The Second-Worst Journey in the World: A dog-sledging expedition to Cape Crozier
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Just after midwinter in 1911, following a rollicking solstice party, three men from Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s last expedition set off to gather penguin eggs from Cape Crozier, at the eastern end of Ross Island in Antarctica. Fresh embryos were needed to prove the then current theory that the primitive emperor penguin was a link between birds and dinosaurs, and specifically that feathers had evolved from scales. The Emperor penguin is the only Antarctic creature to breed in midwinter: hence the need to travel in the worst conditions the continent has to offer. The men very nearly died. They travelled the 70-odd miles from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier in almost complete darkness, and in temperatures so cold that their teeth cracked. They lost their tent, essential to keep them alive, in a blizzard, and by a miracle found it again. The voyage is recorded dramatically in “The Worst Journey in the World”, written some years later by Cherry-Garrard and regarded as one of the best adventure books of all time 1 . A somewhat more sober account is presented by the diaries of Dr Edward Wilson, the leader of the expedition.2 Conditions were so bad, and supplies so low, that the men were able to visit the penguin colony only once, and returned with three eggs. Sadly these eggs, for which “three human lives had been risked three hundred times a day, and three human frames strained to the utmost extremity of human endurance”,3 were to do little to advance scientific knowledge. Wilson and the expedition’s third member, Henry “Birdie” Bowers, died the following summer on the way back from the South Pole. It was 46 years before the emperor penguin colony was visited again4 . Four men from the New Zealand contingent of the 1957 TransAntarctic expedition – leader Harry Ayres, Dr Ron Balham, Murray Douglas and Neil Sandford – set off on the same journey, but this time in spring. And rather than haul sledges themselves, as Wilson’s party had done with nearly fatal results, they took two teams of huskies.