At the mountains of madness

| October 24, 2008

Every now and then, I see a news story that reminds me uncomfortably of some fiction I’ve read. Here’s one such story:

Buried Antarctic Mountain Range Shouldn’t Exist at All

An Antarctic mountain range that rivals the Alps in elevation will be probed this month by an expedition of scientists using airborne radar and other Information Age tools to virtually “peel away” more than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of ice covering the peaks.

One of the mysteries of the mountain range is that current evidence suggests that it “shouldn’t be there” at all.

The researchers hope to find answers there to some basic questions about the nature of the southernmost continent, including the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

For instance, it is unclear how Antarctica came to be ice-covered in the first place, and whether that process began millions of years ago in the enigmatic Gamburtsev mountain range.

Of course, for anyone who (like me) is an H. P. Lovecraft fan, your first reaction is, “Oh no! The Mountains of Madness!” Lovecraft’s 1936 story, “At the Mountains of Madness“, is one of his best (if you like Lovecraft, that is).

Of course, the mountains in Lovecraft’s story were a bit higher than this range:

Then, in about an hour and a half more, came that doubly excited message from Lake’s moving plane, which almost reversed my sentiments and made me wish I had accompanied the party:

“10:05 P.M. On the wing. After snowstorm, have spied mountain range ahead higher than any hitherto seen. May equal Himalayas, allowing for height of plateau. Probable Latitude 76¡ 15′, Longitude 113¡ 10′ E. Reaches far as can see to right and left. Suspicion of two smoking cones. All peaks black and bare of snow. Gale blowing off them impedes navigation.”

After that Pabodie, the men and I hung breathlessly over the receiver. Thought of this titanic mountain rampart seven hundred miles away inflamed our deepest sense of adventure; and we rejoiced that our expedition, if not ourselves personally, had been its discoverers. In half an hour Lake called us again:

“Moulton’s plane forced down on plateau in foothills, but nobody hurt and perhaps can repair. Shall transfer essentials to other three for return or further moves if necessary, but no more heavy plane travel needed just now. Mountains surpass anything in imagination. Am going up scouting in Carroll’s plane, with all weight out. You can’t imagine anything like this. Highest peaks must go over thirty-five thousand feet. Everest out of the running. Atwood to work out height with theodolite while Carroll and I go up. Probably wrong about cones, for formations look stratified. Possibly pre-Cambrian slate with other strata mixed in. Queer skyline effects – regular sections of cubes clinging to highest peaks. Whole thing marvelous in red-gold light of low sun. Like land of mystery in a dream or gateway to forbidden world of untrodden wonder. Wish you were here to study.”

Guillermo del Toro (Oscar-nominated director of Pan’s Labyrinth) really wants to film it, but as he notes, it has neither a love interest nor a happy ending, and so Hollywood isn’t all that keen on it. And, of course, since he’s now doing The Hobbit and its sequel, he’s tied up for the next several years anyway.

Still, you can buy a ‘radio theater’ adaptation of the story from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.  ..bruce w..

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Category: Main, Science, Weird

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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