The Worst Journey in the World

I am about three-quarters the way through Apsley Cherry-Garrard's book, The Worst Journey in the World, a journal of the ill-fated, 1910 -1913 polar expedition of the Antarctic.

How long, do you think it took Scott and his party to travel to the South Pole and back, only to die of Exhaustion, malnutrition and hypothermia, 70 miles from base camp? How far do you think they walked? Well, you are probably wrong. I was. (Answers below)

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was one of the youngest of the Polar team, being just 24 when he set out for Antarctica. Myopic, and beset by serious health problems that resulted in his mental and physical collapse later in life, Cherry, as he was known, was born to be part of the fabulously rich and aristocratic landed gentry, three quarters of whom would die in the First World War. He did not accompany Scott to the Pole, but he took part with two others who did, Bowers and Wilson, on an earlier journey to Cape Crozier, to find Penguin Eggs. They had pulled their sledges, like dogs, for five weeks, suffering in temperatures of up to -70 degrees F.(-56C), enduring frostbite, shattered teeth, burns, severe heartburn and a diet of biscuit, butter and pemmican ( a 50/50 mixture of dried meat and fat). The results of their quest, in scientific terms, proved fairly useless.

They are pictured here on their return. (ACG on right).

Later on, an abortive 130 dog sled journey that Cherry undertook, in order to lay a supply depot, may or may not have contributed to the deaths of the Scott party. Whatever the truth, Cherry could not forget his part in the tragedy. He had laid a supply depot less than 13 miles from where the Scott tent was finally found, before turning back, due to the lack of food for the dogs. (He was under Scott's orders to take great care of them, and the alternative would have meant killing some to feed the others) Whatever, the "what ifs" tortured Cherry-Garrard until the end of his life.

The book is a thorough, well-written, quite comprehensive journal of the entire three years. Such things as the progress and demise of the motor-sledges goes into several pages. The minutiae of their daily lives, both at the hut and while journeying is described. And out of this meticulous account of the lives of early polar explorers, you begin to understand why once, England was the greatest nation on Earth.


From Hut point, to the South Pole and back is 1766 statute miles. Scott and his party got to the Pole in 75 days, and back to his last camp in 147, a total of five months. It was not a walk in the park. 

Almost unbelievably, during the entire three-year expedition several men suffered from scurvy. It is possible that the Scott final expedition was also victim to this disease, due to a total absence of vitamin C in their provisions. See THIS for a detailed account of the history of scurvy, and in particular, the Polar quest.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Interesting article about scurvy. I'd also assumed the science was all settled and plenty of fresh fruit would prevent it.
The Scott scientists weren't convinced.