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South to the Pole

Book cover
November 28, 2011

Not many people get the chance to visit Antarctica, but those who do experience something they will never forget. It was the same for Professor Ed Stump. By the time he returned from his first visit to “the Ice”, as Antarcticans like to say, he was obsessed with going back. And he did make it back – multiple times. That first visit to the pristine icy wilderness in 1970 precipitated a 40-year love affair, and led to the publication of a beautifully illustrated history and atlas of exploration titled, The Roof at the Bottom of the World that draws upon his 13 field seasons of experience.

Stump had grown up in rural, central Pennsylvania surrounded by the Appalachians. His love for mountains was one of the main reasons that he had chosen to pursue a career in geology. After finishing graduate school at Yale in the spring of 1970, he told his mentor that he wanted “to get as far away as possible” and the response he received was, “Why don’t you try Antarctica?”

Stump knew of Antarctica’s Transantarctic Mountains, but they were so obscure that he had never considered them as a research option. The Transantarctic Mountains are the most remote mountain belt on Earth, an alien world of ice and rock rising to majestic heights in excess of 14,000 feet and extending for 1,500 miles across the continent.

Stump had the good fortune of being selected to join a field party from Ohio State University in the Queen Maud Mountains. He was chosen to study the structure and stratigraphy of one of the major rock groups in the region, an opportunity that set him on the course he has followed throughout his career – conducting geological research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the most distant and unexplored mountain belt on Earth.

Since 1976 Stump has taught geology at ASU in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Over the past 40 years, he has led a series of geological research projects funded by NSF, covering more than 1,200 miles of the Transantarctic Mountains.  No other person on Earth has a more complete photographic record of the entire breadth of this region. He has twice served as Chief Scientist for large, remote, helicopter-supported camps. Other research includes NSF-funded studies in southern Arizona, the Alaska Range, and the Himalaya. He has written more than 70 scientific articles, and authored three books including Geology of Arizona, The Ross Orogen of the Transantarctic Mountains, and most recently The Roof at the Bottom of the World, published by Yale University Press.

For many years Stump has wanted to share the beauty of Antarctica’s remote and glorious mountains at the end of the Earth. The Roof at the Bottom of the World was his chosen medium to let the secret out about this wondrous mountain range that been the focus of his geological research and exploration for the 40 years.

The narrative follows the story lines of the famous polar 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 Stump’s 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. It is the first atlas of the most remote mountain range on Earth.


On his website, Stump vividly recounts what it has been like to explore the Transantarctic Mountains over the past 40 years. Via blog entries that read like poetry and photographs that capture the pristine wilderness of ice and rock, he brings to life his experiences in the most remote mountain belt on Earth.

HYGIENE IN THE FIELD – August 14, 2011
Deep field Antarctic research requires that explorers go weeks without obvious creature comforts. In this post, Stump discusses hygiene in remote field camps – how dishes are washed without soap and showers are ... nonexistent.

MCMURDO STATION – August 28, 2011
In 1957 the US chose Winter Quarters Bay as the location of its main center of operations, naming it McMurdo Station. Stump first visited the outpost in 1970. He provides two views of McMurdo Station that were shot in January 1983 and January 2011 that show differences that have occurred over the years.

THE SILENCE – September 5, 2011
The Antarctic silence is mentioned by many of those who have travelled to the deep field, including Stump, who recalls: “Standing there, I suddenly became aware of the silence. It was behind me just at my shoulder. It went beyond the icefall as far as I could see. It was out there everywhere.”

ADÉLIE PENGUINS – October 2, 2011
The thing most people know about Antarctica is that penguins live there. Twenty miles north of McMurdo station is the southernmost adélie penguin rookery on Earth. In this post Stump shares his favorite penguin shots.

Read Ed Stump’s article in The Atlantic
What It’s Like to Climb the Mountains of Antarctica (Nov. 17)

Read Ed Stump's article in The Huffington Post
Conquering The Spectre In The Gothic Mountains (Nov. 19)

Read The New York Times' review of Ed Stump's book (Dec. 2)