sea, ice, clouds and mountains

   pass to the South Pole
Soon the Queen Maud Mountains loom ahead, ranked in stately file against the horizon; here and there the brilliant blue flash of glacial ice lights dark gaps in the range. It is a land of a million years ago, right out of the ice age.

Ahead lies the big decision. One approach to the Pole is over the Axel Heiberg Glacier, the pass which Amundsen chose. Its summit is hidden in clouds. The other approach is over the Liv Glacier to its right, named by Amundsen for Dr. Nansen's daughter, and completely unsurveyed. The summit is clear; we decide to swing right.
The Liv Glacier is like a great frozen waterfall, halted in the midst of its tumbling cascade and immobilized for all eternity. Sheer cliffs rise above us on either side, and the canyon narrows as we wind our way upward. A cataract of ice looms ahead, and there is no room to turn around now. We are at 8,200 ft, just about the Ford's ceiling with its present loading. I wave frantically to catch the attention of Harold June, who is bent over his radio, and point to the emergency food. He kicks one of the 150-pound sacks through the trapdoor, and the plane lifts just enough to clear the barrier.

A final icy wall blocks our way, steeper than all the others. A torrent of air is pouring over its top, the plane bucking violently in the downdraft, and our rate of climb is zero. June jettisons the second sack, and the Ford staggers a little higher, but still not enough. There is only one thing left to try. Perhaps at the very edge of the downdraft is a reverse current of air, like a back-eddy along the bank of a rushing river.
I inch my way to the side of the canyon, our right wing almost scraping the cliff, and all at once we are wrenched upward, shooting out of the maelstrom of winds, and soar over the summit with a couple of hundred feet to spare.

Bernt Balchen, Come north with me (1959)

sea, ice, clouds and mountains

   adventures with clouds
I think there is something exhilarating in flying amongst clouds, and always get a feeling of wanting to pit my aeroplane against them, charge at them, climb over them to show them you have them beat, circle round them, and generally play with them; but clouds can on occasion hold their own against the aviator, and many a pilot has found himself emerging from a cloud not on a level keel.
Cloud-flying requires practice, even if you have every modern instrument, and unless you keep calm and collected you will get into trouble after you have been inside a really thick one for a few minutes. In the very early days of aviation, 1912 to be correct, I emerged from a cloud upside down, much to my discomfort, as I didn't know how to get right way up again. I found out somehow, or I wouldn't be writing this.

Charles Rumney Samson, A Flight from Cairo to Cape Town and back (1931)

sea, ice, clouds and mountains

   sunrise above mid-Atlantic
It's not a large cloud. Within fifteen minutes the mist ahead brightens and the Spirit of St. Louis bursts out in to a great, blue-vaulted pocket of air. But there are clouds all around - stratus layers, one above the other, merging here, separating there, with huge cumulus masses piercing through and rising far above.
Sometimes I see down for thousands of feet through a gray-walled chasm. sometimes I fly in a thin layer of clear air sandwiched between layers of cloud. Sometimes I cut across a sky valley surrounded by towering peaks of white. The ridges in front of me turn into blinding flame, as though the sun had sent its fiery gases earthward to burn away the night.

When I leave a cloud, drowsiness advances; when I enter the next, it recedes. If I could sleep and wake refreshed, how extraordinary this world of mist would be. But now I only dimly appreciate, only partly realize. The love of flying, the beauty of sunrise, the solitude of the mid-Atlantic sky, are screened from my senses by opaque veils of sleep.

This is morning - the time to descend and make contact with the ocean. I look down into the pit I'm crossing, to its misty gray bottom thousands of feet below. Suppose I start down through these clouds, blind, where should I stop - at 2,000, at 1,500, at 1,000 feet? I think of the Canadian pilot, caught in fog, who flew his seaplane into the water without ever seeing it. No, I'll hold my altitude a little longer.

Charles Lindbergh, the Spirit of st. Louis (1953)

crashed Canadian pilot in 1927: Captain F.J. Stevenson?

sea, ice, clouds and mountains

   amongst the big boys
As we followed the river round the 18,000 ft peak to our right, a view unfolded which beggared description. Now we were amongst the big boys. Below was the foaming Indus river. On both sides of the river, steep beyond belief, the mountains rose jaggedly right up to our level and beyond. They spread out, ridge after cleft after shoulder after abyss. At our height to right and left, patched with ice and snow clinging to the ledges, were sheer clifs thousands of feet high. The incredible size of the mountains made them look as if they were just beside my wingtips; the fact that they seemed to go past slowly proved that they were a several miles distant.

To my right towered the mighty Nanga Parbat, 26,600 ft high, sixth highest mountain in the world. I looked at it, hardly believing in its reality. Its spectacular quality was magical. Between me and it were sharp peaks, ice and snow fields, rocks looking black in contrast and, down in the clefts were mighty glaciers streaked and wrinkled as they inched along their beds. From the peak, a plume of virginal white powdered ice streamed against that cobalt-blue sky belonging to high flyers, ice stripped off the crest by the gale force winds. This whole region, 'the Roof of the World', was aptly named.

Down there, on the muddy ugliness, insignificant beings eked out their scanty living; up on the crests with the ethereal beauty, nothing but the screaming of the wind. Between them - me, held suspended by a shape of metal and fabric, driven along at a hundred miles an hour by whirling ironmongery, wood and petrol. It felt unlikely.

A.G. Dudgeon, The luck of the devil (1985)

writing about a trip to Gilgit, India, in an open RAF Hawker Hart two-seater, 1938

sea, ice, clouds and mountains

   African morning
It is always misty when Ruta and I remove the canvas covers from the engine, the propeller, and the cockpit. Each humid tropic day is stillborn, and does not breathe, however lustily pregnant the night that gave it birth.

Beryl Markham, West with the night (1942)

sea, ice, clouds and mountains

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