From the science fiction novel Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson.
High rapid beeping came from her crevasse detector, and Valerie Kenning stopped skiing and leaned on her ski poles. She was well ahead of the rest of her group, and with a check over her shoulders to make sure they were coming okay, she stabbed her poles deeper in the dry snow of the Windless Bight, causing a last little surge of heat in the poles handles, and took the pulse radar console out of its parka pocket and looked at the screen, thumping the buttons to get a complete read on the terrain. A beepbeepbeep; there was a fairly big crevasse ahead. They were entering the pressure zone where the Ross Ice Shelf used to push around the point of Cape Crozier, and though the pressure was gone the buckling was still there, causing many crevasses.
She approached this one slowly and got a visual sighting: a slight slump lining the snow. She would have noticed it, but there were many others that were invisible. Thus her love for the crevasse detector, like a baseball catcher's love for his mask. Now she used it to check the crevasse for a usable snowbridge. The music of the beeps played up and down - higher and faster over thin snow, lower and slower over the thicker bits. In one broad region to her left, snow filled the crevasse with a thickness and density that would have held a Hagglunds. So Val unclipped from her sledge harness, plucked her poles out of the snow and skied slowly across, shoving one ski pole down ahead of her in the old-fashioned test, more for luck than anything else; by now she trusted the radar as much as any other machine she used.
She recrossed the bridge, snapped back into her sledges, pulled it across the crevasse, and stood waiting for the others, chilling down as she did. While she waited she checked her GPS to scout their route through the crevasses ahead. A bit of a maze. The three members of the 1911 journey to Cape Crozier, the so-called 'Worst Journey in the World', had taken a week of desperate hauling to pass through this region; but with GPS and the latest ice maps, Val's group of twenty four would thread a course in only a day, or two if Arnold slowed them too much.
There were only two days to go before the springtime return of the sun to Cape Crozier, and at this hour of the morning Mount Erebus's upper slopes were bathed in a vibrant pink alpenglow, which reflected down onto the blue snow of the shadowed slopes beneath it, creating all kinds of lavender and mauve tints. Meanwhile the twilit sky was pinwheeling slowly through its bright but sunless array of pastels: broad swathes of blues, purples, pinks, even moments of green; as Val slowly cooled down she had a good look around, enjoying the moment of peace that would soon be shattered by the arrival of the pack. A guide's chance to enjoy the landscapes she travelled through came a lot less frequently than Val would have liked.
The pack was on her and she was back at work, making sure they all got across the snowbridge without accident, chatting with the perpetual cheerfulness that was her professional demeanor, pointing out the alpenglow on Erebus, which was turning the steam cloud at its summit into a mass of pink candyfloss thirteen thousand feet above them. This diverted them while they waited for Arnold. It was too cold to wait comfortably for long, however, and many of them had been obviously sweating, despite Val's repeated warnings against doing so. But even with the latest smartfabrics in their outfits these folks were not skillful enough at thermostatting to avoid it. They had overheated as they skied and their sweat had wicked outward through several layers whose polymer microstructures were more or less permeable depending on how hot they got, the moisture passing through highly heated fabric until it was shoved right out of the surface of their parkas, where it immediately froze. Her twenty four waiting clients looked like a grove of flocked Christmas trees, shedding snow with every move.
Eventually a pure white Arnold reached them and cross the snow-bridge, and without giving him much of a chance for rest they were off again through the crevasse maze. Although they were crossing the Windless Bight, a strong breeze struck them in the face. Val waited for Arnold, who was puffing like a horse, his steamy breath freezing and falling in front of him as white dust. He shook his head at her; though she could see nothing of his face under his goggles and ski-mask (which he ought to have pulled up, sweating as he was) she could tell he was grinning. 'Those guys,' he said, with the intonation the group used to mean Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard, the three members of the original Crozier journey. 'They were crazy.'
'And what does that make us?'
Arnold laughed wildly. 'That makes us stupid.'
Reproduced with kind permission from Kim Stanley Robinson and HarperCollins
Kim Stanley Robinson was born in 1952 and, after travelling and working around the world, has now settled in his beloved California. He is widely regarded as the finest science fiction writer working today, noted as much for the verisimilitude of his characters as the meticulously researched hard science basis of his work. He has won just about every major sf award there is to win and is the author of the massively successful and lavishly praised Mars series.
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