Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - The Allure of the South Pole
The South Pole holds an enduring allure for explorers and adventurers. As the southernmost point on Earth, reaching the pole has captivated people for centuries. Though remote and inhospitable, the South Pole captures our imaginations as one of the last great unconquered places left in the world.
What drives people to attempt this grueling journey across nearly 1,000 miles of shifting ice and freezing temperatures? For many early Antarctic explorers, it was simply the challenge of getting there first. Reaching the South Pole represented one of the last great geographic prizes. The dash to the pole in the early 1900s, known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, pitted intrepid adventurers like Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott in a high-stakes race. Planting their country's flag at 90°S would bring national pride and personal glory.
Yet over a century later, the South Pole still lures modern-day adventurers to walk in the footsteps of these pioneering explorers. While the pole itself may no longer represent a geographic first, retracing the route offers a rare chance to connect with history and pay homage to the past. Along the way, expeditions battle the same extreme conditions and life-threatening challenges as the early explorers once faced.
For many, the chance to test their limits in one of the harshest environments on Earth provides the ultimate adventure. Veteran polar guide Eric Philips describes the primal allure of Antarctic travel: "It's cold, it's empty, it's barren. It's minimalist. It strips you back to the core elements of being a human being". Facing the rawness and simplicity of Antarctica can lead to profound personal insights.
What else is in this post?
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - The Allure of the South Pole
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Preparing for the Trek of a Lifetime
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Navigating the Frozen Tundra
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Facing Harsh Conditions Head On
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Cherry-Garrard's Pioneering Journey
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Documenting a Turning Point in Exploration
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - The Race to 90 Degrees South
- Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Honoring a Legacy of Courage and Discovery
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Preparing for the Trek of a Lifetime
Preparing for an Antarctic expedition takes extensive planning, specialized gear, and physical training to handle the extreme conditions. Unlike a typical backpacking trip, polar travel requires a whole new skillset. From navigating shifting sea ice to hauling heavy sleds across snowy terrain, an Antarctic trek presents unique challenges not found elsewhere.
Seasoned polar travelers stress the importance of being mentally and logistically ready for the harsh realities of the journey. As Eric Philips notes, "It's the most inhospitable environment you could possibly go to...you've got to go with the right gear, the right clothing and the right mentality". Having the proper cold weather clothing and equipment can make the difference between life and death. Common gear includes sturdy mountaineering boots, multiple insulating layers, waterproof outerwear, thick gloves, goggles, sleep kits, and tents designed to withstand strong winds and frigid temperatures.
Sled hauling requires technique and targeted strength training. Veteran guide Dixie Dansercoer recommends starting slowly with light weights, gradually building up distance and weight over time. On longer expeditions, sleds can weigh over 150 pounds when fully loaded with gear and supplies. Developing the stamina and proper lifting mechanics to pull a heavy sled all day prevents injury down the line. Practicing a low, balanced stance rather than standing upright preserves energy.
Nutrition and hydration needs spike in polar environments. Slogging across miles in subzero temperatures burns massive calories, while the dry air accelerates fluid loss. Planning calories carefully prevents dangerous weight loss, and staying hydrated requires melting snow for water. Digestibility matters too - high fat, high protein foods deliver concentrated calories most efficiently. Electrolyte supplementation helps maintain proper fluid balance and energy levels.
Besides the physical preparations, mental toughness and camaraderie keep teams going through hardships. Veteran polar explorer Ben Saunders stresses, "Mental resilience and psychological robustness are even more important than physical fitness". On his 105-day solo South Pole journey, focusing on the next step rather than the endpoint kept him present. Humor and laughter build bonds between teammates during trials.
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Navigating the Frozen Tundra
Navigating the vast expanse of Antarctica's frozen tundra poses unique challenges unseen elsewhere. The continent's icy landscape continually shifts and cracks, making even experienced polar travelers tread cautiously. As Cherry-Garrard and his companions discovered over a century ago, traversing Antarctica requires special skills and constant vigilance. Even with today's modern gear, navigating the frozen tundra remains just as formidable.
Vast fields of snow and ice cover the interior of Antarctica, masking dangerous crevasses that can trap the unwary. These hidden cracks in the ice open and close unpredictably, making previously safe paths suddenly treacherous. Frequent whiteouts eradicate visibility, causing explorers to lose their way and wander in circles. Ferocious katabatic winds barrel down from the polar plateau, knocking travelers off their feet. Temperatures plunge to -50°F and below, freezing exposed skin in minutes. Simply walking safely requires total concentration. As polar explorer Ben Saunders cautions, "If you trip and break your leg or get injured, that's pretty much game over."
To survive the harsh environment, modern expeditions rely on specialized navigational tools. GPS devices can pinpoint location, but batteries drain quickly in extreme cold. Compasses work reliably if adjusted for southern polarity. However, explorers must take frequent sightings and map readings to stay on course across the featureless terrain. Following existing snowmobile routes from scientific bases provides reliable pathways. Yet unpredictable drifts often cover these paths, forcing detours around hazardous areas. Veteran guides like Eric Philips have learned to read subtle clues in the ice formations that signal dangers ahead. Avoiding hidden crevasses and thin ice remains critical.
Pulling heavy sleds laden with supplies adds another navigational challenge. The long trains of sleds connected together makes turning cumbersome. Sudden drops into crevasses can capsize sleds and entangle gear. Expeditions must continually scout safe passages across snow bridges and around open holes. Trouble spots often require rerouting gear sleds one by one, doubling back repeatedly. This slows progress enormously, yet ensures the safety of both travelers and vital equipment. As polar adventurer Dixie Dansercoer notes, "Patience and caution will get you there. Rush, and you risk disaster."
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Facing Harsh Conditions Head On
Embarking on an Antarctic expedition means accepting the inevitability of harsh conditions. Yet rather than viewing the cold, isolation and privations as obstacles, the most successful explorers lean into the challenges as part of the privilege of walking in the footsteps of the greats.
Polar veteran Eric Philips considers the dramatic extremes part of the allure. As he explains, “It’s the appeal of pitting yourself against raw nature. People crave that rawness, that adventure". By embracing the harsh realities, explorers transform hardship into a chance for growth.
Physically and mentally preparing for the demands ahead provides the foundation. Yet when gale-force winds rip tents from their moorings or whiteouts swallow visibility, theory collides with on-the-ground reality. Maintaining perspective keeps teams anchored in the face of setbacks. Treating Antarctica's ruthlessness with respect rather than fear grants a sense of confidence.
Legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton modeled unflappable optimism during his harrowing Endurance expedition. Stranded for months on shifting ice floes after his ship sank, he continually buoyed his men's spirits through positivity. His ability to reframe adversity as opportunity helped the crew overcome long odds.
Modern day adventurers channel a similar mindset through teamwork and small daily rituals. Small comforts like a warm cup of tea take the edge off harsh conditions. A favorite playlist blasted at the end of the day's march celebrates progress made. Sharing funny stories and memories from home forges bonds between teammates.
Focusing on the incremental steps rather than the endpoint keeps motivation high in difficult stretches. Ten more paces. One more mile. Breaking huge challenges down into digestible bites makes them feel manageable. Adventurer Dixie Dansercoer reflects that during his solo South Pole speed crossing, becoming "lost in the small steps" kept him present.
Expedition sledding requires the same measured persistence. Veteran guides recommend the "1-2-3" approach: one step at a time, pulling for just two minutes until reaching the next marker. Repeat small distance goals until the miles disappear underfoot. Maintaining movement forward ultimately leads explorers to their goal, even through the harshest conditions.
Embodying flexibility helps expeditions adapt when Antarctica deals setbacks. Plans may require adjusting as storms block paths or equipment fails in the cold, yet staying open to new solutions allows groups to work through problems. Having back-up gear and alternate routes in place provides reassurance to continue.
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Cherry-Garrard's Pioneering Journey
Cherry-Garrard’s account of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition remains a landmark of polar literature for good reason. His vivid firsthand account captures the raw essence of exploration during Antarctica’s Heroic Age in all its stark beauty and hardship. By experiencing the journey through Cherry’s eyes over a century later, we connect with the past in a powerfully visceral way.
As a young man with no polar experience, Cherry won a spot on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition based on sheer force of personality. Propelled by youthful romantic ideals of adventure, he willingly hauled sleds hundreds of miles in temperatures reaching -77°F and below. His matter-of-fact descriptions of sealing bones protruding through blackened fingertips stripped of flesh by frostbite and of teeth splitting from the cold leave no doubt about the brutal realities faced.
Yet Cherry balanced his unflinching look at the merciless environment with profound appreciation for Antarctica’s grandeur. His evocative passages on the radiant beauty of the first sunrise after wintering over capture the continent’s mystical allure. We feel his soaring excitement at achieving the expedition’s scientific aims after locating critical emperor penguin egg specimens during a midwinter journey into complete darkness. He movingly expresses the incomparable camaraderie forged between men united in pursuit of a higher purpose.
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Documenting a Turning Point in Exploration
Cherry-Garrard’s account documented a pivotal moment in Antarctic exploration. His chronicle of the Terra Nova expedition captured the last gasp of the Heroic Age just as the pursuit of South Pole glory transitioned to scientific discovery. By experiencing the journey through Cherry’s eyes, we see the humanity behind the history.
Cherry witnessed firsthand the sacrifices expedition members made in service of intangible ideals. Hauling heavy sleds for months across uncharted polar wastes tested the absolute limits of human endurance. Expedition members willingly risked —and often lost— fingers, toes and even lives to plant flags and claim territories. Cherry described matter-of-factly how subzero temperatures froze men’s blackened flesh; he told of teeth splitting from the cold. His vivid account leaves no doubt about the brutal realities faced in Antarctica’s unforgiving environment.
Yet Cherry balanced his unflinching look at the continent’s ruthlessness with profound appreciation for its mystical grandeur. Through his writings, we feel his exhilaration at witnessing 24-hour daylight for the first time after months spent in utter darkness wintering over. He movingly captured the incomparable bonds forged between expedition members united by higher purpose. His work highlighted the magnetic pull Antarctic exploration exerted despite its hardships.
However, the Terra Nova expedition also marked the end of an era. The quest for geographic conquest was shifting toward systematic scientific study. Cherry’s account documented this turning point by recording both triumph and tragedy. We see his soaring excitement achieving the expedition’s aims by locating emperor penguin eggs during a midwinter journey. Yet Cherry also chronicled the expedition’s anguished end: Scott’s polar party perished in a blizzard just miles from safety.
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - The Race to 90 Degrees South
The dash to the South Pole represented the pinnacle of Antarctic exploration during the Heroic Age. Reaching 90 degrees south satiated the fierce national rivalries driving early explorers like Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott and Norway’s Roald Amundsen. Yet the true prize lay not in flags or glory, but in proving the depths of human endurance. Their expeditions showed that with grit and spirit, we can achieve far more than imagined possible.
Amundsen and Scott epitomized the competitive zeal fueling their era’s expeditions. Amundsen wrote transparently, “Victory awaits him who has everything in order...defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions.” Their epic race created tactical innovations still used today. Amundsen’s pragmatic use of skis and sled dogs allowed nimbler travel. His expedition focused solely on efficient progress. In contrast, Scott’s romantic scientific approach weighed him down—literally. Depots overloaded with specimens and equipment slowed his sledge teams. However, both men pushed the boundaries of courage and perseverance.
These pioneering expeditions revealed Antarctica’s profound power to change those experiencing her vastness. Despite being bitter rivals, Amundsen and Scott described similar feelings of awe and rebirth during their journeys. Enveloped by the silent wilderness, everyday concerns slipped away. Amundsen wrote, “All the feelings that you and I have been artificially holding back come surging forth...” Antarctica’s rawness and simplicity stripped men bare until only their essential selves remained.
Moments of transcendence often arrived during times of extremity. Expedition members experienced them while witnessing phenomenal beauty: radiant auroras dancing across indigo skies or ice formations shimmering with otherworldly colors. Others found sublime moments in the camaraderie forged through shared hardship. Cut off from civilization, they relied completely on each other. Hardships were meaningless if they failed to see their brothers through safely.
Into the White: Retracing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's Footsteps on an Antarctic Expedition - Honoring a Legacy of Courage and Discovery
Retracing the routes of early Antarctic explorers allows us to tangibly connect with the past by walking in their footsteps. More than a mere history lesson, these expeditions bring us face-to-face with the gritty realities expedition members faced over a century ago. By paying homage to the pioneers’ spirit of adventure and their sacrifices, we keep their legacy alive. Their journeys laid the groundwork that made today’s research and scientific work possible.
Modern-day adventurers choose to recreate these historical treks for many reasons. For some, it provides a chance to challenge themselves against the same extremes as the Heroic Age greats. Pushing their limits in Antarctica’s harsh environment leads to profound personal insights. As polar guide Eric Philips discovered during his Shackleton crossing, stripping life down to the bare essentials can be revelatory: “It cuts through the dross we fill our lives with. It distills us as human beings to the basic elements”.
Others undertake the dangerous journeys as a mark of respect, even pilgrimage. Retired special operators often see parallels between the demands of polar travel and their own experiences. They recognize the core tenacity and spirit required to overcome adversity. Trekking in the footsteps of the early explorers pays homage to the courage that all pioneering adventurers share across eras.
Expedition leaders also emphasize the responsibility to answer the continent’s call just as their forebears did. As polar veteran Ben Saunders explains, “I try to listen to what makes my spirit feel alive. Antarctica does that for me”. By heeding that pull into the unknown, modern explorers honor the restless pioneering drive that has pushed humans to explore our world’s boundaries since the beginning. From Shackleton to today's travelers, Antarctica beckons those who hear her siren call.
Some adventurers attempt complete solo recreations of historic routes not mainly from reverence, but as a competitive feat. Australian polar athlete Daniel Burton set out to break Robert Falcon Scott’s solo speed record from the coast to the South Pole. By besting Scott’s time, he aimed to claim the title as the fastest solo unsupported Antarctic trekker. However, inclement weather dashed his hopes. His aborted attempt demonstrated the continent’s continued mercilessness in humbling even the hardiest modern adventurers.