Head first into a strong wind. After establishing their main base in Commonwealth Bay, Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition found the winds to be unlike any they had encountered before. As Mawson wrote in The Home of the Blizzard:

Shod with good spikes, in a steady wind, one had only to push hard to keep a sure footing. It would not be true to say “to keep erect”, for equilibrium was maintained by leaning against the wind. In a course of time, those whose duties habitually took them out of doors became thorough masters of the art of walking in hurricanes - an accomplishment comparable to skating or skiing. Ensconced in the lee of a substantial break-wind, one could leisurely observe the unnatural appearance of others walking about, apparently in imminent peril of falling on their faces.

For more on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in Mawson’s own words, check out The Home of the Blizzard: Being the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition.


March 16th 1912: Lawrence Oates dies

On this day in 1912 Lawrence Oates, a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s British team to the South Pole, left his tent never to be seen again. Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition was his second attempt and aimed to become the first group to reach the South Pole. The group succeeded in reaching the Pole on January 17th 1912, only to discover that they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. Sadly, Scott’s entire party of five men died on the return journey. Oates was one of those who died first. He was suffering from severe frostbite and, in an apparent act of self-sacrifice, simply walked out of his tent into a blizzard. He had asked them to leave him behind as his condition worsened, and it is likely he felt that he was holding his group back and limiting their chances for survival. Thus on March 16th he walked out of the tent saying: “I am just going outside and may be some time.” The others died soon after and their bodies were found by a search party in November, along with some of their equipment and personal effects. Oates’s body was never found, but he and his companions are remembered as brave men and national heroes.

“We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.
- Entry in Scott’s diary about Oates

Grumpy McGrumpface

The Worst Journey in the World
Is it a production blog, or is it an illustrated descent into madness?

Those of you who have been following me for any length of time know that I’ve got a bit of an obsession for the Terra Nova Expedition, a.k.a. the Scott Expedition, a.k.a. the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13.  I have now set up a side Tumblr specifically for this project, on which I will post new drawings as they come, but also interesting things I find in the course of my research, exploration of the people and events, photographs old and new, process, and tidbits of my own adventures in the world of polar history – the sort of things I want to share, but don’t want to clutter up my art blog.  

If you’re curious about the story that has so enthralled me, want to know who these people are that you keep seeing in my sketchbook, or just want to stare at what happens when someone’s hobby comes to take over their life, then please follow worstjourney.tumblr.com and you will, I hope, be satisfied.

At the moment I’m mostly reposting old stuff in order to have it all in one place, but I aim to have new material a couple times a week, and as time goes on, more and more of it will be new.  Where are we going?  I don’t know!  But I hope you’ll come along with me.


Curious Fact of the Week: Shackleton’s Whiskey Cache

Ernest Shackleton’s stash of hundred-year-old booze was discovered buried in the ice under the explorer’s Antarctic base camp.

In January 2010 workers from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust successfully extracted the cases from the ice and now one of them is being slowly thawed to see if the whisky can be saved.

The hut served as the base of operations for the British 1907-1909 Nimrod Expedition, an early attempt in the race to the geographic South Pole led by a young Ernest Shackleton.

Upon leaving Antarctica to go back home, Shackleton wrote:

“We all turned out to give three cheers and to take a last look at the place where we had spent so many happy days. The hut was not exactly a palatial residence … but, on the other hand, it had been our home for a year that would always live in our memories…. We watched the little hut fade away in the distance with feelings almost of sadness, and there were few men aboard who did not cherish a hope that some day they would once more live strenuous days under the shadow of mighty Erebus.”

Shackleton was knighted upon his return to England. Five years later he made his most famous attempt at the pole. The Endurance Expedition, in which his ship became trapped and sunk in ice, was another technical failure, but an epic success story of survival against all odds.

For the full version of Shackleton’s lesser-known expedition to the South Pole, keep reading on Atlas Obscura…

The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances than those expected.

January 17th, Captain Scott becomes the second man to stand at the South Pole. At this point Amundsen was at making camp at 82 degrees south, nine days from reaching his home base at Framheim on January 26th. Whatever personal opinions of all this may be, that’s the way it happened. Internet arguments rage about the scientific outcomes of the expedition not being worth the cost, but you can’t argue that the volumes of data the British Antarctic Expedition brought home on the meteorology, biology, and geology of the Antarctic continent had a more lasting impact on society than simply being first. And yes, there was much more than simply a few fossils.
For those interested in the infamous ‘thirty five pound of rocks that killed Scott’, I can nerd out on the paleontology of Antarctica by saying amongst them were Glossopteris fossils. Glossopteris plants are an extinct form of Permian (roughly 250-300 million years ago) tropical fern found previously in South America, Africa, India, Antarctica, and Australia. Their discovery on the very remote continent of Antarctica gave very strong evidence for the theory of continental drift. Antarctica was once at a more equatorial location and part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana.
Below is a map from geosociety.org showing Antarctica in its location in former Gondwana.

Historic Photos Show the Epic Voyages of Black Explorer
Largely ignored for nearly a century, Matthew Henson made big contributions to polar exploration.

One of the pioneering polar explorers from the Golden Age of Exploration grew up as a poor orphan in Baltimore, and his achievements later in life were largely ignored because of his race.

Matthew Henson was one of the era’s few African-American explorers, and he may have been the first man, black or white, to reach the North Pole. His grueling adventures alongside U.S. Navy engineer Robert E. Peary are chronicled in these dramatic early photos.

Henry Worsley was a perfectly closed system progressing across the underbelly of the planet. He might as well have been alone on Mars.

Last week, after 70 days on the Antarctic ice and more than 900 miles of slogging though the snow, Worsley called for help: He could no longer “slide one ski in front of the other.”  

MORE. People Cross Antarctica All the Time. It’s Still Crazy Hard


Welcome to Polar Week 2014 on Atlas Obscura

This week is Polar Week at Atlas Obscura! We’ll be celebrating all things Arctic and Antarctic, from the North to South Pole, through curious stories and fascinating locales. If you are in certain parts of the world you may already feel like you’re in an ice kingdom, so grab a warm drink and join us for tales of two of the frigid extremes of our planet.

Have any tips for Polar Week? Drop us a line by email or Twitter with the hashtag #PolarWeek, or join in the frozen fun on FacebookGoogle+, and Kinja!

In the meantime, visit some of our favorite polar places, plus more of Frank Hurley’s stunning photographs from Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica…

(Images courtesy the State Library of New South Wales)


Staff Pick of the Week

This week, Anna chose three small books about polar exploration published by the USSR for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. These books celebrate the first-ever manned drifting ice station, which began operations in May of 1937 near the North Pole and ended in February of 1938 when the ice floe broke up near the coast of Greenland. The station provided valuable information about the arctic region, including meteorological observations, ocean depth soundings, wildlife observations, and more. The expedition organizer, Otto Schmidt, and the four explorer/scientists who stayed on the ice floe, Ivan Papanin, Pyotr Shirshov, Yevgeny Fyodorov, and Ernst Krenkel, were all awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Each of the books takes a slightly different approach to discussing the expedition, which might have made them appeal to a larger audience at the World’s Fair. The Conquest of the Arctic is the most text-heavy and establishes the USSR’s work in the Arctic as part of the larger scientific, economic, and cultural progress of the global community. Scientific Work of Our Polar Expedition, as you might guess, focuses on the expedition’s scientific observations but is not overly technical and includes a fair number of illustrations showing the scientists at work. Camping at the Pole is the shortest and most heavily illustrated of the three books. It focuses on the preparations for the expedition and the explorers’ daily lives while they were on the ice floe.

The three books can be found in the catalog as follows:


When Neil Armstrong and Edmund Hillary Took a Trip to the North Pole

It sounds like the plot of a comic book — Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong at the North Pole — but in fact it was one of those spectacular crossroads of history. In the lonely, desolate arctic, these two great explorers — who had never met before — got in a tiny bush plane and took off for the top of the Earth in 1985. Here’s how it happened.

One morning in the mid–1980s, professional expedition leader Mike Dunn decided he wanted to take the day’s greatest explorers to the North Pole. According to Sir Edmund Hillary’s son Peter, himself an accomplished mountaineer who came on the trip, Dunn was a colorful character, the kind of man who didn’t mind ringing up people like first man on the moon Neil Armstrong and saying, “How about this?” 

Hillary, legendary for being the first to scale Mount Everest with teammate Tenzing Norgay, was on board, and Armstrong was, too, saying he was curious to see what the North Pole looked like from ground level, as he’d only seen it from the moon. Astronaut problems.

The party also included Steve Fosset — the first man to fly a balloon around the world — and Patrick Morrow — the first person to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents. 

Read the complete tale of how Armstrong/Hillary North Pole expedition played out, over on Atlas Obscura…

Amundsen’s Secret Weapon

Roald Amundsen succeeded in most of his adventures, but the credit can’t all go to him. Some of it needs to go to the Netsilik of Nunavut.

Kabloka, a Netsilik woman photographed during Amundsen’s stay in Nunavut

Amundsen in a publicity shot, wearing the Inuit inspired furs he preferred to be portrayed in.

Near the start of his voyage through the Northwest passage, Amundsen made a point of spending time with the Netsilik of Nunavut, learning how to dress, drive dogs, build snow shelters, and survive in a harsh polar environment from a culture honed by thousands of years of living in the arctic. Though he altered some of the technique (such as using tents for shelter and modern conveniences like paraffin stoves) he kept the major components intact, most notably the importance of dogs and breathable skin clothing. Even the snow tunnels at his Antarctic base Framheim mirrored the Inuit technique of working around the environment rather than against it. Even when trading dogs for planes, he preferred to use his Inuit inspired clothing. The take home lesson from all this is people who have spent generations living in an environment know how to keep on living in it. Amundsen may have completed the expeditions, but the Inuit invented the techniques. You have to give them credit for that.

For a little more about the Canadian Inuit, here’s the official site of the Canadian national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

For more on Amundsen’s experience in Nunavut, check out The Northwest Passage, unfortunately its not available for free on Project Gutenberg. But an e-book version is available at a low price.