Australian climber and polar skier, Damien Gildea has published a new book on Antarctic mountaineering this week. He tells ExWebs Correne Coetzer about the research behind the book, stretching over more than a decade, about the climbers he has met and the ways he got hold of them, and about the areas he has visited and would most like to visit.
ExplorersWeb: When did you start writing this book?
Damien: Ever since I published The Antarctic Mountaineering Chronology in 1998 I continued to collect information on new climbs, Vinson ascents and corrections to the Chronology, so it was an ongoing process (see below).
Around 2005 I decided to definitely start on a new book and made some notes, mostly in the bars and restaurants of Punta Arenas after expeditions, but it was not until 2008 that Nevicata approached me out of the blue to do this book. So from mid-2008 until mid-2010 I worked on it, not all of the time, but much of the time.
ExplorersWeb: How many of the areas have you visited yourself?
I have been to the Ellsworth Mountains (7 times) and the Antarctic Peninsula (2 times), which are the two main areas for climbing. Of the other areas covered in the book, I would most like to visit the southern Transantarctics, home to the highest unclimbed peaks. I also guided a ski trip to the South Pole, from Hercules Inlet in 2000-01.
ExplorersWeb: Tell us about your books research please.
There was a lot, although the original Chronology provided a base on which to build. But it was boring to most people - I needed more stories, more history, more details and many more photos. So I contacted many of the climbers involved in some of the more significant expeditions, and over the years other people climbing down there had sent me information of their own accord.
Sometimes I interviewed them in person, sometimes by email. Doing the annual reports for the American Alpine Journal and High/Climb magazines also provided me with a framework on to which I could go back and refresh my memory, then flesh it out by either contacting the people involved, and/or putting those trips into the context of other trips.
I also needed to outline the history of exploration in the major areas, as this had not been done before. I deliberately did not regurgitate the well-known histories of Antarctica, like Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton, the early explorers, the nature stuff and the politics. I assume that anyone using this book either already has a basic understanding of Antarctic history, or if they dont they can get it somewhere else, far better.
While travelling before and after expeditions I often took the chance to meet and interview climbers who had done significant things in Antarctica. In 1999, after climbing in Bolivia, I travelled to San Francisco to interview Nick Clinch about the 1966 Vinson first ascent expedition. In 2003, after measuring Mount Shinn, I drove from LA to Phoenix to interview Ed Stump about the Transantarctics, and while climbing in Chamonix in 2005 I went to visit Erik Decamp, to hear the story of his epic rescue of Catherine Destivelle in 1996, and met with Bernard Virelaude about the tragic 1997 expedition.
Often during those years I would pass through the UK and would ring people like Sir Wally Herbert or Sir Chris Bonington, to ask them about climbs they had done years before and of course when I was in Antarctica myself every summer from 2000-01 to 2008-09 I would meet many climbers who had done something notable and we would talk about things, stuck in the tent at Patriot Hills or Vinson base camp, waiting to fly. Guys like Vern Tejas, Phil Ershler, Dave Hahn and Mike Sharp always had tidbits of information that proved useful, though some things were unprintable.
Generally, research is much easier nowadays, thanks mainly to the Internet. In the earliest days - way back in the late 90s - I scoured books in libraries, pored through old scientific field reports, wrote and received letters, or met people in person. Its still good to meet people face-to-face, but now it was mainly done with email, and I also regularly used Google, Facebook, Flickr and even UKClimbing.com to search for people and photos that I could not find otherwise.
You get very good at stalking people! Many older scientists may not be on Facebook, but they have their details on their facultys website at their university, so I would track them down that way and ask them questions about something that they may or may not have climbed 30 years ago.
Of course I see the irony that nowadays books are created with the same tools that are destroying them. This is a pet interest of mine, the differences in how we perceive information that comes to us digitally, rather than on paper. I think there are significant issues and we dont fully understand the processes involved just yet.
Digital overload, spam and an uncontrolled Internet (as it should be) means paper still carries more authority, in my view. And books are still better for some things, like flicking between pages of text, maps and photos, plus they give you a visual and textual feel for the subject that is not so well conveyed via computer screen.
Doing the book was very good personally, regardless of how it may fare, or what others may think of it. I needed to sort out and record all the information I had accumulated over a decade. It was like downloading my brain onto paper. Very cathartic, but a bit messy.
[Check in again for the final part of the interview. Damien will be talking about challenges and interesting experiences during his research, climbers that are not longer with us that he would have liked to talk to and mapping mountains on Antarctica.]
ExWeb interview with Damien Gildea (final), I think we all like to feel that were part of something bigger than ourselves on the mountains
Damien Gildeas new book, Mountaineering in Antarctica: Climbing in the Frozen South, with the peaks and mountains of the most remote and wild regions of Antarctica has been published on November 1, 2010. The coffee table format book printed on gloss paper is available in English and French (Les Montangnes de lAntarctique).
High quality, full color photographs illustrate the comprehensive text that cover mountains in the Ellsworth Range, Antarctic Peninsula, Queen Maud Land, the Transantarctic Mountain Range, South Georgia and other areas such as the Kerguelen Islands, Heard Island, the Framnes Mountains, Marie Byrd Land and remote Antarctica Islands. More than 200 previously unpublished photos and 12 original maps are included in the book.
Being a mountaineering book it covers technical data, equipment, routes, approaches, transport and more. The book though covers more than strictly mountaineering. It also includes descriptions of the mountain ranges, geography and glaciology, exploration and travel history, many anecdotes and practical information. Several interviews with and personal information about climbers and sailors are also included,
Damien Gildea has led seven successful expeditions to the high mountains of Antarctica since 2001. In 1998 he published the Antarctic Mountaineering Chronology, followed by topographical maps of Livingston Island (2004) and Vinson Massif (2006).
For more than a decade his writing and photography has appeared in publications around the world.
Damien Gildea has also guided a ski expedition to the South Pole and made various journeys to the Himalaya, Karakoram and Andes. When not on expeditions, he lives in Australia.
Book orders can be placed here.
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