Breaking the ice

<strong>Into the Abyss: explorers on the edge of survival</strong>

Benedict Allen <em>Faber & Fabe

Benedict Allen has been adventuring for more than 20 years: he has escaped hit men on the Amazon, led camels along Namibia's Skeleton Coast and endured scarification ceremonies in New Guinea. In this, his

latest adventure, he travels to the wastes of Siberia to learn from the indigenous Chukchi and cross the Bering Strait.

Into the Abyss takes us to a frozen place where dwindling communities live it up on vodka. Allen quickly finds that drunken spats and heavy hangovers are as much a threat to his expedition as are frostbite and thin ice.

Drawn to Siberia to test his mettle, Allen is intrigued by the human capacity to survive against the odds. The book is filled with boxed anecdotes about exploration disasters and his own bullet-point tips, which include "banish all dark thoughts" and "don't be afraid of being ruthless".

Interesting as they are, these constant asides become an unwanted distraction. What keeps the reader hooked is Allen's closely observed depiction of the tundra: small communities riven with alcoholism; abandoned Soviet outposts; corridors of tall whale bones planted centuries ago in the thick ice; and the Chukchi, a people vulnerable to modernity but at ease in the world's hardest climate.