Worst Trip Ever!

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The Most Terrible Polar Exploration Ever: Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Journey

by Mike Dash/Smithsonian.com/January 2012

Even today, with advanced foods, and radios, and insulated clothing, a journey on foot across Antarctica is one of the harshest tests a human being can be asked to endure. A hundred years ago, it was worse. Then, wool clothing absorbed snow and damp. High-energy food came in an unappetizing mix of rendered fats called pemmican. Worst of all, extremes of cold pervaded everything; Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who sailed with Captain Scott’s doomed South Pole expedition of 1910-13, recalled that his teeth, “the nerves of which had been killed, split to pieces” and fell victim to temperatures that plunged as low as -77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cherry-Garrard survived to write an account of his adventures, a book he titled The Worst Journey in the World. But even his Antarctic trek—made in total darkness in the depths of the Southern winter—was not quite so appalling as the desperate march faced one year later by the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. Mawson’s journey has gone down in the annals of polar exploration as probably the most terrible ever undertaken in Antarctica.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Carol, back in 75/6 I wintered over in Antarctica, and can relay the harsh temp that befell us all.
    But when you are young and silly you do these things, I remember about late september marching with 6 others with our sledge towed behind heading to a crashed Constellation aircraft about 12 miles from our base (Scott) pitching our tents for the night and next day marching back, we had the best up to date equipment but still froze, my finger tips and toes peeled over the next few days.
    I also made it to the South pole 800 miles away courtesy of the US Navy ski Hercs.
    Would not trade the experience with anything

    • You are one of the few to be able to say that you have been to Antarctica, you are lucky. I spent two years, in the 70s, living in the Aleutian Islands, though while not the temperature extreme of the Antarctic, it could be a dangerous place with rain always moving horizontally due to winds, all the time winds. Eagles as common as crows. Great experience.

    • Oh Carol, the wind chill, I remember it well. although my trip to the pole was summer time, you had to keep your camera in your jacket or the film would freeze. Like you say, great experience and looked excellent on your resume, never failed any job application I applied for.