1990 International Trans-Antarctica Expedition heads from the Larsen Ice Shelf to the mountains on the Antarctic Peninsula. ©Will Steger by Rick Ridgeway

1990 International Trans-Antarctica Expedition heads from the Larsen Ice Shelf to the mountains on the Antarctic Peninsula. ©Will Steger by Rick Ridgeway

Introduction

Think South: How We Got Six Men and Forty Dogs Across Antarctica, is an intimate account of the heroic efforts and unique characters who pulled off the first-ever non-mechanized crossing of Antarctica, organized to bring world attention to the continent and its unique international treaty.

The 1990 International Trans-Antarctica Expedition itself (led by explorers Will Steger and Jean-Louis Etienne) was an epic seven-month, 3,741-mile expedition through territory never before crossed by humans. The behind-the-scenes organization of that expedition - for which de Moll served as executive director - was an equally grueling three-year project involving a unique partnership with the Soviet Union, broken airplanes, financial, political and cultural challenges. Rarely do such adventure stories include the insiders' back-story, with all the fascinating miracles and mishaps that inevitably happen along the way.

Cathy de Moll is available, on a limited basis, for in-person or Skype discussions with book clubs and schools, if arranged in advance. Contact: cathydemoll@gmail.com

Topics for Discussion

 The Adventure and Personalities

1. Among the stories and personalities in Think South, were there particular characters that stood out for you? What made them remarkable?

2. Did you find the chapter-by-chapter online materials (photos and links) useful as you read the story?

3. Why do you think Will Steger described Cathy de Moll as “the seventh member of the team?” Was that a reasonable characterization?

4. What part of the story are you most drawn to – the adventure on or off the ice? In your own life, would you consider yourself an explorer or an “armchair explorer”? What is the difference?

5. The expedition team members demonstrated their expertise, courage, determination and skill in crossing Antarctica. What do you think were the important external factors that also made this expedition the first successful crossing, when other attempts had failed? Luck? Personality? Better technologies and logistics? Cooperation? Historical circumstance? What barriers can you imagine that might make the expedition harder (or easier) today?

6. Do you think that the author’s gender had an effect on the expedition’s logistical success and the expedition’s outcome? Would the same challenges exist today?

Structure and Style

7. The structure of Think South is a bit unusual – telling and re-telling the expedition’s story from different characters’ points of view, jumping around in the chronology of actual events. Did it work for you? What were the advantages and disadvantages of this structure?

8. What words would you use to describe the author’s narrative style and point of view?

9. Did you learn something new reading the book? What questions did you have when you finished - what was left out that you’d really like to know?  

10. The author wrote the first draft of this book immediately after the expedition was finished in 1990 but did not publish it until 2015, the expedition’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Do you think that something was gained/lost by waiting so long to publish?

11. In Chapter 12, the author questions whether social media would have enhanced or diminished the public’s interest in the expedition. What kind of difference do you think today’s technologies would have made?

The Legacy of Trans-Antarctica: Current Antarctic Topics

The future of Antarctica has become a “hot” topic recently, with focus on both the climate changes occurring on the continent and on the recent posturing by nations interested in possible resource exploitation. Two recent in-depth articles outline the issues:

The New York Times, January 6, 2016

Newsweek, January 15, 2016

12. In your opinion, what are the chances that the Antarctic Treaty will continue beyond its 60th anniversary in 2021? What might put the treaty in jeopardy?

13. What do you think will be lost if the treaty is challenged in 2021 or falls apart?

14. Should the treaty serve as a model for other parts of the world, e.g., for space exploration or the Arctic?

15. De Moll reports in the book that the first 400 miles of the 1990 expedition have melted on the Larson Ice Shelf. Does it matter? What difference will such melting, if it continues, make to the world?

16. In 1989-90, the Trans-Antarctica Expedition successfully gained millions of followers through newspapers, television, and educational programs, allowing the expedition to have an impact on Antarctica’s international politics. In today’s world, what kind of event/activity might bring the world’s attention to Antarctica and its future?

17. Trans-Antarctica occurred in a small window of huge international change that led the team to be optimistic about the future. What has changed in world politics that would make it easier/harder to pull off this expedition and/or to maintain the objectives of the Antarctic Treaty?

 Waking to another day. ©Will Steger

Waking to another day. ©Will Steger

About the Author

Cathy de Moll has been a writer, communications executive and entrepreneur. Her first company, Tiger by the Tail (TBT International - founded in 1987), managed the back-office functions of major expeditions and public events; her second company, OnlineClass (founded in 2005), was a pioneer in the then-nascent online education industry. She has recently retired as an assistant commissioner at the State of Minnesota and plans to divide my time between St. Paul, Minnesota and San Francisco, California. Her book,Think South: How We Got Six Men and Forty Dogs Across Antarctica, was published in October 2015 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

The following are  interviews with the author in the fall of 2015:

MinnPost, October 19, 2015: How'd They Pull That Off? Cathy de Moll and the unbelievable logistics of arctic exploration

Minneapolis StarTribune, November 13, 2015: My Outdoor Life: She got six men and 40 dogs across Antarctica