The island is bound by the Ross Ice Shelf, which extends over the Ross Sea and is the largest body of floating ice in the world—more than a hundred and eighty thousand square miles and, on average, more than a thousand feet thick. Because the Ross Ice Shelf is easier to reach by sea during the summer than other parts of the continent, and because it is relatively smooth and stretches nearly six hundred miles toward the heart of Antarctica, it was the starting point for expeditions to the South Pole during the golden age of Antarctic exploration.
Shackleton and Scott and Amundsen all began their expeditions on the shelf. Like these explorers, Worsley and his team would head south across the ice shelf, a journey of nearly four hundred nautical miles, until they reached the Transantarctic Mountains, which divide the continent and extend to the Weddell Sea. To get to the Polar Plateau—an elevated, almost featureless part of the continental ice shelf, where the South Pole is situated—the party would have to cross these mountains, which rise nearly fifteen thousand feet.
On the Nimrod expedition, Shackleton discovered one of the few passable routes: a glacier-covered valley, twenty-five miles wide and a hundred and twenty-five miles long, that runs between the mountains like a frozen causeway. Still, the glacier—which Shackleton named Beardmore, after William Beardmore, a Scottish industrialist and a patron of his expedition—is treacherous. Its elevation is eight thousand feet, and its surface is riddled with crevasses.
When Scott crossed the glacier during his later expedition, one of his men suffered a fatal head injury after falling into a crevasse. Only a dozen people—the same number that have walked on the moon—had trekked the length of the glacier. By October of , he and his colleagues were ready to embark on what had been officially named the Matrix Shackleton Centenary Expedition. Before leaving, Worsley and his family gathered for an early Christmas celebration. Even though Henry had been telling Joanna for years about the glories of Antarctica, it still seemed to her like the most dreadful place in the world.
In the case of her husband, it was the Antarctic itself. And so she gave her blessing to the adventure, even though it threatened to take from her the man she loved. Alicia, who was twelve, saw his sled primarily as an object to play on. When the family exchanged Christmas gifts, Max, who was fourteen, seemed agitated. This was different from when his father was deployed by the military—he had not had a choice then about leaving them behind.
This was a response to some mysterious inner calling. Even in the most barren place in the world there is a risk of falling down a glacier or crevasse. Joanna drove her husband to the airport, where she began to cry. During the summer, between thirty thousand and forty-five thousand tourists visit the continent, nearly all of them travelling on small cruise ships. At the warehouse, Worsley and his companions collected freeze-dried meals for the expedition.
They faced the same predicament that had bedevilled polar explorers for generations: they could haul only so many supplies on their sleds, a situation that left them vulnerable to starvation. Then indeed we could penetrate the secrets of this great lonely continent. Worsley estimated that the journey would take nine weeks.
Each of the men would be limited to about three hundred and ten pounds of provisions, including a sled, and so they whittled down their kit to the essentials. Worsley packed his portion of the food, which was sealed in ten bags—one for each week of the journey, plus an extra in case of emergency. His clothing included two pairs of pants, a fleece shirt, a down jacket with a hood, gloves, a neck gaiter, a face mask, two pairs of long johns, and three pairs of socks.
He brought cross-country skis and poles; for climbing, he carried crampons and ropes. As the only member of the team with first-aid training, he transported the medical bag, which contained antibiotics, syringes, splints, and morphine. If the team failed to communicate for two consecutive days, A. The men permitted themselves the luxury of iPods, as well as a deck of cards and a few mementos.
Worsley carried an envelope filled with notes from family and friends, which Joanna had given him to open when he needed encouragement. In his front pocket, he had tucked away one more precious object: the brass compass that Shackleton used on his expedition. Alexandra Shackleton had asked Worsley to bring it with him, hoping that, this time, it would reach the South Pole. For Worsley, getting closer to Shackleton was a way of getting closer to himself. Commanding the expedition was far trickier than commanding soldiers in the military.
In Antarctica, his authority was not official but merely granted, and he had no more experience as a polar explorer than his peers did. Yet he felt the immeasurable weight of being responsible for their lives. On November 10th, the A. T he plane—an enormous Soviet-designed freighter, which was so loud that Worsley and the others could barely hear their own voices—took them to an A.
On arrival, they skidded onto a runway of ice. After waiting for the weather to clear, they boarded a smaller, twin-propeller aircraft with landing skis. As they flew across the continent, they peered out the window at deep gashes in the ice sheet below. None of us said a word. For years, he had been constructing Antarctica in his mind, and after climbing down from the plane he joyously stamped his boots on three-foot-thick ice. The temperature was about minus fourteen degrees, and his nostrils burned. It was late in the afternoon, but because it was summer the sun remained bright, and he could see two of the volcanoes on Ross Island that had been beacons for polar explorers: Mt.
Terror, which is more than ten thousand feet high, and dormant, and Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, which is more than twelve thousand feet high. Black smoke drifted from its icy cone. Not far from the men, penguins slid on their bellies across the ice—the world not yet deadened. And on the southern tip of the island, about twenty-two miles away, was McMurdo Station, which was opened by the U. In the summer, around a thousand people live at the base, the largest population in Antarctica. With its power station and its dormitories carved into the ice, the base has the look of a grimy truck stop.
The men headed onto the island. As they climbed a ridge overlooking a bowl-shaped valley, Worsley came to an abrupt halt. Down below, amid volcanic rock and ice, was a solitary wooden hut with shuttered windows and an iron chimney. They all knew. It was the hut that Shackleton and his party had built in February, , and stayed in that winter, before setting out for the South Pole. Gow raced over and opened the door, and Worsley and Adams followed him inside. In the dimness, Worsley could discern the scattered debris of the Nimrod expedition, as if the party had momentarily stepped away.
Gow gasped at the ghostly scene. Adams found the bunk where his great-grandfather had slept, while Worsley examined the dark recesses of the room as if he were rummaging through a tomb. That night, the men camped inside the hut, lying on the frozen ground in their sleeping bags. The silence among them betrayed their nerves. The next morning, November 14th, Worsley was the first to get up. All is well. No medical problems. Worsley made sure to distribute the weight evenly on his sled, and he covered his cargo with a tarp.
At 10 a. The surface was generally flat and smooth, and as he and the other men headed south, toward the Ross Ice Shelf, they began to gather some momentum. After several miles, they came upon another desolate wooden hut. Robert Falcon Scott and his men had built it in , on their fateful South Pole expedition. Ice crept over the timbered walls and glazed the windowpanes like jungle vines. The fresh tracks made by Worsley and his companions gradually vanished as well; tiny granules of ice swirled in the wind like ash.
The men used a compass to maintain a southward trajectory. Their breath smoked and their bodies sweated in the arid cold. After slogging for seven hours, Worsley gave the order to stop for the day. They had covered nearly eight nautical miles. In order to reach the ninety-seven-mile mark on January 9th, the men would need to average between ten and twelve nautical miles per day.
But it was a promising start. As the men ate, they talked about the relatively warm weather—the temperature had reached fourteen degrees. Following supper, the men dipped their toothbrushes in the snow and cleaned their teeth, which Worsley believed was essential to maintaining a sense of humanity. Then, jostling for space, they spread out their sleeping bags. In spite of his aching muscles and the dropping temperature—the sun was now hugging the horizon—he went for an evening walk. He decided to make this a daily ritual, like a mystic who pursues enlightenment through self-abnegation.
The harsh reality of Antarctica had seemed only to deepen his entrancement with it. Outside, he often picked up objects—a fragment of a penguin skull, a small rock—and put them in a pocket, despite the extra weight. Within eight days, they had covered more than seventy-five nautical miles. With nothing to stare at but ice, Worsley was becoming a connoisseur of its varieties.
It could be squeaky or powdery or crusty. The wind often sculpted it into waves, known as sastrugi, which rose as high as four feet and sometimes extended, in parallel rows, to the horizon. Because it was more taxing to be up front, breaking track, the men took hourly turns in the lead. They were burning between six thousand and eight thousand calories a day, and periodically paused to consume energy drinks and snack on such fatty foods as salami, nuts, and chocolate; even so, they began to lose weight.
Worsley, knowing that it was imperative to maintain positive thoughts, recalled family holidays and planting vegetables in the garden. He grew accustomed to the paradox of being reduced to irrelevance in the alien landscape while at the same time feeling acutely aware of oneself: every aching muscle, every joint, every breath, every heartbeat. One day, Adams spotted in the distance something poking from the ice and gleaming in the blinding sun.
When they reached it, they realized that it was a meteorological instrument recording such data as temperature and wind speed. A sign indicated that the device belonged to the University of Wisconsin. The men quickly moved on, but for hours Worsley fumed, resenting the intrusion, and he was relieved when he finally glanced back and the instrument had disappeared from view.
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T he storm came upon the men suddenly. The temperature was minus twenty-two degrees, and frigid winds whipped up ice that stung the eyes like bits of glass. The men bent forward, but the wind overwhelmed them, and Worsley concluded that they needed to stop for the day. Moments after they unpacked the tent, the wind nearly hurled it into the white oblivion. They fastened its corners with ice screws and buried the flaps under the snow and used their sleds as barricades.
Worsley called the A. The tempest intensified, the wind hissing at fifty miles per hour. Ice drifted over the tent. When they awoke the next day, the storm was even angrier. The tent was virtually submerged under ice, and inside the air reeked of unwashed bodies and dirty socks and stove fuel. Worsley—whom Gow and Adams now called the General—tried to foster a lighthearted atmosphere. The men passed the time chatting and reading and playing poker. They had previously named themselves the founding members of the Antarctic Malt Whiskey Appreciation Society; per its bylaws, every Thursday evening the explorers would drink from a flask of whiskey, which Gow had brought with him, and the next morning they would sleep in an extra two hours.
Even though it was a Saturday, the men passed around the flask. The liquor warmed them. Worsley, who, in the Army, had honed a gallows humor, joked about their circumstances: if they could make fun of dying, they still had some life in them. Will is picking his toes and Henry Adams is writing in his diary. Until then, farewell from the Ross Ice Shelf. After two more days, the storm relented. The men unzipped the tent and began hacking through a wall of ice about five feet tall and four feet thick.
They dug for more than an hour, until they emerged into the blinding light, like escaped prisoners. They packed and pressed on, trying to make up time. By the fourth week of their journey, in mid-December, they had made it across the Ross Ice Shelf, to the base of the mountain range. The terrain began to rise, and the surface was scarred with deep fissures, a product of the eternal churning of ice. The following day, despite the danger, Worsley went on his walkabout, and collected several rock specimens.
Hoping to do reconnaissance for the upcoming route, he continued walking for hours, at one point climbing onto a ledge and looking south. Before him, shrouded in mist, rose the Beardmore Glacier. The men gathered their belongings and trekked to the mouth of the glacier. Others were only a few feet deep, but that was enough for someone to break an ankle or twist a knee.
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If one of the men were injured, there would be no place for miles for a rescue plane to land. Worsley decided that they could no longer proceed on skis, and so they attached crampons to their boots and put on climbing harnesses, double-checking the screws, slings, and carabiners. Then the men roped themselves together: Worsley in front, followed by Gow and Adams. As they inched up the glacier, their sleds felt like ship anchors being dragged across an ocean floor. The days were slow and draining.
Before each step, Worsley, who was responsible for finding a path, poked his pole in front of him, to see if the ice was solid. Whenever a hole opened, he leaned over and glimpsed the underworld—a chute swirling into darkness. Or it can take you into the throat of a crevasse in a split second. His leg plunged into the shaft. Adams raced over and yanked him out. Soon, the men encountered something startling beneath their feet: a sheet of blue ice.
The result of snow accumulating on a glacier and being compressed over thousands of years, this kind of ice is so dense—so devoid of air bubbles—that it absorbs long-wavelength light, which is why it appears mesmerizingly blue. Yet, as the men quickly discovered, its beauty is deceptive. Before long, the aluminum spikes of the crampons began to bend and break. The men slipped again and again, their bodies smacking against the ice, their sleds pulling them downhill. Adams quietly relented. Sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong. But he would make those decisions, having listened and consulted with us, so it made it very easy to follow him.
On December 24th, after nine days of climbing, they reached the top of the glacier. On Christmas morning, instead of their usual breakfast of freeze-dried porridge, the team prepared a special meal of sausages, bacon, and beans. Worsley called home and spoke to Joanna and Alicia, wishing them a merry Christmas. Worsley then called his own father, hoping to share the news that he had reached the top of the glacier. T he following morning, the forty-third day of the expedition, Worsley, Adams, and Gow began the next stage of their journey. But, as they ascended the Titan Dome, they confronted the most brutal conditions yet: hurricane-force gales, and a wind-chill temperature of minus sixty degrees.
Worsley kept a vigilant eye on his companions. They were almost unrecognizable from the young professionals who had set out from London. Their skin clung to their skulls and their eyes were sunken; they had wild beards and untamed hair that gleamed with ice. Because of the whiteouts, Adams was suffering from motion sickness. But by December 31st it was Worsley who was suffering and struggling to keep pace. His body could not maintain sufficient body fat. My legs would not work any faster. Each stride of the ski seemed locked at a precise distance.
I could go no faster, just slower and slower. We are all completely done in, so why should you? Inside the tent on January 5th, he opened the envelope that Joanna had given him. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. The next day, during another whiteout, Adams got such severe motion sickness that he began vomiting.
Worsley then forged ahead at his fastest pace in days. There was still a chance for them to make the ninety-seven-mile mark on schedule. But on January 7th, with just two days to go, another storm descended, and they were enveloped in the white darkness. Worsley explained to the others that they could either keep going or sit out the storm.
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But if they waited they would miss the anniversary. But he stressed that the decision had to be unanimous. During the next two days, the storm abated, and they covered more than twenty-five nautical miles. On January 9th, they barrelled ahead for six hours. Then Worsley took out his G.
All they could see was barren ice—their grail was no more than a geographical data point. The temperature was minus thirty-one degrees, too cold to linger. But Worsley planted a British flag and arranged a group photograph similar to one that Shackleton had taken with his party. Worsley kept thinking about the predicament that Shackleton had faced a hundred years earlier. I must look at the matter sensibly and consider the lives of those who are with me. I feel that if we go on too far it will be impossible to get back over this surface, and then all the results will be lost to the world.
To their relief, they began descending in altitude, their sleds, lightened from the consumption of food, scooting easily behind them. After eight days, they had covered ninety-two nautical miles, a reminder of just how close Shackleton had been to realizing his dream.
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That night, Worsley went for his stroll, wobbling on bone-thin legs. He was not a religious man, but the landscape stirred him. The next morning, the men broke camp, and embarked on the remaining five nautical miles. In the distance, they could finally see a signpost: the smudged outline of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, a U. After a few hours, Worsley noticed that his skis were moving in tracks that had been etched by snowmobiles. Then he saw, dumped in a pile on the ice, a broken washing machine, a mattress, and crushed boxes.
The scentless air became infused with the sharp odors of fried food and petroleum; occasionally, a military plane roared overhead. In front of the research station, protruding from the ice, was a gleaming metal rod, about waist-high, topped with a brass globe. On January 18th, at p.
As the journey had approached its end, Worsley had felt tears freezing under his eyes: he had not experienced such joy and relief since he was a little boy. Only a few years earlier, they had been strangers, yet they had learned to trust one another with their lives. He happily returned to the Army and relished being with his family. On account of the great geographical discoveries, the important scientific results?
Oh no; that will come later, for the few specialists. This is something all can understand. To category Bear Family. To category Rock'n'Roll. To category Elvis. To category Country. To category Blues. To category Schlager. To category Vinyl. To category more sections. A-Z div.
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