Book Review: Extreme South

Late last year and into the early days of 2012, we followed along and cheered the efforts of a pair of young Australian adventurers named James Castrission and Justin Jones, or more affectionally Cas and Jonesy. The two men were attempting something that had never been done before, a there-and-back again expedition to the South Pole that started and ended at Hercules Inlet. Their journey would take nearly three months to complete, covering 2275 km (1413 miles) of frozen landscapes in the process. Along the way they endured frostbite, high winds, and temperatures in excess of -40ºC/F.

While they were on their expedition, Cas and Jonesy issued regular dispatches from the Antarctic that helped to keep us informed of their progress and struggles. Those dispatches gave us a glimpse of what it was like to spend 89 days out on the ice but they couldn’t paint a complete picture of the experience. But now we can get the whole story of their of their adventure in the form of a new book entitled Extreme South that was written by Cas himself.

Cas and Jonesy were no strangers to adventure prior to their Antarctic expedition. The duo has spent 62 days in a kayak of sorts crossing the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. That was feat unto itself and for most people it would be enough adventure for a lifetime. But not long after completing that epic journey, the boys found themselves craving another one. A bigger and even more challenging one.

They knew right away it would be Antarctica and they knew that they wanted to do something different than simply skiing to the South Pole. The idea to make it a round trip came quickly but the details of the plan took some time. They also had a lot of preparation to do, including getting into physical condition for the hardships they’d face and learning to ski. Yep, that’s right, the two would-be Antarctic explorers had never skied prior to the start of their training.

The first part of the book, entitled “The Early Days,” focuses heavily on their panning, preparation and training. Of course they faced a few obstacles to overcome along the way, but before they knew it, Cas and Jonesy were leaving Australia and were on their way to Punta Arenas, Chile – the jumping off point for the Antarctic. While there they would meet Norwegian skier Aleksander Gamme, a solo explorer who had the idea to attempt the exact same journey as the Aussies. Gamme had plenty of experience in cold climates and his heritage made him a natural skier. A friendly rivalry ensued between the three men, but at that time they could have no idea that their paths would cross again before the end.

The second, larger part of the book is called “Crossing the Ice” and it truly gets down to the nitty gritty of the expedition. It is, quite literally, a day-by-day account of what it was like to ski from Hercules Inlet to the Pole and back again. The daily entries give great insights into how demanding, both physically and mentally, an expedition such as this one can be.

The endless snow and ice, along with the unrelenting cold temperatures and wind, can truly take a toll on even the strongest person. This is particularly true when when exposed to them for weeks and months on end. In reading the account of their journey it was interesting to hear how physically demanding the days were early on but in the end it was the mental challenges that became more difficult to over come. And while the men traveled together they were also very much alone at times. Add to it nagging pain and injuries, lack of sleep and a never ending hunger and you begin to understand why so few people are able to actually complete a journey such as this one.

On December 30, 2011, Cas and Jonesy reached the South Pole. It was an immense achievement and it made them feel like all of their struggles and difficulties were all worth it. But they were also behind schedule and the plan wasn’t just to go to the Pole but also back to the start again. Something that had never been accomplished before. Their joy at reaching 90ºS was short lived however, as they knew that they had a long way to go before they were done. Worse yet, time was starting to run short and if they were going to return to Hercules Inlet, they would have to redouble their efforts. But the wind was at their back, the sun in their face and they were literally heading downhill at last.

The final section of the book deals with that long slog back to the start. A harrowing journey that took every last ounce of strength to complete and made all the more difficult because they were rushing to catch the last plane off the ice. We always knew that this was no easy ski in the park, but the book underscores that point in spades.

It may be a cliche by Extreme South is the very definition of a page turner. It’s fast and easy to read and it always leaves you wanting more. This is a book that you don’t read, you devour. Usually in large chunks and I found myself staying well up past my bedtime just wanting to “read one more day.”

I highly recommend this book not just to those who followed Cas and Jonesy on their Antarctic adventure but to anyone planning an expedition of their own, whether thats to the South Pole or elsewhere. There are some excellent nuggets of information that can help in the planning, but more importantly there is a lot to be learned about being mentally tough in the face of overwhelming challenges.

I received a copy of the book directly from Cas himself, and for that I am eternally grateful. Amazon sells a Kindle version for just $17 which is a steal for a modern adventure story such as this one. I enjoyed ever moment of Extreme South and I think you will too.

One question for Cas however. When did you find time to write this? The book was done and published before you had completely thawed out or put back on all the weight. Well done mate!

Kraig Becker