Read an Excerpt
At 24 Apsley Cherry-Garrard was the youngest man chosen to join Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1910. He was also one of the men to find Scott's body. When Scott realized that he was dying, he wrote this in his journal:
"Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale..."
The tale that Cherry-Garrard tells in The Worst Journey in the World is equally stirring. He makes it clear that his book will be more than an account of Scott's tragic demise for, he says, "We were primarily a great scientific expedition, with the Pole as our bait for public support, though it was not more important than any other acre of the plateau."
The title of the book is actually a description of the journey he and two others made to gather specimens of Emperor penguin eggs, a journey made even more harrowing by conditions extreme even for the South Pole:
"It was the darkness that did it. I don't believe minus seventy temperatures would be bad in daylight, not comparatively bad, when you could see where you were going...
"We saw the Emperors standing all together huddled under the Barrier cliff some hundreds of yards away. The little light was going fast: we were much more excited about the approach of complete darkness and the look of wind in the south than we were about our triumph. After indescribable effort and hardship we were witnessing a marvel of the natural world, and we were the first and only men who had ever done so; we had within our grasp material which might prove of the utmost importance to science; we were turning theories into facts with every observation we made, - and we had but a moment to give."
Cherry-Garrard draws heavily on the accounts of Scott, Wilson, Bowers, and others in order to give us a complete picture, and is able in that way to vividly portray the different personalities who took part in the expedition. Here is Bowers' description of one of the events one evening that can only be considered a living nightmare:
"Two and a half hours later I awoke, hearing a noise. Both my companions were snoring, I thought it was that and was on the point of turning in again having seen that it was only 4.30, when I heard the noise again. I thought - 'my pony is at the oats!' and went out...
"I cannot describe either the scene or my feelings. I must leave those to your imagination. We were in the middle of a floating pack of broken-up ice...as far as the eye could see there was nothing solid...long black tongues of water were everywhere. The floe on which we were had split right under our picketing line, and cut poor Guts's wall in half. Guts himself had gone, and a dark streak of water alone showed the place where the ice had opened under him. The two sledges securing the other end of the line were on the next floe and had been pulled right to the edge. Our camp was on a floe not more than 30 yards across. I shouted to Cherry and Crean, and rushed out in my socks to save the two sledges; the two floes were touching farther on and I dragged them to this place and got them on to our floe. At that moment our own floe split in two, but we were all together on one piece..."
In a moving testament to Scott and all the men of the expedition, Cherry-Garrard evokes the full pathos of that ultimate tragedy in his book. It is a tale of human fortitude and valor under extremely in-human conditions. Small wonder that today's explorers hold this book in such high esteem: the men it honors deserve it.