The Remote Heart of the Transantarctic Mountains

A glacier flows through the remote heart of the Transantarctic Mountains, a land so alien as to be of the imagination, an icy fastness engraved in a children's storybook. Granite spires puncture undulating fields of white, reaching into a crystalline atmosphere lit by a perpetually shining sun. The mountains form a barrier between two vast oceans of ice. At the lower shore rounded nubbins of gneiss rise out of the ice shelf; in the headreaches, nearly two miles above, tabular, bedrock blocks slip gently beneath the ice sheet, brim full behind the range, draining through the spillways of the outlet glaciers. In every recess of the heights ice creeps downward through broadening tributaries, and merges with the central outlet in a spectacle of frozen motion. Tremendous forces are at play, crustal uplift, erosion, glacial flow, yet all are gripped in a stillness so profound that every detail of landscape is poised, on the verge of itself. Silence reverberates. Then imperceptibly the scene begins to shift; a presence moves out of the south, quickens, funnels into the valleys and on down the outlet glacier. Above the summits, clouds gather in stationary, arching streaks, tracing the passage of air. In the lee of peaks and ridges eddies churn along the crests of ancient drifts. Every edge is whistling, when quite suddenly the surface of a snow field lifts up, dissociates, and races along with the wind. This is Nature at her polar extreme, simplified to three elements, ice, rock, and wind, all in motion, each with a different timeframe. Elsewhere mountains rise and winds blow, but nowhere on this planet is such a realm of ice as grips Antarctica. The ice sheets are immense plains of monotonous white; the intricate, glacier-laden mountains are the retreat of gods. To visit this land and glimpse its icy secrets is to wonder at the fringe and lose all sense of scale.

Storm clouds grip the Tapley Mountains.

Gallery – Random Shots 3.0

The week’s gallery features a set of random shots from the 1985-86 field season in the Nimrod Glacier area.

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