Book Review by Jodie O'Kelly
John Wright was known at McMurdo as the “master-blaster.” He created explosions all little (and big) boys would envy for road-building, sites for buildings and—with this saga—filling crevasses. In “Blazing Ice” he shares the adventures of traversing with a string of heavy vehicles from McMurdo Station on the edge of the Antarctic continent to the South Pole, more than 1000 miles away overland. It took a man like John who goes beyond “beyond.” Antarctica pushes you to your limits. Then your limits have to stretch again. And again.
To take on a project of this magnitude, understanding more than anyone what it entailed, shows the range of John’s expertise and abilities. Adaptive to the max, able to get along with anybody especially in tough circumstances, able to deal with the bureaucracy, and able to confront the logistical nightmares involved, John was the perfect leader.
He takes us through the ordeal that was his for 4 long years. With big gaps. Able to work only during the Antarctic summers, when a halt had to be called it meant a several-month delay. He dealt with equipment and supplies that broke in the brutal cold, huge crevasses that were everywhere around but difficult to locate, and the tedium of hours and days and months of rough travel. He was also responsible for the morale of his crew, and with gentle guidance corralled all for the effort. Patience and safety made it work. Get it done—but do it right.
I was lucky to get to work with John. In 1996, for my 4th season “on Ice,” I was a Meteorology Tech at Marble Point Refueling Camp (for helicopters, 50 miles from McMurdo Station), noting and recording the weather every 3 hours. A few times during that 6-month summer season, I was happy to welcome John and crew with a homemade meal at the end of a long traverse after they pulled empty fuel tanks, supplies and equipment across the frozen bay to our camp over several hours. What a gentleman he is, with a graciousness not expected—he even surprised me with flowers!
Having lived in Antarctica for many months, I understand how much more difficult this was than was even portrayed in John’s writing. The monotony of seeing just white everywhere, the continuous vibrations and sometimes jerking over rough terrain, the exhaustion of attentiveness while driving huge equipment, the constant grinding noise of machinery—for mind and body it is numbing. John’s intelligence, thoroughness and dry humor pulled everyone along for the ride with resounding success. He deserves a huge round of applause.