The Roof at the Bottom of the World

Ed Stump

Ask most people what they know about Antarctica, and they will tell you penguins. Ask them if they have ever heard of the Transantarctic Mountains and more than likely you will meet blank stares. Yet these mountains do exist, extending for 1,500 miles across the continent and rising majestically to elevations in excess of 14,000 feet. As the Andes are to South America and the Himalayas are to Asia, so are the Transantarctic Mountains to Antarctica. For many years I wanted to share the beauty of these remote and glorious mountains at the end of the Earth, which were the focus of my geological research and exploration for the past 40 years. To this end, I wrote a book – THE ROOF AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD: Discovering the Transantarctic Mountains – published by Yale University Press. The narrative follows the story lines of the explorers – Ross, Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Byrd – who each in their turn, discovered and explored portions of the Transantarctic Mountains. The book is illustrated with more than 100 of my photographs of the mountains, along with more than 30 historical maps, shaded-relief topographic maps, and satellite images, showing the routes taken by the early explorers and the terrain that they discovered. Nothing has changed. In support of the book, I also have written a blog describing exploration, research, and natural history of the Transantarctic Mountains, including 32 posts between August 2011 and November 2012. My love affair with the Transantarctic Mountains began in 1970 when I had the great, good fortune of joining a field party from Ohio State University in the Queen Maud Mountains. It was a wonderful opportunity that set me on the course I have followed throughout my career – conducting geological research funded by the National Science Foundation in the most distant and unexplored mountain belt on Earth. One season in the Transantarctic Mountains and I was hooked. It was pristine wilderness beyond my imagination, a minimalist landscape of ice and rock and wind, displayed in an interplay of nuance and grandeur. To keep going back one needs to thrive on isolation, enjoy logistics, and not mind being cold. I never felt more alive and in control than when I was in the field. The rewards transcended the science, which itself has been a fascinating journey.