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The Winter Journey: Part X

Dante Was Right

So thought Apsley Cherry-Garrard on the 6th of July, 1911 as the temperature in the Windless Bight dropped below -70°F (-56.7°C). As he wrote in The Worst Journey in the World:

The temperature that night was -75.8°F (-59.9°C), and I will not pretend that it did not convince me that Dante was right when he placed the circles of ice below the circles of fire.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 241

After their ninth frigid night on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, the men of the Crozier party were greeted by a cold even they could not fathom. Birdie Bowers took the following observation at 09:30

Position: Camp 8

Time: 09:30

Temperature: -69.4°F (-56.3°C)

Wind Direction/Force: Calm

Sky Condition: Clear

Weather: Patchy, low-lying fog

Overnight Minimum Temperature: -74.8°F (-59.3°C)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69

The cold only intensified as the day went on. By noon, the temperature had fallen to -76.8°F (-60.4°C). Although their frostbites and equipment spoke to the severity of the cold, the men were a bit incredulous when taking the readings after swinging the thermometer. Bowers noted in the meteorological log that Dr. Wilson had double-checked his readings for the day and confirmed the observation. After three hours of relay work, the men only had a half mile of progress to show for their efforts. Bowers took another temperature reading at 17:51 and noted that the temperature had fallen to -77.5°F (-60.8°C). After another three hours of sledging, the men were able to tack on another mile of progress. Upon camping for the night, the men took their last observation of the day:

Position: Camp 9

Time: 21:00

Miles Made Good: 1.5

Temperature: -68°F (-55.6°C)

Wind Direction/Force: Calm

Sky Condition: Clear

Weather: Patchy low-lying mist to W and NNW

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69
Crozier party progress after 10 days

I cannot imagine the conditions these men faced on this day, and cannot feel nothing but inspired by their fortitude. They have been in temperatures below -50°F (-45.6°C) for eight days, their clothing is as hard as iron from all of the ice, any patch of exposed skin they may have will freeze within seconds, and their running on little sleep while dragging enormously heavy sledges across an impossible surface. How they managed, I do not know.

Reading the journals and stories of the men, I can’t help but be struck by the contrast in style. Dr. Wilson’s journal is very matter of fact, which is something I appreciate as a man of scientific bent. However, I thoroughly enjoy Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, so much that it has become my favorite book. In addition to the exposition he provides, I can’t help but be fascinated with the human touch he brings to the expedition. His work certainly inspired the more romantic notions I developed about the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and the Antarctic experience in general. I’ll end tonight’s post with his words about his experience and the two other men in the Crozier party:

More than once in my short life I have been struck by the value of the man who is blind to what appears to be a common-sense certainty; he achieves the impossible…We were quite intelligent people, and we must all have known that we were not going to see the penguins and that it was folly to go forward. And yet, with quiet perseverance, in perfect friendship, almost with gentleness those two men led on.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 241

If that is not #squadgoals material, then I don’t know what is! Will the men ever reach the penguins at Cape Crozier, or are the perils of the polar night too much? Find out more tomorrow!

BT

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