With thinner ice it’s simply much too dangerous: on occasion, Larsen and Waters were obliged to swim through slush. Larsen wanted to tell his tale in ‘a compelling and heartfelt way’ and the reader will certainly be entertained by stories of polar bear encounters, the physical drain of dragging massive sledges across the ice sheets, and the detailed accounts of what it takes to plan such a daring adventure.
The tone is chatty and frank, with Larsen frequently recalling the psychological challenges he faced: ‘why am I here?’ was a question frequently entering his head. The book captures a sense of absurdity. Horrendous trials unfold in a beautiful landscape, while epic journeys are framed by workaday aggravations. No matter how heroic you might be feeling, leaving the relative comfort of the sleeping bag is always a bore and ‘out of a million terrible times you’ll have in the Arctic, waking up is one of the worst.’ The abiding memory of the book will be a story of camaraderie. Larsen and Waters had their moments of flared tempers and petulant silence, but they exhibited true friendship, respect and a keen sense of how much they depended upon one another. Perhaps being on top of the world has a knack for bringing out the best in people. The pity, as this spirited book reminds us, is that these kinds of journeys are at risk of being consigned to history.