The White Darkness
February 6, 2018 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I have done a few self-supported backcountry skiing trips, where I carried all my food and a tent and all the bits and pieces. In fact I own a Hilleberg Nammatj, which is the same tent Henry Worsely used.

My limit is about three days. And for me, that is a huge effort physically and in logistics. It's all hard, it's all the little things. Putting your pack on and taking it off is hard. Sitting down is hard (you can't sit directly on snow, you loose heat). Cooking is fraught - if you burn yourself, or cut yourself, or set something on fire, or spill the water, or even take your gloves off for too long because you need the dexterity, it's bad. If you spill stove fuel or soup over yourself, you're wearing those clothes until the end of the trip. And if you don't cook those freeze dried meals properly, you get stomach trouble, and that is REALLY bad. Melting snow or ice to get water takes a very long time, and you need to collect a whole bag of snow to barely fill a water bottle. If you sweat too much in your boots, they'll freeze overnight and you'll bruise or cut your feet trying to get them on in the morning. If you have to pee in the middle of the night, it takes ten minutes to leave the tent as it feels like you're suiting up for an EVA in space getting all your clothes back on.

It is flat impossible to eat enough to maintain your weight. You dutifully check the nutrition information of all the chocolate bars in the supermarket to make sure you get the ones with the most calories. It's salami, chocolate, sugar and fat all the way. It's very hard to eat vegetarian or vegan - friends have tried, and ended up breaking down in tears with boderline hypothermia.

I can barely comprehend living on the snow in a tent for like SIX MONTHS. The people that do these arctic and antarctic expeditions are in a higher, mystically metaphysical realm of suffering. It really is as close to Hell as you can get.
posted by other barry at 7:14 PM on February 6, 2018 [29 favorites]

What a remarkable man. Well worth the long read.
posted by gryphonlover at 8:42 PM on February 6, 2018

I always love the longform reads about these sorts of expeditions, along with the ones about Everest (there have been quite a few of those posted here). What are some great books talking about these sorts of things, in the style of this particular piece?
posted by gucci mane at 9:00 PM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have been a Shackleton groupie for some years now and I found this utterly riveting. Henry Worsley — what a man. Thank you so much for posting this, chris88. It has made my week.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:03 AM on February 7, 2018

gucci mane, I can recommend Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. Also, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of Robert Scott’s men, The Worst Journey in the World. The feats of will and the relentless conditions these men faced are just astounding. Cherry-Garrard’s tale is quietly tragic.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:13 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

It was clear to me from pretty early in the article that Worsley wasn’t alive but that end was still a real gut punch.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:59 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you've never read Admiral Richard Byrd's memoir Alone about his solo Antarctic expedition in 1934, it is a gripping read.
posted by briank at 7:13 AM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ben Saunders attempted to do this solo in Worsley's honor very recently. Spoiler - he also didn't make it but did survive the attempt. His blog is here and is a worthwhile addition to the story.
posted by leslies at 10:15 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

It was clear to me from pretty early in the article that Worsley wasn’t alive but that end was still a real gut punch.

Really? I thought he was probably still alive, though I did question that at various points.

I literally just finished reading this and I think it's such a gut punch because he chose to come back, but still died.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:26 PM on February 8, 2018

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