© Danny Willems

Excerpt from ICE

In 1901, Robert Falcon Scott leaves London for an expedition to Antarctica with 48 men under his command. His goal is to be the first man ever stepping on the white of the South Pole: the only place on Earth that hasn’t been yet explored.

Reaching Antarctica was like reaching the moon back then. The journey is rough: weather, hunger, scurvy... cabin fever! The conflict of personality between Scott and his second man in command, Shackleton makes it unbearable for everyone. Relationships turn bitter as the weather. Shackleton prepares his own expedition. He almost reaches the South Pole but realises that if they reach the Pole, they would starve to death on the way back. He writes to his wife that he hopes she will prefer a live donkey to a dead lion.

Scott leaves London for a second time to face the cold. He doesn't know that he has another rival. The Norwegian Roald Amundsen has kept his expedition secret to avoid competition. It took him 12 years to prepare as a polar explorer. Amundsen reaches the South Pole in January 1911. When Scott’s team arrives to the Pole a few months later, they are heartbroken. First Evans collapses. He starts crawling... Imagine his body horizontally climbing some sort of a summit. Maybe the Everest... They can barely walk but they keep collecting geological samples to add on their dead-weight-sledge. Frostbite on their feet is the greatest danger. Keeping their socks dry becomes a matter of life and death. On his 32nd birthday Oates commits suicide in the blizzard. Just like that, Scott’s team fades into the absolute white, disappears into the landscape.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton returns for a third time knowing that he can no longer be the first man at the Pole. But he could be the first one crossing the continent by foot. Incredible things happen to them and yet they survive them all. Every single stage is a problem. Shackleton would let his men sleep for about 4-5 minutes and wake them up by telling that they slept an entire hour. With the clothes that they wore at that time, they would freeze to death if they slept any longer. Shackleton commanded his men with a subtle sense of psychology and he won the award for worst singer.

Not only was it life-threatening and desperate but it was boring over such an extended period. In the photograph, you see men standing on the ice, watching the abandoned ship slowly sink. (...) They camped on unpredictable soft ice as they seem to cheerfully await death. They play soccer and hold costume reviews to fight the boredom. They have been exposed to the cold and light for 15 months. Imagine the endless daylight. Imagine a very long skiing vacation and how tan you would get. Their faces are completely burned. They become other men.