IT BEGINS as a mission of mercy. Four and a half years after the disappearance of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his two ships, HMS Investigator sets sail to find them. Instead of rescuing lost comrades, the Investigator’s officers and crew soon find themselves trapped in their own ordeal, facing starvation, madness, and death on the unknown Polar Sea. If only they can save themselves, they will bring back news of perhaps the greatest maritime achievement of the age: their discovery of the final link of the elusive Northwest Passage.
In addition to their Great Success, the “Investigators” are the first Europeans to contact the Inuit of the western Arctic Archipelago, and the first to record sustained observations of the local wildlife and climate. But the cost of hubris, ignorance, daring, and deceit is soon laid bare. In the face of catastrophe, a desperate rescue plan is made to send away the weakest men to meet their fate on the ice.
In a narrative rich with insight and grace, Brian Payton reconstructs the final voyage of the Investigator and the trials of her officers and crew. Drawing on long-forgotten journals, transcripts, and correspondence — some never before published — Payton weaves an astonishing tale of endurance. Along the way, he vividly evokes an Arctic wilderness we now stand to lose.
BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction (Longlist)
Hubert Evans Nonfiction Prize (Finalist)
“A book of uncommon economy and power. Payton’s gripping tale of survival, hardship and ambition unfolds with the austere inevitability of Greek tragedy. A profoundly human drama—absorbing, haunting and plaintive.”
—John DeMont, author of Coal Black Heart
“For centuries, men have seen the polar ice cap as mute, nothing more than an obstacle or untapped resource. The Ice Passage passionately re-envisions the Arctic as a complex character in its own right, one that combines solemnity with ferocity with heartbreaking vulnerability. On the face of it, Brian Payton has written a book of science and adventure, but it is ultimately a portrait of our diminishing landscape.”
—Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle and The Wildfire Season
“Payton has written a book as fine as any about our north and those men of yesteryear—tough, enduring, and as essential as Conrad.”
—David Adams Richards, Governor General Award-winning author of Mercy Among the Children and God Is.
“The Ice Passage is a hypnotic read, fast-paced and wonderfully written. Payton’s portrait of Brother Miertsching is so vivid, so alive, so insightful that it is as if the reader shares his cabin aboard the Investigator.”
—Roy MacGregor, author of Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and Its People
“A rich and powerful account of relentless suffering, endurance, and ultimate triumph in the polar ice.”
—John Geiger, author of Frozen In Time and The Third Man Factor
“A gripping story… Payton’s detailed and fascinating exploration of this hideous voyage into the Arctic wilderness reminds us that the North is a crucial feature of both our past and our future.”
—Charlotte Gray, The Globe and Mail
“(A) little-known tale of Shackletonian proportions, a story of historic firsts…a multi-layered drama that is as human as it is heroic.”
—Geoff D’Auria, The Tyee