Alone in Antarctica by Felicity Aston

1st Oct 2013

Alone in Antarctica
Explorer Wonder Woman extraordinaire Felicity Aston tells her story of being the first woman to cross Antarctica unassisted. Prepare to be awed.

Felicity Aston; travel writer, mentor, Antarctic explorer and, as she seems to wholeheartedly believe herself to be, a perfectly ordinary woman. Upon reading Aston’s second travel memoir, Alone in Antarctica, one of the first things the captivated reader will notice is the powerful blend of tenacity, passion and disarming honesty that elevates the explorer above the rabble and reveals her to be oh-so-very remarkable indeed.

Following a spell studying meteorology at Reading University and a life-affirming trip to Greenland that would plant the seed of exploration deep within her soul, Aston embarked on a contract with the British Antarctic Survey, working as a meteorologist at the Rothera Research Station.

This proved to be a period of her life during which the lure of this terrifying continent and the solitude and unique lessons it can provide became all the more attractive.

The colours are opulent, the sun is a beacon of hope and the hallucinations hugely entertaining.Since then, Aston has gone on to take part in many expeditions, her penultimate being the admirable and deeply significant task of leading an all-female team of Commonwealth women to the South Pole.

In Alone in Antarctica, Aston forgoes the comfort of a team effort and sets out to become the third person and, crucially, the first woman to do so unassisted. Following her on a petrifying trudge up the Leverett Glacier, across to the pole and, after 59 interminable days, through back-breaking storms and glorious solar displays to her finish line at Hercules Inlet, we are witness to the full capacity of human beings to endure not only extreme physical hardship but also the unimaginable psychological burden of being completely and utterly alone.

The minutiae of daily life in the Antarctic wilderness is a delight. How do you do a poo and what on earth do you do with it afterwards? (Answer: frozen doggy bags) Is it advisable to give your knickers a good wash and hang them in your tent to dry? (Answer: no!)

Aston carefully juxtaposes comic moments with many of great poignancy and passion. Although her tale could so easily become as repetitive as the daily grind of her journey, for an explorer-turned-writer the adept way in which she describes her achingly beautiful yet treacherous surroundings lends the reader a glimmer of an environment that few will ever have the opportunity to see in reality. The colours are opulent, the sun is a beacon of hope and the hallucinations hugely entertaining.

The lasting sentiment left for the reader however is one of profound respect. Felicity Aston is a role model to women for her physical feats and ambition yes, but overall it is her breathtaking honesty that breaks the mould, giving us a glimpse of her inner life that is completely devoid of pretence.

Yes she is a Wonder Woman explorer-type, but she also shouts and cries and talks to herself. Every day. She is scared and alone and tired and strong and absolutely blooming marvellous. With the sun as her volatile yet eternally loyal ally, Aston leaves the warmth of her faithful tent every day to face the wilderness.

So, next time you simply cannot get out of your pit to confront the horrors of the daily commute to work, “let routine take command of feeling” and go out to face the day, however unremarkable it may be and, like our new polar champion, with a thankful smile towards the sky, and a spare set of baby wipes.