Jan 5, 2014

The Danish-Jewish explorer Peter Freuchen was twenty years old his first winter in the arctic and bursting with vitality and enthusiasm for the other world he’d entered. He volunteered to stay alone on the edge of the ice sheet in Pustervig northeastern Greenland for the duration of the dark winter of 1906-1907. A few other men were there at the beginning, in a stone and timber house built for the purpose, about nine feet by fifteen feet. Freuchen’s task was to go out every day and take weather measurements on the mountain, which sounds easy enough until you factor in that it was dark most of that time and extraordinarily cold, and that the wolves that ate his seven dogs were deeply interested in him as well.

It was so cold that even inside his cabin, even with the small coal stove, the moisture in his breath condensed into ice on the walls and ceiling. He kept breathing. The house got smaller and smaller. Early on, he wrote, two men could not pass without brushing elbows. Eventually after he was alone and the coal—“the one factor that had kept the house from growing in upon me”—was gone, he threw out the stove to make more room inside. (He still had a spirit lamp for light and boiling water.) Before winter and his task ended and relief came, he was living inside an ice cave made of his own breath that hardly left him room to stretch out to sleep. Peter Freuchen, six foot seven, lived inside the cave of his breath.

From Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby
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