"I will never speak lightly of an Antarctic winter night again—I have been through one . . . ."
In 1939, Admiral Richard E. Byrd led his last expedition to the Ross Ice Shelf on the continent of Antarctica. A 25-year-old geologist named Charles Passel was one of a small crew of men who took part in this mission, which included a year and a half of isolation from the rest of the world except by amateur radio operators.
Passel kept a daily diary throughout the expedition. Days began with the cook prying a frozen griddle from a shelf to make breakfast and the men taking half an hour to dress for work outdoors. Engines had to be heated by blow torch, oil froze while it was being changed, and the crew's tractor ran only in reverse. Though he had come for scientific research, Passel faced additional duties as dog driver, radio operator, and supply officer. With a "warts and all" reality, Passel's journal reveals the adventure and opportunity as well as the danger and loneliness of this historic expedition.
Charles and Alda Passel have been married for fifty-five years. They reside in Abilene, Texas.
T.H. Baughman is chair of the history department of Benedictine College, Atchison, Kansas. He is the author of Before the Heroes Came: Antarctica in the 1890s.