Wednesday, February 24, 2010
'Great God! This is an awful place'*
Even though it happened 98 years ago; even though I've known the ending of this story most of my life; even though I have read,watched and heard dozens retellings in the past decade of pursuing my passion for Antarctica; I still find myself sleepless with anxiety for Scott's Polar Party.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard's literate, harrowing, defensive and deeply sorrowful account of the Worst Journey in the World. Cherry is the most quoted of Antarctic explorers, for good reason, but this is the first time I've read his book in the original.
There is something immensely moving to be stitching over the miles covered by the final five who went to the Pole with Scott and never returned, at the same time as I am reading about the support parties who were battling their own awful journeys and ultimately waiting with fading hopes for Scott's return; with my minds eye illustrated by Amundsen's snapshots of his own 'dream run' to and from the Pole a month earlier than Scott.
Huntford's attack on him) as it seems unforgivable to have made so many poor (sentimental, impetuous, arrogant and ignorant) choices that led to the death of such fine men. I identify much more strongly with Amundsen, being more attracted to pragmatism than romance. Amundsen's triumph (always seen in the shadow of Scott's tragedy) was the result of careful considered planning and decisions at every stage.
Ross Island, is by no means a reliable approach for this much larger work. I am constantly questioning my methodology and trying to improve the results. It's not as hard as man hauling through blizzards with scurvy, but it's still a challenge. I want desperately to live up to Amundsen example, but I fear I share many of Scott's weaknesses.
* Robert Falcon Scott, on reaching the South Pole, second