I was captivated and inspired back in 2009 when I read the story of two Australian adventurers, known as Cas and Jonesy, who became the first (and only) people to paddle from Australia to New Zealand. The book and DVD “Crossing the Ditch” inspired me so much I decided to head out on a mini adventure of my own to Alaska.
Last year the same lads struck out on a new adventure, to become the first people ever to walk unsupported from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again. A journey that no-one previously had managed to finish, with past attempts having cost some unfortunate adventurers their lives.
The story of that journey has now been released in both book form (Extreme South by James Castrission) and DVD (Crossing the Ice, produced by Justin Jones), both of which I recently picked up and have now read/watched respectively.
I decided to read the book first followed shortly after by watching the DVD, my thinking being that I didn’t want the DVD to give away too much before getting deep into the book. In hindsight, I should have done it the other way around, but I’ll explain that later.
The story follows Cas and Jonesy as they plan for, then undertake, the perilous journey across the world’s most remote land, a freezing hell alternating between white-outs with gale-force winds and sunny bright “bluebird” days. The story takes an interesting twist when they discover a Norwegian polar guide (Aleks Gamme) also attempting the same feat at the same time, and who quickly gets the jump on them in what has now become a race.
As the story unfolds, the adventurers find themselves waging a losing battle with nature as the weather gets worse and their ability to make any distance is curtailed by appaling Antarctic conditions. As they fight the weather, they must also fight for survival as their physical and mental states slowly come apart under the enormous strain of the attempt.
The book delves deeply into the daily degradation of their physical and mental states. Fighting infections, cold injuries, blisters, boils, cold sores and hunger is just part of the battle. The real battle is the mental and emotional one where, as the injuries mount up and their bodies break down, they must fight their own desires to give in and give up.
The book is a roller coaster of emotion – I felt at times excited, then scared for their survival, each page building suspense as you hope as a reader that they overcome the constant barrage of problems. The dark places each man goes to, places the human mind retreats to in the face of constant and growing physical pain, are the type of places we all hope we’d be able to cope with but aren’t sure if we’d really cut it when it came down to it. These are very bad places, and as the lads wrestle with their own minds their friendship is at constant risk of breaking down under the pressure.
As the book races towards the conclusion, you cannot help but feel the desperation of the two Aussies as they face the very real prospect of starvation and death at the whim of the weather. As the end draws near, the boys understand just how close the line between survival and death has become for them in their starved, physically exhausted condition. As the reader, you can’t help but will them on to make those final days of skiing count.
Other than the general struggles, the book occasionally steps sideways into the challenges of adventure becoming a job, the requirements of sponsors and the challenges of running an adventure organisation. James’ musings on the new “rules” and “definitions” of adventures are interesting but the seriousness of the adventure being undertaken proves that in the end, adventure and survival quickly define their own set of rules.
The DVD itself is an excellent record of the attempt but unlike the book draws more from the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the adventurers than from their physical and mental decline. Whilst it still shows their near collapse, the message is far more about the benefits of adventure and the strength of the human mind when facing adversity. To a certain degree I wished I’d watched the DVD first to see and understand the polar conditions, before reading the book which delves more into the adventurers’ mental states of decline, but this is a minor point. Both formats are highly entertaining.
I personally loved both the book and DVD. My own battles with pain, insomnia and physical/mental degradation through the car accidents I’ve been involved in gave me an odd connection to the trials the men faced in this story. But regardless of that, it doesn’t take dramatic injuries to imagine what they went through out there. Do yourself a favour and get a copy of the book, DVD or both – it’s an incredible story whichever way you look at it. Cheers, FP
Where to Buy the Book – Extreme South, by James Castrission
Buy from CasandJonesy.com.au
iTunes/iBookstore for the ebook version for your iPad/iPhone
Kobo Store for the Kobo ebook version
Borders Online for the ePub ebook version
And good bookstores everywhere!
Where to Buy the DVD – Crossing the Ice, Produced/Narrated by Justin Jones
Buy from CasandJonesy.com.au
Buy from JB Hifi Online
Buy from Sanity Online
And good DVD stores everywhere!