BOOK REVIEW - Bull, Colin, Innocents in the Arctic - The 1951 Spitsbergen Expedition. University of Alaska Press. 243 pages, plus index. Photo illlustrated. $34.95.
1950 was a wonderful time for much of the world. World War II was over, the good people had won and exuberance was in the air.
A group of young British scientists decided to go to Spitzbergen to spend the summer and make wonderful discoveries in geology and earth science. No one had any money, but they scrounged up enough grants and funds to charter the Miss Mabel, a truly horrid little vessel to take them to the island. In fact, she proved to be such a miserable wooden tub they were grateful to move to the more reliable Lyngen at Tromso. Aboard this vessel they had a sloppy but beautiful trip to the island.
With the thoroughly English young people’s desire to make themselves as physically miserable as possible, they pitched camp in an uncomfortable spot and ate rather mediocre food. They also had a terribly good time playing practical jokes on each other while adding to the then new specialty of earth science. The geologists also did some solid work on the history of Spitzbergen.
The ten young neophytes all kept journals. One expressed his joy.
"From where I sit in front of our tent I can see, across the fjord, four glaciers, all a mile or more wide, and there is a fifth just out of sight behind the moraine. Snow and scree-covered mountains surround us in all directions. It is 11 pm and the sun is still above the horizon, just on the shoulder of a mountain, but it does not feel cold. There is very little wind and hardly a cloud in the sky. In the heat of the day the glaciers crash and grumble continuously and lots of small bits of glacier ice float out into the fjord."
They forgot to leave notes explaining where they were, developed large blisters, discovered hauling laden sleds through soft snow was almost impossible, "crossed mud, sand flats and small fast-running streams without actually falling in", and generally had a wonderful time for seven weeks.
In short, it was a time all those who camp out when they’re young remember very fondly as the years go by. And the scientific results were so promising two of the geologists returned to Spitzbergen in 1954 and 1958. All the survivors have kept in touch and each contributed memories to this book. A wonderful tribute to a time when they and the world were young.