Words by Freddie Wilkinson

The rumbling outside my tent sounds more like an earthquake than the wind. I instinctively flinch, burrowing deeper into my sleeping bag. I’ve faced terrifying winds before: the roar of the jet stream in the Himalaya at night, the fearsome howl of a Patagonian tempest. This is worse.

The ground shakes as the next surge races toward me. My tent is lashed between two boulders in a desolate wilderness deep in the Wohlthat Mountains of Antarctica. My three teammates are hunkered down nearby. Fifty miles to the south is the edge of the Polar Plateau, the vast frozen upland that dominates the continent’s interior. Geography and gravity combine here to unleash powerful katabatic winds—dense waves of cold air that rush down mountain corridors like avalanches tumbling toward the sea.

The next blast hits. The poles of my tent arch inward, collapsing the fabric above my sleeping bag. For a moment I register the machine-gun rattle of stitching tearing. Suddenly I’m spinning, flying through the air, flipped upside down. Still inside my tent, I’m picked up by the wind and thrown against a crude stone wall I had built for protection, then tossed right over it. Books, camera gear, and dirty socks are thrown about indiscriminately. Down feathers flutter from my sleeping bag.

My neck and shoulder tingle. Crawling toward a slash in the tent, I grab the fabric and rip the hole wider. Shards of sand and spindrift sting my eyes as I stick my head out and cry into the melee.


Read the entire story for National Geographic Magazine.