to the mountains than it initially appeared and even after I’ve passed the airstrip there is obviously a long way still to go. I remember that in these intense cold conditions it’s possible to see much greater distances and this is why the mountains appear nearer than they are. Still, what else would I be doing? I need to understand something of this amazing wilderness of ice and snow desolation. This is one of the main reasons I came out here; to feel the emptiness of this extraordinary place, to experience the raw emotion of this vast landscape. I want to touch south, just as I had touched north all those years earlier with Andy Goldsworthy and my travelling colleagues from the Tate Gallery.
Every so often I stop and listen to the strange absence of sound. Can one really hear silence? Is it the sound of one hand clapping? This most famous of Zen koans leads me to consider again one of the most interesting and often debated philosophical questions; Does a tree falling in the middle of a deserted forest make a noise if there is no one to hear it? Or even just a leaf? In Antarctica is there a sound from the fall of one snowflake or several or from the cracking of the ice, if there is no one there?
This extremely intriguing question actually stems from an Hindu view of mankind as the centre of existence and asks, ‘What is the nature of reality? The argument concerns the difference between subjective and physical reality. Objects are said to have primary and secondary qualities; primary are solidity, size, shape, etc. whereas secondary include colour, smell, taste. Secondary qualities are not intrinsic to an object but depend upon the reaction of the observer. I may consider ice to be white or blue or green or any combination of colour. It’s up to me and therefore not intrinsic to the ice. Sound may not be heard for a variety of reasons. However, if you define sound as moving airwaves then a vibration of those airwaves will have taken place and an effect has occurred even if not actually perceived. Zen masters will ask students for their answers but will not say which is the right one. You either know or don’t know.
It is as if I’m the last man on earth and there is no one to turn to for any assistance or any answer. It is an extraordinary feeling and I savour it to the full. Although it is mostly silent there are in fact occasionally things to listen to and observe. My boots make their own sounds and rhythms and every so often the wind starts up and whistles or breathes on me. Although mostly it is still. Very still. Very beautiful. The land forms over which I’m trekking are so very different to the ice forms of the Arctic.