Walking On The Moon
January 16, 2009 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Australian Duncan Chessell (autoloading video) plans to spend four months trekking across Antarctica's frozen wasteland to reach the South Pole. Currently, he's leading a team of seven to the peak of Mt Vinson, Antarctica's highest point. He intends to make his trip to the pole 100 years after a similar feat was attempted by the great British explorer Robert Falcon Scott (previously). Meanwhile, another team aims to "become the youngest, fastest team in the world to reach the South Pole unsupported and unguided."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
History should rightly remember Scott for his failures. I have higher regard for Shackelton -- although he never made the pole, neither did he lose any lives under his command on either of his attempts. Amundsen handed them both their hats.

I hope this Chessel guy has fun -- I'd love to see the Antarctic. It's a serious fantasy of mine.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:41 PM on January 16, 2009


Interesting post, but I would like to clear up one thing: Robert Falcon Scott was not a Great British explorer. The man was a criminally negligent bungler who essentially killed himself and his expedition mates when it became apparent that Amundsen (arguably the greatest (certainly the most technically inventive) arctic explorer who ever lived) had beaten him to the pole. On the return journey his expedition loaded the sleds they had to man-haul with rocks, so that Scott could at least claim his failed bid had "scientific" merit. A bit of bloviating face-saving which probably cost them their lives.

It looks like the southpolechallenge guys are going to man-haul as well--lets hope they actually bother to learn to ski (something Scott and his men couldn't be arsed to do).
posted by Chrischris at 7:46 PM on January 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Or, what Chrischris said.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:56 PM on January 16, 2009


Some of Shackleton's descendents are currently about to reach the south pole, tomorrow. I mentioned it in my Shackleton FPP, but forgot to keep up on it myself.

It will be interesting to see how well the young guys do it. Part of Shackleton'ss success and mystique was not that he planned well (he really did plan well, following in Amundsen's style, especially for the Trans Artic journey), but that fact that he was capable at adapting to the situations when the plans went wrong and was still able to lead everyone to safety. And also the Tom Crean was an indestructible badass.

I worry that the South Pole Challenge Team may have problems if they become too dependent on their equipment, and possible may make mistakes that someone with a longer, deeper, understanding of the antartic would not. They are braver than I.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:06 PM on January 16, 2009


Chrischris, I disagree. Your missing a whole lot of historical context that it would take to long to explain here. No doubt your POV comes from recent historical revisionism (The Last Place on Earth) but I think it goes too far and doesn't take into account the realities of the time. The truth is somewhere between the highly negative assessment "a criminally negligent bungler", and the heroic mythology that came about in the 1920 and 30s (into the 50s). I suspect there will be a further revision in a generation or two restoring Scott some of his status that was stripped away in the 1970s and 80s.
posted by stbalbach at 8:54 PM on January 16, 2009


In a way, history will remember Scott because of his failures, and rightly so. He failed, but he failed most beautifully (no one reads his journals anymore but they should). It was his writing that made him famous. In fact most of the expedition was like a bunch of literary PhDs. They hauled Alfred, Lord Tennyson to the pole and read Browning (one of the hardest English poets) for relaxation in -50 C. Entire long poems were recited from memory for entertainment after a long day a man-hauling. Scott himself was friends with Barrie and Conrad. These guys were privileged upper-class amateur scientist/exploring gentleman - but who wasn't at the time?

The 00's and 10's are known as the "Vertigo Years" in Europe. One of its defining characteristics was an extreme machoism (sort of like the couple years right after 9/11 in the US when anyone who disagreed about going to war with Iraq was derided as a limp wristed unpatriotic liberal pansy). In that sort of environment, when "men fail spectacularly in the quest for glory", they become bigger than life. In todays environment, they seem just dumb, sort of like people who don't wear their seatbelt - safety first! So it's all a matter of perspective. Scott took risks, big risks, but they also accomplished some amazing things (mostly mistakes learned, and wonderful stories). The trip to the pole was only one of many trips they took on that expedition BTW, they did a lot of science work, the pole trip was needed for public relations back home to help justify the raising of funds to pay for the trip. In fact it was this trip that helped created the first national science programs, so scientists wouldn't have to beg wealthy people for grants.
posted by stbalbach at 9:17 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that this is what adventurers and explorers of our time are reduced to - retracing the footsteps of their ancestors.

We don't have the means to send people to Mars yet, and there is nowhere left on earth that you can't view from the air in seconds from the comfort of your own home.

People who feel trapped or alienated in established and largely inflexible society lack a west to offer any alternative, any alternative which recasts the even status quo - the act of staying put - one of choice rather than the prison-like absence of choice.

Exploring doesn't seem to be something for me personally, but I think it had a role in the world, and the hole it has left behind is noticeable. The horizons of our societies grew large enough to become very small and rigid.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:16 AM on January 17, 2009


I would like to clear up one thing: Robert Falcon Scott was not a Great British explorer.

So he wasn't from Great Britain?
posted by mannequito at 4:18 AM on January 17, 2009


Interesting post, but I would like to clear up one thing: Robert Falcon Scott was not a Great British explorer. The man was a criminally negligent bungler who essentially killed himself and his expedition mates when it became apparent that Amundsen (arguably the greatest (certainly the most technically inventive) arctic explorer who ever lived) had beaten him to the pole. On the return journey his expedition loaded the sleds they had to man-haul with rocks, so that Scott could at least claim his failed bid had "scientific" merit. A bit of bloviating face-saving which probably cost them their lives.

This is a load of nonsense.

First of all, it is simply not true that Amundsen was "the most technically inventive". Scott brought the first ever snowmobiles to the South Pole - machines which he played a great part in developing, he experimented with dogs and with ponies on both of his journeys and his expeditions did a great of research on nutrition under extreme conditions.

To claim that his team loaded their sleds with rocks so that they could claim to have some success is a claim that could only be made by someone with no knowledge of Scott's history or previous expeditions. The amount of real, valuable scientific work that was done by the two Scott expeditions was enormous. Not just that, Scott (a torpedo specialist with a great aptitude for science and engineering), took a very personal interest in the science of the expeditions and this was noted by a number of the participating scientists. Of course he didn't want to leave the valuable samples they'd collected - samples which eventually made it back to England and provided the proof that Antarctica was a continent. But the samples are not why he died.

Scott and his party died because the weather as they were crossing the Ross Ice Shelf was much worse than anyone had ever encountered at that time of the year. Based on the weather observations of his own first expedition (which was in position for two years), from Shackleton's expedition and from all data sources, the weather should not have been like that for the last two weeks. Based on the years of observations we have now, we know that this was a once in every 30 years event, they had bad luck.

The reason why Amundsen got to the pole first was because he had the luck to find a much superior route up to the Antarctic plateau. Incidentally, his deceptiveness about his true intentions (he told everyone else he was going to the North Pole) so appalled Fridjof Nansen (who has a much better claim to being the best arctic explorer) that he never spoke to Amundsen again.
In fact, Amundsen took so many risks that he nearly had a rebellion on his hands at least twice.

Scott took fewer risks than Amundsen, he planned much more carefully. Unfortunately, there is a very large component of luck in these kinds of undertakings. Despite not being as careful a planner as Scott, Amundsen was much luckier, so he made it and Scott died. The after the fact rationalisations for why this happened are nothing more than amusing fictions.

A lot of the more useless recent books on Scott's expeditions take the approach of assigning the motivations of a typical modern man to all the men of the expedition and reading their diaries with no sense of historical context and no sense of what it is like to live in close quarters with a small group for years at a time in an extreme environment.

It is basically reactionary nonsense. Just because the story of Scott was held up as a sort of Imperialistic children's story for years, critics of the empire get a warm and fuzzy feeling seeing him denounced as just another incompetent glory-hound.
posted by atrazine at 7:01 AM on January 17, 2009


Scott brought the first ever snowmobiles to the South Pole - machines which he played a great part in developing, he experimented with dogs and with ponies on both of his journeys

And yet, the fact is Scott's expedition walked to the Pole, pulling several ton sleds without the benefit of skis, snowshoes, ponies, dogs or, any other aid besides their own feet. Yes, yes, quite a technical accomplishment.
posted by Chrischris at 7:36 AM on January 17, 2009


Scott took fewer risks than Amundsen, he planned much more carefully.

This is utterly and demonstrably false. Scott and his men didn't bother to even try to experiment with skis or their snowmobile until they had actually arrived in Antarctica. Both modes of travel were discarded when it was discovered that skiing actually took a bit of time and effort to master (time they didn't have if the expedition was to stay on schedule, and effort which apparently the Tennyson quoting gentlemen didn't feel it necessary to expend), and that the snowmobile was too unreliable to do more than pull supply sleds a few miles across the ice shelf before breaking down. Neither mode was explored in any capacity before the expedition left England.
.
posted by Chrischris at 7:45 AM on January 17, 2009


That is inaccurate, Chrischris. Scott and/or his team were experimenting with the "snowmobile" in Norway (Sweden?) to work it out and test it before leaving. Also Shackleton on his 1907–09 expedition had used the "snowmobile", so it was tested - but it was secondary, Scott never intended to use it except as a supplement and was not surprised when they broke down a few miles out.

They also had skies, only 1 member of the 5 who made it to the pole didn't have skies.
posted by stbalbach at 8:00 AM on January 17, 2009


and there is nowhere left on earth that you can't view from the air in seconds from the comfort of your own home.

Dude. Caves. I have been the first person to stand in undiscovered places many times on caving trips, and it is indeed teh awesome. When you break through into passage with no footprints, that's off the map, and you look behind you to see a single set of tracks in the mud (or guano), or when you toss a rope down an undescended pit, unaware of what's at the bottom, then get on rope and start the descent -- this is the same thing as climbing peaks, or charting the jungles of Africa as far as the feeling of momentousness and discovery.

Judging by the density of caves in explored karst areas, vs. the amount of relatively unexplored karst, there's gotta be thousands of miles of undiscovered cave passages still awaiting footfall.

That, and the bottom of the oceans. We know less about them than we do about the surface of Mars, at this point. Of course, the degree of difficulty here is extreme, which is why being a caver works so well. I can drive four hours west, and with luck, be in virgin passage in a weekend.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:48 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Oceanic exploration, read up on the work of Robert Ballard. Besides finding some amazing undersea discoveries, he has been working towards a telepresence system for researchers. Instead of having to bring all your specialists with you out on the expedition, they are moving towards using satellite uplinks and Internet2 to provide near real time information to the specialists wherever they are located. Need a oceanic plate tectonic's specialist? She can be seeing what the crew many the remote submersible is seeing in 20 minutes, from Seattle, and more importantly, she can direct them to find more things for her.

As for Scott, I get the sense that he was one of the last British Officer class explorers. By practice and policy, someone who was meant to be distanced from the men he commanded. I mean, I can't get this skit out of my head whenever I think about him.

Granted, atleast they decided not to carry their tea set with them.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:36 AM on January 17, 2009


Scott of the Antarctic Sahara!
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:13 PM on January 17, 2009


Thanks Devils Rancher. Something completely different.
posted by stbalbach at 8:04 AM on January 18, 2009


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