Book review: Cold Feat – an inspirational Arctic adventure

In May 2013, Philip Goodeve-Docker died during a charity expedition to the Arctic when his tent was swept away by a violent snowstorm. Although his companions called for help, the best of modern technology was no match for the forces of nature. It took rescuers 30 hours to reach them, and by that time Philip had frozen to death.

This news story resonated with me because, just a few weeks earlier, I met polar explorer Duncan Eadie who has been on several expeditions to the Arctic. ‘Cold Feat’ is Duncan’s account of his first expedition – to the North Magnetic Pole. Duncan and a team of lawyers led by famous British explorer Pen Hadow braved the Arctic wilderness to trek to the top of the world. This book offers the reader a vivid glimpse of the place Philip described with unnerving prescience as one of the world’s most dazzling, beautiful yet deadly landscapes. It is an exhilarating and inspirational read.

The first few chapters cover Duncan’s determined efforts to join a polar expedition and the months of preparation: a demanding fitness regime where three daily gym sessions were supplemented by dragging tyres around the heath at night and gruelling training weekends; freezing different chocolate bars to find out which ones were still edible in Arctic conditions; and getting the right kit together, including shopping for ‘wind-proof’ underwear. Then the scene shifts to the pure, icy Arctic landscape and the characters that inhabit and explore it – and the real adventure begins.

‘Cold Feat’ transports the reader to another world – you can almost smell the clean, bitterly cold Arctic air that freezes the hairs in your nose, and feel the deep pile carpet in the world’s northernmost hotel. You get to know the explorers’ routine – long days of riding skidoos or skiing pulling heavy sledges or ‘pulks’ across a harsh frozen terrain followed by hours of melting ice for cooking and making drinking water – the toilet issues and the physical hardships including eyes frozen shut, frostbite and broken teeth. You get to know their personalities – their individual strengths, skills and vulnerabilities and their fantastic team spirit; the ‘ice dance’ that kept them moving and the shared laughter that kept up their morale.

You also get to know Duncan – his warmth, humour and strength of character. Although there are some hilarious stories, there are also dilemmas, disappointments and intensely private moments: when his frozen fingers fumbled for his camera as he lingered outside the tent mesmerised by the dazzling beauty of the Arctic landscape, but he was too emotionally overcome to get the shot, his genuine, cold-sweat fear of a polar bear encounter. And the poignant moment when he placed a single stone from his father’s garden onto the Arctic stones that mark the North Magnetic Pole. These are not spoilers. There is a lot more to this story.

‘Cold Feat’ is a raw, personal account of the adventure of a lifetime interlaced with some history of polar exploration and quotations from famous explorers. There is also philosophy, including lessons that apply to life in general: to embrace the unknown without fear; to be as prepared as you can be, while recognising that you can’t be prepared for everything; to remember that getting there is the intention, but getting back is the imperative.

The blurb describes ‘Cold Feat’ as the story of an ordinary man going on an extraordinary journey. But nothing about Duncan or his book is ordinary. ‘Cold Feat’ is a beautifully written account of an extraordinary adventure of the kind that brings out the best in people – and risks the lives of the best people.


5 Responses to Book review: Cold Feat – an inspirational Arctic adventure

  1. Dear Joanna,
    thanks for this book-review. You made me aware of this book.
    You have been on my blog commenting my article about the Arctic (there are more to come) – thank you very much. But don`t missunderstand me, I don`t do those expeditions like in that book. I usually go up North on an icebreaker from Lonyearbyen or meet it off the the coast of NE Greenland coming with a helocopter. I am not at all such a tough guy. Usually I stay out on the ice at day time and going back to the icebreaker to sleep there. In comparison quite comfy.
    Greetings from the North Norfolk coast

    • Dear Klausbernd,
      Thank you so much for your comments and for liking my posts! Of course I understand. The book is amazing and so inspirational, but I certainly could not do this type of expedition. I am not at all tough! I would like to stay in a hotel if I could – somewhere warm.
      I’m hoping to get there this winter. North Norway might be the best bet.
      Greetings from sunny London.

      • Dear Joanna,
        North Norway is beautiful, if you have the chance visit the Lofot Islands – and you have a big chance seeing Aurora Borealis too.
        Oh dear, I am living not that far from you at the North Norfolk coast but after two weeks of sunshine it`s cloudy now.
        All the best

      • Dear Klausbernd,
        Thank you. I shall have a look and try to organise something. I’m always under pressure – I am a freelance writer – so it will have to be a short trip. But there are some interesting looking tours. Norway is one of the places I really want to visit – not just because of the Northern Lights.
        It’s cloudy in London too now. I visited a friend on the south coast yesterday and it was like the Mediterranean.
        Best wishes,

      • Dear Joanna,
        I am a professional writer (fiction & non-fiction) but now I am more or less privatising. I was invited to most of my Arctic expeditions to write about it.
        But now I switch off my notebook and leave for the pub 🙂
        All the best

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