News A pedestrian makes their way along a snow packed street in Indianapolis

Much of the United States is currently in the grip of a polar vortex, a system of dense air producing plummeting temperatures and swathes of freezing weather, bringing some parts of the country to a halt and causing chaos in others.

Tall ships emerge from the North Sea mist for 1993 race

(Photograph omitted)

CLASSICAL MUSIC / Upbeat: Parsons knows

ONE of the politically contentious places where Verdi did not set an opera, the North Pole, makes its presence felt in a London Concert Choir programme next Wednesday. Michael Parsons wrote his staged Expedition to the North Pole last decade as an account of Fridtjof Nansen's then record-breaking trip just past 86 degrees north, and he has extended the choral music to mark the centenary of the journey's start.

BOOK REVIEW / Frozen toes in search of worlds to conquer: The myth of the explorer - Beau Riffenburgh: Belhaven, pounds 17.95

THE RECENT exploits of Rebecca Stephens on Everest again raise the question: what is the point of exploring? To pay the bills? To impress women (or men) at parties? Just for the hell of it? Those were some reasons given by explorers recently.

North Sea vessel hit

About 70 men were evacuated from a North Sea oil rig support vessel after it was hit by a safety ship which lost power in 45mph winds and 22ft seas. The crash happened in the Claymore Field, 100 miles north-east of Aberdeen. No injuries have been reported.

Life after ice in your underpants: Many explorers find only despair on return from their expeditions, but not Robert Swan

AROUND the walls of the lecture hall at the Royal Geographical Society, embossed in gold on walnut panelling, are the names of the great explorers: names such as Stanley, Speke, Scott and Shakleton. Although he is the only man in history to walk to both the North and South Poles, Robert Swan's name is not yet among them. You have to die to get up there, preferably, gloriously in the attempt.

Santa's calling card

I WOKE up in the small hours, in the midst of a seasonal nightmare. Christmas trees were falling down on top of me. I lay pondering what this might mean. At a recent drinks party, the tree had fallen down not once but twice. At home, my own Christmas tree had taken two days to secure.

In the icy shadow of Scott and Amundsen

Walking through the park in the rain with Erling Kagge, you are tempted to say, 'Nice stride, but nothing special.' And then you think, yes, but that was two miles in the rain, and Erling is going to walk 312 miles in the snow. As the crow flies. Up hill. Into headwinds. In temperatures of minus 20 to minus 40C. And pulling a sledge weighing about 264lbs (120kg) with a harness round his hips.
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