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640 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1922
Antarctic exploration is seldom as bad as you imagine, seldom as bad as it sounds. But this journey had beggared our language: no words could express its horror.
I have seen Fuji, the most dainty and graceful of all mountains; and also Kinchinjunga: only Michael Angelo among men could have conceived such grandeur. But give me Erebus for my friend. Whoever made Erebus knew all the charm of horizontal lines, and the lines of Erebus are for the most part nearer the horizontal then the vertical. And so he is the most restful mountain in the world, and I was glad when I knew that our hut would lie at his feet. And always there floated from his crater the lazy banner of his cloud of steam.
He will go down to history as the Englishman who conquered the South Pole and who died as fine a death as any man has had the honour to die. His triumphs are many – but the Pole was not by any means the greatest of them. Surely the greatest was that by which he conquered his weaker self, and became the strong leader whom we went to follow and came to love.
In civilization men are taken at their own valuation because there are so many ways of concealment, and there is so little time, perhaps even so little understanding. Not so down South. These two men went through the Winter Journey and lived; later they went through the Polar Journey and died. They were gold, pure, shining, unalloyed. Words cannot express how good their companionship was.
The horror of the nineteen days it took us to travel from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier would have to be re-experienced to be appreciated; and any one would be a fool who went again: it is not possible to describe it. The weeks which followed them were comparative bliss, not because later our conditions were better – they were far worse – but because we were callous. I for one had come to that point of suffering at which I did not really care if only I could die without much pain. They talk of the heroism of dying – they little know – it would be so easy to die, a dose of morphia, a friendly crevasse, and blissful sleep. The trouble is to go on...
If the conclusions arrived at with the help of the Emperor Penguin embryos about the origin of feathers are justified, the worst journey in the world in the interest of science was not made in vain.
Dog-driving is the devil! Before I started, my language would not have shamed a Sunday School, and now – if it was not Sunday I would tell you more about it!
Polar exploration is at once the cleanest & most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. It is the only form of adventure in which you put on your clothes at Michaelmas (Sept. 29th) & keep them on until Christmas, & save for a layer of natural body grease, find them as clean as when they were new. It is more lonely than London, more secluded than a monastery & the post office comes but once a year.Cherry-Garrard goes on to point out the many rigors of life on such an expedition, among them the interpersonal squabbles (called "cags") inherent with keeping vigorous men of different temperaments in close quarters for an extended period of time, working in the midst of blinding blizzards, the long days without sun, the boring nature of the food when mealtime stands as the highlight of the day, rashes & infections that seemed to routinely occur and a lingering sense of boredom, with only sleep offering "a certain numbed pleasure."
Compared to Antarctica, the hardships of France, Palestine, Mesopotamia or WWI trenches were a comparative picnic. Until someone can evolve a better standard of endurance, I am unable to see how anything can be done to compare with it. All in all, I do not believe anyone on earth has a worse time than an Emperor Penguin.
England knows Scott as a hero; she has little idea of him as a man. He was certainly the most dominating character in our not uninteresting community. But few who knew him realized how shy & reserved the man was; it was partly for this reason that he so often laid himself open to misunderstanding.As most readers are aware, the expedition did not achieve all that it had set out to do, being bested in reaching the South Pole by Amundsen's Norwegian expedition by a matter of weeks, though considerable research was performed. Beyond that, Scott, Dr. Edward Wilson & Henry Bowers, encountering overwhelming blizzards, eventually ran out of fuel & food en route back to base camp from the South Pole & died in their tents.
Add to this that he was femininely sensitive to a degree that might be considered a fault & it will be clear that leadership to such a man may almost be considered martyrdom & the confidence so necessary between leader & followers, becomes itself more difficult. Scott was not a very strong man physically & temperamentally he was a weak man who might very easily have become an autocrat. He had moods & depression which might last for weeks.
However, what pulled Scott through was character, sheer good grain, which ran over & under & through his weaker self and clamped it together. And not withstanding the immense fits of depression which attacked him, Scott was the strongest combination of a strong mind in a strong body I have ever known! Practically speaking, he was a conquest of himself. And, he will go down in history as the Englishman who conquered the South Pole & who died as fine a death as any man has the honour to die.
Other things being equal, the men with the greatest store of nervous energy came through best. Having more imagination, they have a worse time than their more phlegmatic companions but they get things done. And when worst comes to worst, their strength of mind triumphed over their weakness of body. If you want a good polar traveler, get a man without too much muscle & with a good physical tone and let his mind be on wires--of steel. And if you can't get both, sacrifice physique and bank on will!Without question, The Worst Journey in the World is one of the more memorable adventure tales I've encountered, though I much preferred reading Alfred Lansing's account of the Shackleton-led Antarctic expedition, Endurance. Meanwhile, the stature of expedition leader Scott has diminished somewhat over time, particularly when reckoned with that of Ernest Shackleton.