Unbeknownst to most humans, Antarctica has one of the longest mountain ranges in the world. The Transantarctic range stretches for 2,200 miles and tops out at 14,700 feet. On 13 expeditions over 40 years, geologist Edmund Stump explored this range, taking 8,000 photos and tracing the routes of explorers from James Clark Ross to Ernest Shackleton. And while reports say that the largest glacier in Antarctica, Pine Island, is thinning at a rate of more than three feet per year, Stump’s book gives the most accurate facsimile of the terrain as seen from the great explorers’ eyes. Below, photographic excerpts from Stump’s new book, “The Roof at the Bottom of the World,” and the historical importance of each photo in his own words.
The upper reaches of Beardmore Glacier merge with the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Mill Glacier comes in at the left rear. When Ernest Shackleton led his party up this glacier in December of 1908 in their failed attempt to reach the South Pole, he favored the right, less-crevassed portion of the glacier. Three years later Scott’s party followed Shackleton’s route in their own bid to reach the South Pole. The attempt was successful; however, the British were beaten to the prize by Roald Amundsen and his team of Norwegians, and then perished on the inward march.
During the 1934-35 austral summer a ground party of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition made the first traverse of Scott Glacier. The party, led by geologist, Quin Blackburn, mushed dogs to the head of Scott Glacier, where they measured and collected a 1,000-foot section of sedimentary rocks at a peak named Mt. Weaver, and in the process discovered Mt. Howe, the southernmost outcrop of rock on the planet.
The Labyrinth, an enigmatic landform at the head of Wright Valley, emerges from the edge of the retreating Wright Upper Glacier, shown at the bottom of the image. Lake Vanda appears beneath the set of hanging glaciers in the distance. Wright Valley is one of the three Dry Valleys adjacent to McMurdo Sound. It was first glimpsed from the plateau side by a New Zealand party in December 1957, although it was not until 1958-59 that geologists entered Wright Valley and mapped it.
In the summer of 1903-04, the second year of Scott’s “Discovery” Expedition, he and his party were returning from a 150-mile trek onto the polar plateau (seen in the right rear), when they sidetracked down a glacier and discovered Taylor Valley, southernmost of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. The party hiked along the southern shore of Lake Bonney skirting the groin of bedrock that constricts the lake to 17 feet.
Fifteen-mile-long Drygalski Ice Tongue debouches directly from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Ross Sea through a narrow cleft in the mountains. One-hundred-fifty-foot-tall cliffs at its forward edge meet a thin layer of nascent ice as seasonal ice separates to the south (left). Although three expeditions had previously sailed into the Ross Sea, it was not until Scott’s “Discovery” Expedition, 1901-04, that the massive ice tongue was discovered.