- Dec 5, 2003
That's the thing about Antarctica, isn't it?
Its a bonanza of minerals.
Its a bonanza of minerals.
The story of The Belgica Expedition and how a charlatan's reputation may be restored. A long article excerpted from Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey Into the Dark Antarctic Night, by Julian Sancton.
I first heard of the Belgica expedition in the spring of 2015, while procrastinating at my desk at Departures magazine.
I was flipping through the latest issue of The New Yorker when I found a headline that caught my interest: “Moving to Mars.” It was about an ongoing experiment taking place on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa—about as close as the earth gets to a Martian environment—in which six volunteers lived in isolation under a geodesic dome for a NASA-funded study on team dynamics, in preparation for eventual missions to the Red Planet.
In classic New Yorker fashion, the author, Tom Kizzia, backed into the story. The first few paragraphs were about an expedition that took place 120 years ago, involving the first men to endure an Antarctic winter. Kizzia mentioned the “‘mad-house’ promenade” around the ship, a phrase that immediately jumped out at me. I was intrigued to find out what possible connection there might be between the Belgica and far-flung space exploration. But even more fascinating to me was the character of the physician, Frederick Albert Cook, known as one of America’s most shameless hucksters, who through relentless ingenuity nevertheless managed to save the expedition from catastrophe.
I’ve always been drawn to heroic antiheroes: Sherlock Holmes, Butch Cassidy, Han Solo. When I looked further into Cook’s story and learned that he lived out his final days in Larchmont, New York, in a house I pass every time I walk my dog, it felt like a sign: there was no way I wasn’t writing this book.
Thus began a five-year obsession that took me across the world, from Oslo to Antwerp to Antarctica, on the trail of the Belgica and her men. The narrative that unfolded before me, through diaries and other primary sources, turned out to be far richer than the simple good yarn I’d imagined at first. The expedition shaped two future giants of exploration, one rightly revered, Roald Amundsen, and one unfairly maligned, the aforementioned Cook. It culminated with an epic breakout from the tenacious Antarctic pack ice that, in its scale and ambition, rivals the greatest man-versus-nature struggles in history and literature. And its legacy proved much more consequential than the mere survival of (most of) its men.
One of the challenges I faced in recreating a journey that took place so long ago, and in such extreme isolation, was getting access to the sensory quality of the experience. Not just what happened day to day, or what coordinates the ship reached along her circuitous drift, but what it must have been like for the men aboard, both to discover such splendors and to endure such hardship. To my delight, it soon became apparent that the Belgica voyage was among the most well-documented polar missions of the heroic age, in which no fewer than ten men kept detailed diaries or logs (even though one was later burned). ...
Alister Forbes Mackay: The Dundee student who went to the ends of the Earth with Ernest ShackletonBy Kate Brown
April 7 2022, 6.00am
He was the Dundee student who was part of the first expedition in the world to reach the top of Mount Erebus.
The story of Alister Forbes Mackay is one of the forgotten tales of Antarctic heroism.
Mackay applied to serve as junior surgeon on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ‘Farthest South’ expedition on the Dundee-built ship Nimrod.
As part of the expedition, Mackay and his group reached the summit of Mount Erebus which is the southernmost active volcano on Earth.
But how did this young student from Dundee go on to reach such great heights?