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Into the Abyss - Benedict Allen (book cover)

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Into the Abyss – Explorers on the Edge of Survival (2006)

What keeps an explorer going, step after step, into a blizzard where there seems to be no hope? How do any of us find the determination to keep going in times of despair?

No one is better placed to understand what makes a survivor than Benedict Allen, who took a team of hardened "Icedogs" into the remotest corner of Siberia. And in the midst of that freezing hell he discovered what it is that helped the great adventurers – Shackleton, Peary, Amundsen and Scott – stand firm when facing disaster.

This is the full story of the "Icedogs" expedition, in which Benedict, assisted by two valiant Chukchi guides, a translator, and their dog teams set out through Siberia in the worst winter in living memory. Benedict's aim was to learn enough out there in the pitiless Russian Far East, to set off alone with his dogs and cross the Bering Strait – in order to understand what keeps any of us going when "up against it."

Recommended for: those who have a dog, or who want to know what how this extraordinary relationship between man and dog works in the Arctic. Also a book for those interested in what keeps any of us going, when up against it – not the "boy scout" survival stuff, but the psychology of survival.

Most exciting bit: towards the end, when Benedict has been trained up by the Chukchis and is at last alone, having decided to dash off across the frozen pack ice of the Bering Strait with his dog team.

Benedict's comment: This was a wonderful journey – and all the more so, now I'm back home! I don't like the extreme cold. The two guides, Yasha and Tolia, were very good to me, especially as I found it hard to cope, what with the frostbite/frostnip and the dog team naturally reluctant to put their trust in me. Things came together in the end – and two of the best days of my life were on my return from the Bering Strait, winding through the pack-ice and tundra with the dogs, feeling we had worked things out together, and were free now to travel the Arctic alone.

To my frustration, when the TV series was broadcast one magazine quoted me as saying that the two Chukchis, Yasha and Tolia, were drunk much of the time on our journey up to the Strait. Although drink was indeed a problem at times, it was rarely a major one in their case and actually I was trying to deflect blame from my translator who did become a major liability as he took more and more to the bottle. The book, though, sets the record straight, and gives an idea of how content I was by the end of my time in Chukotka. The experience I had out there was a very valuable, uplifting one. I dedicated the Faber Book of Exploration to Tolia and Yasha, and still hope to visit them and also ride out across the ice-fields with those dogs again.


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