The Worst Journey in the World
Legacy is the prompt for this week's 100-word Challenge. The centenary of Captain Scott's fatal expedition to the South Pole is commemorated in an exhibition at London's Natural History Museum. The optimism that drove them onwards, the despair of defeat, the deadly return are as stirring as you'd expect. But the story that struck me most concerned three of his companions who left base, some months before the main expedition started, to seek out the eggs of Emperor penguins. Scientists believed that the study of these embryos could reveal an evolutionary link between birds and reptiles. As the penguins lay their eggs in winter, the men had to haul their sledges over ravines and ice cliffs in perpetual darkness. Two of the five eggs they managed to grab smashed and it's thought that, for five weeks, they endured conditions more extreme than any human had survived before. It was science, not personal glory, that drove them. They called it 'the worst journey in the world'.
It's the colours of the Antarctic snowscapes that energise explorers. Jade cliffs, crimson sunsets and the hypnotic blue of icebergs. But this killing beauty was extinguished when the trio set out. In the frigid darkness of winter, teeth splintered and sleeping bags were propped open before they solidified. Crevasses swallowed them, blizzards claimed their tent, but they fought on, broken bodies shielding their fragile cargo. Before the research on the eggs was published, their evolutionary significance had been discredited. The sacrifice failed to further science, but it left a nobler legacy: the selfless endurance man will undergo to aid human understanding.