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Tag: Robert Falcon Scott

Memoir horror story

Members of the British expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. Photo  taken by Herbert Ponting; Getty Images.

Members of the British expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. Photo taken by Herbert Ponting; Getty Images.

Finally. I finished the 598 page tome, The Worst Journey in the World, that I’ve been tackling in the evenings for at least a year now. It has taken me a while to read because often I had to put it down. Some passages were too much to take in right before I shut my eyes to go to sleep.

The Worst Journey in the World is a non-fiction book written by Apsley Cherry-Garrard about the race to the South Pole. Cherry-Garrard was part of a British expedition team in the early 1900s that planned to be the first to travel all the way to the pole before Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. (Amundsen did make it to the pole about five weeks ahead of British expedition captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party of four men.) Cherry-Garrard’s story was created from journals he had written, along with the memoirs of his other team members.

The Worst Journey is a horror story, a horror story not many of us can imagine today. It’s about extreme cold and ice and forcing your body into completing intense feats of endurance. It’s about frozen feet and hands and noses and snow blindness and scurvy and starvation. It’s about you and the elements and fighting for your life with no hope of a helicopter swopping in to save you.

Five explorers died on the 1,440 kilometre Antarctic mission. Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans perished on their way back from the pole. Evans went first after suffering a concussion by falling on ice. Oates was next – walking out of the tent into a blizzard in an apparent self-sacrifice. He’d been battling gangrene and frostbite and yet never complained once. How is this possible?

Scott, Wilson and Bowers were the last to go. They spent three days in their tent, unable to push their bodies onwards to the food cache only a few kilometres away. Their bodies were found by a search party, including Cherry-Garrard, months later. He referred to the scene as something that can never leave his memory.

The expedition leader Scott and teammate Wilson both left accounts of their travels and travails during their last days. Cherry-Garrard incorporated these diary entries into his book so readers have the full picture. Cherry-Garrard pointed out some factors where he thought the team went wrong but never played the blame game. He left that up to each of us to figure out. He did say this:

Exploration is the physical expression of the intellectual passion. And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore… If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards need to prove their bravery.

Excerpt: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

To me, the British explorers were not cowards. Their mission

The five men who died during Scott's South Pole mission: Evans, Oates, Wilson, Scott. Photograph taken by Bowers. (© BAS/NERC)

Five men died during Scott’s South Pole mission. Here are four of them dragging a sledge: Evans, Oates, Wilson, Scott. Photograph taken by Bowers. (© BAS/NERC)

was a dangerous one and five men didn’t come back. They were explorers pushing the limits for science. They took risks at a time when there weren’t any satellite phones or GPS units. Who would do that today?

 Sidebar:

Tom Crean was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911–13 South Pole expedition. Crean is a clear hero in Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World . As one of the supporting team members in Scott’s attempt to the South Pole, Scott decided to take only four men and told several others to turn around and go back to the base camp.

Heading back, Lieutenant Edward Evans (not to be confused with Edgar Evans) got gravely ill from scurvy. Evans couldn’t march any further and was on his death-bed. Crean walked 56 kilometres, alone, to get help. He had some food but nothing warm. He went literally through ice and snow, falling hard many times until at last, he found help. A team of men went out and saved Evans.

Crean was also on the search party for Scott and his four men. And if that wasn’t incredible enough, Crean went on to be a part of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition in 1914. Crean boarded the expedition’s ship, the Endurance, only to have it get stuck in ice and be crushed. Now stranded, he spent months on the ice with the men until Shackleton decided to strike out for help in a lifeboat.

Six men were chosen and Crean was one. They had a terrific journey through heavy snow squalls to a sparsely inhabited island, South Georgia. Unfortunately, they landed on the uninhabited side so Crean and two others hiked 48 kilometres to find help at a whaling station. What an amazing man. He died from a burst appendix when he was 61.

There is a present day Scott expedition going on right now. Click here for their blog: http://bit.ly/JrDETR


 

The Worst Journey in the World is the best

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was 24 when he joined Scott's second expedition to Antarctica. Photo:  http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was 24 when he joined Scott’s second expedition to Antarctica. Photo: http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk

Every night I get into bed in the Antarctic. No, it’s not some kind of teleportation trick and it’s not that cold in Calgary yet. I’ve been reading The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Cherry-Garrard was part of a British expedition team that travelled to the South Pole in the early 1900s. His non-fiction book was created from journals he had written, along with the memoirs of other team members, and I find it fascinating.

Long before my hands were frostbitten, or indeed anything but cold, which was of course a normal thing, the matter inside these big blisters, which rose all down my fingers with only a skin between them, was frozen into ice. To handle the cooking gear or the food bags was agony; to start the primus (cook stove) was worse; and when, one day, I was able to prick six or seven of the blisters after supper and let the liquid matter out, the relief was very great. Every night after that I treated such others as were ready in the same way until they gradually disappeared. Sometimes it was difficult not to howl.

Excerpt: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Cherry-Garrard survived the ice and the snow and other extreme conditions while the leader of the group and four other men died. It was a disastrous adventure and they weren’t prepared, especially as there was pressure on the expedition captain Robert Falcon Scott to reach the South Pole first, before Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. It didn’t happen.

What does happen in the book are vivid descriptions of the sail to New Zealand and then to Antarctica – amid hot weather, cold weather and storms. Trying to protect the ponies and dogs they brought on board from searing heat or icy waves (even though some animals were washed overboard in squalls) while keeping them healthy in the tiny stalls on the ship. Once off the boat at the south, the crew hopscotched over ice floes, making sure no one or nothing was eaten by orcas that smashed their way through the ice for an easy meal.

Cherry-Garrard with Michael, the pony. Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org

Cherry-Garrard with Michael, the pony. Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org

The men grappled with the worst weather possible – and not in technical, sweat-wicking gear either. They did hard, physical labour for two years without the comfort of going home and relaxing after a solid day’s work. They hiked long distances in the cold while pulling and pushing heavy sledges and trying to avoid falling into crevasses. In the beginning the dogs and horses did much of the work but the animals started dying. Some because they couldn’t take the polar chill and some because they were weak. One horse was lost when a crack appeared in the sea ice underneath his stall in the stable. He simply disappeared into the black void.

His name had been Guts and I was devastated when I read he was gone. I felt a personal connection to him because I had a Guts once, my bicycle. I thought I was being original in 1994 when I called him that. He got the handle because he took all my guts to get up the big hills around home in Nova Scotia. Thankfully, my Guts is still here and my father gets to take him out around the valley now.

I liked the book before I read about Guts the horse. I’m only part-way through the book now. It was hard to get into at first because there are lots of names and it gets confusing. The other thing is, I wish they had included a timeline with the people who went on the different missions. I’m a bit mixed up about who goes where, at what time and why. Otherwise, it’s a great read and I look forward to heading to the Antarctic each night.

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