The treacherous Arctic is the setting of a harrowing true story of shipwreck, disaster, and survival in the early twentieth century. Acclaimed adventure writer Buddy Levy, also a creative writing and English professor at Washington State University, talks with Washington State Magazine associate editor Adriana Janovich about his latest book, Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk.
The second of three nonfiction historical narratives by master storyteller Levy about survival and exploration in the Arctic wilderness, this book tracks the voyage of the Karluk to the Bering Sea and its destruction in the ice, leaving crew, Inuit guides, and passengers to struggle for their lives.
In this episode, Levy talks about this captivating story of endurance, his inspiration for Arctic tales, research process—and a teaser for his third Arctic adventure book in progress, which takes to the skies.
Watch for a full review of Levy’s book, Empire of Ice and Stone, in the Spring 2023 issue of Washington State Magazine, out in early February. You can read reviews of some of Levy’s other eight books at magazine.wsu.edu.Support the show
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Larry Clark - 00:00
The Arctic is a treacherous and dangerous landscape. And it's the setting of the harrowing true story by Buddy Levy of shipwreck, disaster, and survival in the early 20th century. Welcome to Viewscapes—stories from Washington State Magazine, connecting you to Washington State University, state and the world. I'm Larry Clark, editor of the magazine. In this episode, Levy, an acclaimed adventure writer and instructor at WSU talks with magazine Associate Editor Adriana Janovich, about his latest book, Empire of Ice and Stone: The disastrous and heroic voyage of the Karluk.
Buddy Levy - 00:38
Hi, this is Buddy Levy. I'm a professor of English and Creative Writing at Washington State University. In my 33rd or 34th, year, I can't exactly remember anymore. And I'm the author of Empire of Ice and Stone, which is my eighth published book.
Adriana Janovich - 00:58
And tell us a little bit about what the book is about.
Buddy Levy - 01:03
Sure, Empire of Ice and Stone is about the Canadian Arctic expedition of 1913. And it's the second of what is going to end up being a trilogy of Arctic disaster narratives that I am writing. The first one was called Labyrinth of Ice. It came out in 2019. And then I followed up with this amazing story, which is subtitled, the disastrous and heroic voyage of the Karluk, and it is a remarkable, riveting shipwreck on the ice and survival story.
Adriana Janovich - 01:40
How did you first come upon the story of the Karluk?
Before I wrote Labyrinth of Ice, which came before Empire of Ice and Stone, I had gone on a trip to Greenland way back in 2003. And during that time, I was writing about a blind adventurer who was doing an amazing race across Greenland, southeastern Greenland. And while I was there, for a couple of weeks, I met this fascinating and accomplished Norwegian woman adventurer. And during the course of our getting to know one another, she told me about this man named Fridtjof Nansen, who is one of Norway's most fabled and revered explorers. And I read a book of his called The First Crossing of Greenland. And after I came home from Greenland in 2003, I read Nansen’s book, The First Crossing of Greenland and then I read this book called Farthest North that he wrote. And these took place in the late 1800s.
Buddy Levy - 02:56
At that point, I was already aware, obviously, of Shackleton's Antarctic stories, but I really started reading widely in the Arctic exploration narratives and they're so, it's such a rich and riveting field. I mean, they just, I was drawn in by what people were doing what they were trying to discover, hardships on ice. And I think, oddly and kind of a kind of a personal level, I grew up in a in a ski town, Sun Valley, Idaho, about 6000 feet above sea level. And my father was a Nordic skier and ski racer way back in the 1950s. And he always got us into winter sports that were often taking place in biting cold conditions. So we grew up Nordic skiing. And also I would go duck hunting with him and stuff at 25 below zero.
Buddy Levy - 04:02
And I sort of developed an odd fascination with and even desire to be in really cold places, and a desire to read about people who were figuring out ways, you know, well before we had the kind of creature comforts of GoreTex and goose down parkas who were able to live and survive in extreme Arctic climes. And so that's sort of the way I found myself fascinated and connected to Arctic narratives. But when I was researching for Labyrinth of Ice, which took place between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, I actually stumbled onto this story about the Canadian Arctic expedition and the Karluk and I kind of shelved it and put it in a file somewhere, thinking, wow, this is really an amazing story, but I don't have time to delve into it too deeply right now.
Buddy Levy - 05:00
And then after I finished Labyrinth of Ice, and it was very quite successful, I have to say, and it won a couple of awards. And my editor at St. Martin's Press said, hey, you know, you seem to have a knack for this storytelling and you're developing a pretty good audience. Are there any other stories in this vein and realm that you want to run by me? And so I, you know, luckily had saved these articles and files, and they were just sort of the general story.
Buddy Levy - 05:32
And at that point, I started immersing myself in the Canadian Arctic expedition of 1913 to 1918. And what I found was this really compelling story of shipwreck and disaster and survival. And then I thought, Okay, well, let's figure out how I can tell this in in the way perhaps, that I was able to tell Labyrinth of Ice, meaning that I tried to get people readers on the ice themselves, on the page on the ice, and create a kind of armchair Arctic experience. And so that's sort of the long version of how I stumbled onto the story was actually researching another book, and then tucking it away for a cold wintry day.
Adriana Janovich - 06:23
I love it when reporting on one story leads to reporting on another story.
Yes, yes. And I, actually, the same thing sort of happened with the third installment that I will be working on for the next year or so. Which maybe we can revisit. Or we can come back and meet again in a couple of years. And I'll be telling you about that story called realm of Ice and Sky, for sure.
And let's maybe talk about it after we talk about the Karluk…a little teaser. And in the meantime, talk a little bit about your research process.
In constructing the story of the Karluk disaster, I was really fortunate, because there had been a book written about it, like a contemporary book that was about 20 years old, called The Ice Master. And that book pointed me to a lot of the primary materials that existed. And so what I found to my great luck and pleasure was that there were a number of members of the Karluk expedition; it's sometimes called the Canadian Arctic expedition, or the voyage of the Karluk, which is the flagship of this expedition. And so quite a few members of the expedition kept diaries in the moment in real time of what was happening. And that included Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who was the expedition leader, Captain Robert Bartlett, who was the captain of the ship, as well as a whole bunch of the other members of the expedition, some were scientists, some were crew members. There's a wealth of information that they wrote at the time in diaries and journals. And it's a matter of, they're not all housed in one place. So the challenge, of course, and by the way, I use diary materials to a large extent in all of the storytelling that I do. I want the people who are actually there telling the story as much as possible there. It's really a great benefit. Because when you have a scientific expedition, for one thing, the members also had some scientific equipment so they're able to tell you, you know, what were the wind speeds on a particular day, what was the temperature on a particular day, and then also, because some of it is, you know, personal diary. They're writing really intimate, personal stuff about the various members of the expedition. And so it's almost like you're getting, it's almost like when you watch Survivor, and you see those on the fly voiceovers, where they're talking about other members of Survivor, so you get these really great insights into what people are thinking about the other members, and sometimes, you know, they're divulging infighting and they're talking about different factions that are sort of happening within if there might be a potential mutiny in the works. And they're saying things about the expedition leader who is no longer with them and has abandoned the ship and then they're really being forthright and honest, and it's raw, you know?
Buddy Levy - 10:00
And so, I was able to find all of this material by scouring a whole bunch of different museums and libraries all around the world, including, I mean, the Library of Congress, Canadian Maritime Museum. There's museums at Dartmouth, and Bowdoin in the United States. And then there are a couple of really, really prolific storytellers who survived the expedition, including one man named William McKinley, whose diaries are all housed at the National Library of Scotland—he was a Scot.
It turns out that I wrote Empire of Ice and Stone during the pandemic and a lot of the libraries were closed to personal visit. And at any rate, there wasn't a lot of international travel going on for quite a long time, as you know. And so I ended up establishing relationships with these librarians who knew what I was trying to find. They were incredibly helpful at locating materials for me, and then I would, you know, purchase it, and then just stayed at my office here in Moscow, Idaho, mostly, and just read and read and read and try to reconstruct this narrative from beginning to end.
I will also say that, at the time that the Canadian Arctic expedition took place, it was a very it ended up being because the ship was lost. And as I'll get into a little later, in some of the details of what happened without sort of spoiling the whole story, it was known that the ship was lost. And there were New York Times articles. And because it was a Canadian expedition, there were articles in in a number of the Canadian newspapers, it was it was international news. And so the New York Times archives have been really helpful as well, because they were posting stories at the time of the events. It's really interesting to read these things now, though, because they weren't getting everything right. So you know, you have the benefit of hindsight and knowing what actually happened. And you can sort of see what the journalists of the time were trying to sensationalize this story. And they were oftentimes filling in ignorance with anecdote that actually wasn't correct. So you have to always cross reference, you know, the claims that are being made in a newspaper article in 1913 and ’14 to what we know to have actually occurred with the benefit of hindsight. So that's primarily how I did it.
And what I will say, so one of the things I tried to do, in all of the books that I write, is to make the reader feel like they are there in real time. And so I had benefited greatly by four or five trips to Alaska that I've made over the course of my life, but also, instrumental was that trip to Greenland, because in that trip, in 2003, I really spent quite a bit of time on the water and among icebergs, and hearing the fracture of ice breakup, and, you know, being on high mountains, inland mountains, on Greenland, but also being able to look out to sea. And that has been really helpful in my ability to transport the reader to that place and really feel like I got it right, like, feel like they are there on a floating ice floe in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. That's very important to me. I think that comes through.
Actually that was going to be one of my questions, if you got to travel to some of these places during the research process, but it was the pandemic and travel was limited. Right?
Buddy Levy - 14:23
Yeah, I mentioned this. In the back notes of the book, I had two planned visits to Wrangel Island, which is one of the main settings after the shipwreck. A number of the survivors make it to this landmass about 100 miles north of northeastern Siberia called Wrangel Island. And it was really, it was pretty devastating because I had trips planned to go to Wrangel Island. The first was made impossible by the pandemic because the expedition organization that was going to take me there was not they weren't able to have people on a ship. And then after that last summer, I was going to go there again and then Russia invaded Ukraine. And you know, Wrangel Island is a Russian territory. And it's only there's only one permanent resident on it.
But I did manage to spend, I mean, hours and hours and hours on Google Earth and Google Maps and looking at images of Wrangel Island. It's a really fascinating place. It's the largest breeding ground of the Pacific walrus in the world. And it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has one of the largest polar bear Denning areas in the world. And so it's a really important place geographically. And it also is the setting of a great deal of the drama that takes place in the book. But I have to say that I've been fortunate that people who I have corresponded with, who have been there and people who I have corresponded with, who've spent a tremendous amount of time in in the Arctic above Alaska, have been very complimentary in suggesting that I nailed it.
So Wrangel Island is still on my bucket list. It's just gonna now happen after the fact.
Now talk a little bit about the narrative. When I read it, I saw kind of three stories in one you have the the organizer of the entire endeavor, who ends up abandoning the ship early on in the story, We're not giving away any surprises there. And then kind of the story of the castaways, the shipwrecked souls and you know, will they or won't they survive or how many of them will survive and how. And then there's the captain's kind of mythic journey to try to get them rescued. Is that how you see it to those along those three kind of plot lines or storylines?
Buddy Levy - 17:01
Yeah, I would say that's a really good reading. I would add that there's another tendrils to the story, which I'll touch on, which is the importance of the Inuit members on the expedition who are vital in, you know, helping a number of the marooned, as you call them, castaways survive. But so yeah, the the kind of thumbnail overview is that this really flamboyant impresario I'll call him named Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who is a Icelandic, but Canadian-born Icelandic person who conceives of this Canadian Arctic expedition, which is going to be the largest scientific attempt at the Arctic, and the first such journey by Canada. And so this guy Vilhjalmur Stefansson comes up with this idea to try to go look for unknown lands north of the Beaufort Sea above Alaska and Canada. And he ends up putting this trip together, a little bit haphazardly, I would say. He has returned from living in the Arctic for about four years prior. And he puts together an expedition in a number of months, which, you know, it usually takes years to really put together an expedition of this magnitude where they have like, you know, over 20 scientists from all over the world and a crew and three ships ends up being for this guy, Vilhjalmur Stefansson.
He ends up enlisting a very well-known sea captain from a famous Newfoundland family, called the Bartlett so Briggs of Newfoundland. And this guy, Captain Robert Bartlett, has already established himself as being probably the preeminent ice master ice navigator in the world. So he, he took Robert Peary, in a ship called the Roosevelt near the North Pole, a few years prior to this expedition, and he's, he's famous and also really well respected. So Stefansson gets Bartlett to be the captain of the flagship, which is called the Karluk. They meet in Esquimalt, British Columbia, where the ship is going to take off and head north through the Bering Strait and up to northern Alaska, get more supplies, more ships, and then the plan is to all go to this place called Herschel Island, which is way over above, Northern, sort of at the border of northern Alaska and the Yukon. And then once they get to Herschel Island, the plan is to divvy up all the equipment and the ships and put the right scientists.
Buddy Levy - 20:00
There's two like prongs of the expedition, the northern and southern parties. And then from there they set off on this voyage. Well, in 1913 in August, the weather ends up being sort of harsher than anyone has ever seen on in the course in recorded history. And so before they ever even make it to Herschel Island, not that many weeks into the journey. All the members are on a bunch of different ships and the wrong members are on the Karluk. And the Karluk gets encased in ice, and it's called “being beset.” Captain Bartlett had taken the Karluk some miles off of the Alaskan coast, and they ended up encountering heavy fog and they are battling these encroaching ice floes. And what ends up happening is that the ice forms around the ship and essentially freezes it in. Now, this isn't entirely uncommon, it had been done before. That man I mentioned, the Norwegian Nansen actually intentionally encased his ship in the ice to determine where the Arctic drift would take him. But he had the good sense to do this in a ship that he specially made called the Fram. And the Fram was designed with a hull that was rounded in such a way that when the ice enclosed around it, it lifted it up onto the ice, and it didn't crush the ship.
The Karluk, as it turns out, was no such ship. They become encased in the ice. And then about a month or so six weeks of drifting Stefansson, the expedition leader who is also on the Karluk tells everyone that he's going to take two of the scientists, or pardon me, three of the scientists and a couple of the Inuit hunters that they have hired on near Barrow, Alaska and go on this caribou hunt. They're only at this point, maybe 10 or 15 miles off of land, but the ice is very dangerous and breaking up and there are open leads all around. So it's not an entirely safe move. And Bartlett is not so supportive of the caribou hunting idea. But he's not the expedition leader. He's just the hired captain the ship.
So what ends up happening is that Stefansson takes these members and two days after he leaves the ship, an intense storm occurs with gale force winds and fog and snow. And the ship is blown away. And Stefansson ends up on an island, not far off the northern coast of Alaska. And at that point, he looks for the ship for a few days. But it's moving at about 30 miles a day, to the west, the northwest at this point. So Stefansson makes the decision to just go find land and then write to the Canadian government. Stefansson and say, in what must have been a very embarrassing letter to have to write, “I've lost my expedition,” because the other ships, he doesn't know where they are. There's two other ships that the Alaska and the Mary Sacks there. Now he's on land. The Alaska and the Mary Sacks are somewhere he doesn't know where and the Karluk is gone. And then you're right.
So the story ends up following what happens to the members of the Karluk because that ship drifts for months encased in ice. And I cut back and forth between what Stefansson is doing and what the members of the Karluk are doing. And all the world knows based on Stefansson letters to the Canadian government and to the New York Times and the Toronto Globe, is that ship, when last seen was encased in a mile square of ice, and it may or may not survive. But there is there are some landmasses in the direction of where the Karluk is drifting.
And so it ends up being a story about how Bartlett who is now in charge of about 25 souls, how he's going to keep them alive. A lot happens. The ship becomes it…so there's a lot of ice pressure that begins to be brought to bear on the ship. And it ends up as many of these ships in Arctic waters do in winter, getting crushed violently by the ice. But Bartlett had the good sense, knowing that this might happen, to take years’ worth of supplies and food and some tents and firearms off of the ship.
Buddy Levy - 25:00
When he sort of senses that this is probably going to be the end. And by this time, they have spotted land, from the crow's nest, a number of times through mist and fog, and maybe 100 miles away. And they're generally drifting in that direction. So they have the idea that they there's this landmass and they they know from a book, The American Coast Pilot that they have, that it's quite likely this place called Wrangel Island. So at that point, they live, the ship ends up getting crushed, and they live on a camp on the ice. The ship gets crushed in in January of 1914. And they took off in in August of 2013. By that time, it's now Arctic winter, so the sun is not even rising anymore, and they know that it's not going to rise again until mid- to late February. And so Bartlett helps them bide their time with 25 members and like 30 sled dogs. While they're on what's called Shipwreck Camp, which is this couple of dwellings they've made igloos and these structures that they've been able to build out of ice blocks and tarps and things. They have plenty of food at that point. Bartlett understands that they're going to have to at certain point, because this ice floe they're on could disintegrate, they're going to have to make their way across the ice by dog sled to Wrangel Island. They can't do that until the sun comes back in, in early March. And so I think there's the other part of the story to me is that is the move from Shipwreck Island, across the open ice to Wrangel Island.
And what a lot of people don't know is that the ice isn't flat and glassy, like a frozen lake, you know. It's buckled and hummocked, and riddled with all of these fracturing leads—they're called leads, which is where the ice breaks open. And then there's open water between two bodies of ice. And so you can't really go in a straight line, you know, you have to navigate these open leads. And so Bartlett decides they're going to once it becomes light enough, they're going to make this trek across to Wrangel Island, which is a massive ordeal that is weeks long, and they have to go they end up confronting these things called pressure ridges where the ice hits one another like tectonic plates and then ruptures upward and it's like 100 feet tall.
Buddy Levy - 27:47
And it's arduous. You know, there's times where they're a in igloos and the ice fractures beneath the igloo and they have to scurry out of there. At a certain point Bartlett manages to get most of the shipwreck survivors across Wrangel Island. And they're not in very good shape at that point. Many of them are frostbitten, and exhausted and dehydrated. And in the end, because they have limited sleds and dogs, they were only able to take a certain amount of food from Shipwreck Camp. And now it's a question of whether they're going to be able to survive on Wrangel island with the resources that are there, which includes polar bears and foxes. And there's a lot of driftwood so they do know that they're going to be able to have fires.
Bartlett decides within a matter of days, because once they arrive at Wrangel Island, he knows that they may survive the winter, they may survive another year, but no one in the world knows exactly where they are. So he decides that the only way they'll survive is if he is able to get back to civilization and report the location of the survivors to the world. And so yeah, it becomes this mythic journey where Bartlett takes one of the members, this young hunter named Kaktovik and leaves everyone else with certain members in charge, and directions of where they're supposed to be and when.
Buddy Levy - 29:19
And then he's going to go across what's called the Long Strait from Wrangel Island south to northeastern Siberia. And once there, he's going to have to make his way all the way over back to Alaska, where he can get word to the world that there are survivors on Wrangel Island and they're going to need to send the ships for them. And so it's really an incredible tale because Bartlett's journey, you're right, I mean, it could really be a book in and of itself. So what I do is is cut back and forth between what's happening to the members who have been left on Wrangel Island and occasionally have a cut back to what Stefansson is doing, which is almost nothing with regard to the Karluk survivors. And then Bartlett's quest to find help. And so it becomes like a race against time because the members who are back on Wrangel Island are not doing so well. They begin to run out of food. They are afflicted with a mysterious malady that no one really knows the cause of. It's not scurvy, but they begin to have incredibly swollen limbs, and they are bedridden. And it's problematic because they at this point need to be going out hunting and finding food. So there are a number of members of the party who are fit enough to go hunt. And the rest of them are kind of bedridden in this place called Hospital Igloo where all the sickly are relegated to. So yeah, it's a really dramatic story of survival and also of human endeavor and accomplishment because of the feats that a number of these people are able to just achieve, given the condition they're in.
Adriana Janovich - 31:19
Really inspirational. And I wonder, you mentioned this, but without the help of the Indigenous members of the group if Bartlett would have made it as far as he did, or if the members on Wrangel Island would have lasted as long without Auntie sewing them clothes and making blood soup and things that maybe they wouldn't have known what or how to do. Maybe their fate would have been different.
Buddy Levy - 31:47
What ended up happening was that, as the Karluk was about to leave, from Barrow, Alaska, one of the great things that Stefansson did was he hired up an Inuit family. And the man, the hunter, was named Kurluk. And his wife was named Kira, but they quickly nicknamed her Auntie. And she had with her two children, a girl named Helen who was 11 and a girl named Lukpi, who was only three or two at the time. And Auntie was hired on to…so she was an expert seamstress and knew how to sew boots out of bearded seal ook and also was an expert at making parkas out of skins that they had brought along. So without Auntie her husband, Kurluk who was an excellent hunter for seals. And then the two children who proved to be very industrious themselves. I believe that virtually none of them would have survived. Because Kurluk was a superb seal hunter, and they ended up needing seal off offshore, sometimes Kurluk would have to leave one of the places on Wrangel Island, which is on the northern part of Wrangel Island. The seals were quite a distance at the beginning from land so they would have to trek maybe 15-20 miles offshore to go hunt seals and then drag them back in or you know, just exhausting work.
The challenge of seal hunting was that they had rifles and they had ammunition, but not an endless supply. And the Indigenous people, the Inuit members, were, you know, really expert and patient at sitting there watching seals for six, eight hours. When they come up Kurluk would shoot the seal. But that didn't guarantee procurement of the seal because then they're floating in the water and they had this really ingenious device called a mannock which is like a weighted ball that had sort of spikes and prongs on it and it was attached to a rope and they would lasso that mannock out and then throw it beyond the seal and then reel it in and it would hook on the seal and they could bring that animal that they very much needed for food. But also there were other uses for the seals and then bring those back in. And Kurluk also built a kayak in the spring and was able to have…it was terrifying work for him because a single person skin kayak that they built over about three weeks.
Buddy Levy - 34:54
They had started to see walrus in the bay and they knew if we could get if they could get a walrus a huge creature weighing between two and 3000 pounds that could maybe allow them to survive. But hunting seal and walrus in a single skin kayak is incredibly dangerous and the walrus can attack, capsize you, impale the skin kayak with its tusks, and then you're in freezing water that you would live in for a minute or two. And so there's some great scenes with Kurluk going out into the bay and hunting for walrus and seals that are really, really dramatic.
Buddy Levy - 35:32
But yeah, I would say that without the Indigenous Inuit family, the people on Wrangel island would never have survived. And Bartlett, smartly takes Kaktovik, another young Inuit Hunter, and without him, Bartlett would never have survived the crossing of Long Strait. No way.
They would go track across the ice for maybe 10-12 hours of straight walking until they came to a lead and then they have to go along the lead until there was a way they could get across it, where it was narrow enough or sometimes they had to do really innovative things like climb onto a small piece of ice and paddle across it with snowshoes as paddles. And then they encountered polar bears on a number of occasions that were following them because they were dragging seals along.
Kaktovik was an expert at hunting, but also at building igloos within maybe 45 minutes. So at the end of a 12 hour trek, Bartlett and Kaktovik would build an igloo and then slide into that thing, using a small primus stove, heat up, you know, a seal blubber and pemmican gruel and then get up the next day and do it again. It ends up being about a 700-mile trek ultimately, once they made it across the Long Strait, they encounter the Chukchi people and reindeer herders, and then these people live in these things called yaranga, their little skin and wood dwellings like kind of like Mongolian yurts. And these people help Bartlett and Kaktovik navigate their way for hundreds and hundreds of miles until they reach near the Bering Strait and are able to finally cross.
Adriana Janovich - 37:30
If this doesn't make somebody want to read this adventure, I don't know what would.
Buddy Levy - 37:39
Well, yeah, there's a lot going on in this story. And you know, I would say that at the heart of it, it is this: It's the tale of Bartlett and Stefansson in certain respects, because there are two men who are the leaders of the expedition. And they have really different leadership styles, right. And so I have cast Bartlett and Stefansson in the way that I interpret them, in a sense, as you know, a kind of hero protagonist and a villain, Stefansson being the villain. He's ultimately much more complex than that. I get into aspects of Stefansson and what he achieved in his life later on. But for the purposes of the Karluk expedition, the Canadian Arctic expedition and specifically, most people who were there, and who survived and who watched some members die. I mean, I didn't really touch on that. But not everyone makes it out of this thing alive. And some of the members in their diaries are very explicit in saying, you know, in blaming Stefansson for leaving them.
Bartlett because of what he does, he's clearly heroic, because he risks his own life for all of the other members and without him, making it back to civilization and getting the word out and he is also instrumental. Captain Bartlett is instrumental in organizing rescue efforts to go reach the members remaining on Wrangel Island. And it ultimately is a really serious race against time, because this is prior to global warming and there was a really short window in the in 1913-14 when one could reach a place like Wrangel Island without being completely enclosed by ice again. And so, by the time the rescue missions in these ships are heading toward Wrangel Island to try to reach them, it's late August, early September of 1914. And already the lanes and waterways that are accessible to get to Wrangel Island are beginning to shut down. So there's a really dramatic kind of will they make it, will they not make it. And some of the members at that point, are hanging on by a thread. And you know, they're out of food and they're living literally day to day by what they can capture or kill.
And then with that, do you want to give us a little teaser about the third book?
Buddy Levy - 40:24
Sure. So with Labyrinth of Ice and Empire of Ice and Stone, I have spent quite a bit of time on the surface of the ice itself, you know, in northern Greenland, northern Canada, up on by Ellesmere Island and here in the Arctic and Beaufort Seas and over by Wrangel Island, and while I was researching Empire, I came across a story that I almost could not believe, which was that, in 1905, an American named Walter Wellman had attempted to reach the North Pole by airship or blimp. And so I started, I had bumped into the story I was well aware of a Norwegian explorer named Roald Amundsen, who is one of the most famous explorers in history of the Arctic and Antarctic. And I had seen a story that Roald Amundsen had actually gone over the North Pole in an airship, which is the term used to describe a semi rigid original, kind of like a blimp, but they're structured slightly different in in their interior framework. So I found out that there had been attempts by an American journalist named Walter Wellman to make it to the North Pole by airship.
Buddy Levy - 42:03
And by the way, during all this time, there have there has been question about who made it to the North Pole first, right. So Robert Peary claimed to have made it first and then Peary's claims who he went there in 1909 have been questioned by lots of different researchers and Arctic experts. So in 1905, Walter Wellman attempted to go to the North Pole by airship. He crashes and burns and doesn't make it but about 20 years later, Roald Amundsen and an Italian successfully navigated over the North Pole and all the way to Alaska, you know, in an airship. Then, two years later, the Italian tried to do it again. And he crashed this ship called the Italia from after reaching the North Pole and trying to return to Svalbard, Norway, they crash and it's just an incredible catastrophic accident. There were numerous members of the airship strewn out onto the ice, and then the airship, much of it floats away in the sky with a bunch of the other members still in it. And so it sets off the largest rescue attempt in Arctic history. And that's what my new book is about.
Adriana Janovich - 43:20
Well, we have that to look forward to. And we'll have you back on the podcast and we'll do a review in the magazine when that one comes out too. And I'm already looking forward to it now. I can't wait. But first you gotta write it.
Buddy Levy - 43:33
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. And I'm currently planning a trip to Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway, in June to go you know, stand at the places where these airships took off from. It's going to be really, really fun to go there and end up beyond the ground at a place that's about as close to the North Pole as you can get on the land. So it'll be great.
Larry Clark - 44:08
Thanks for listening to Viewscapes.
Our music is by Greg Yasinitsky.
You can read reviews of Buddy Levy's books and lots of other stories at magazine.wsu.edu