The Coldest Journey on Earth

This weekend I started to work on my newly purchased home in Flint, MI. My house is by no means move in ready and is in such disrepair that it has no furnace. Ironically, we needed to do this on a day with a record setting -30 degree windchill. Suffice to say, I was freezing my butt crack off; my hands lost feeling in the first few minutes of work and my feet were so numb that I kept tripping and stumbling over myself. This short experience of cold discomfort is nothing compared to the true story I recently read, In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. This book details the unbelievable journey a group of men took to try to reach the North Pole. The year was 1879 and the popular belief at the time was that the North Pole actually was an open ocean with marine life, navigable waters, and lost civilizations. The theory was that an ice ring surrounded this open body of water and that a boat just had to get through this barrier to access the polar ocean and hence quickly navigate to the other end of the world. Scientists believed that their was an open ocean on the North Pole and not ice because of the constant seasonal sunlight, deep water salinity, magnetic prowess, etc. With this theory in mind, manifest destiny in full force, and the male desire to conquer, Lieutenant Commander George Washington DeLong lead a crew of 30 men aboard the USS Jeannette to the North Pole.

DeLong, through extensive research, thought that going past Alaska through the Bering Straight would be the easiest way to get to the North Pole ocean. All was going well with the voyage until it got stuck in the ice just north of Siberia (click here for map). The crew of 30 were stuck in that ice pack for 21 months!!! The ice pack was drifting to the northwest towards the North Pole but to the men it was a boring, miserable, extremely cold, and very dark period of time. Imagine how these men felt stuck in a small ship with minimal light (the arctic gets no light during the winter months) and extremely cold temperatures for over 638 days. Eventually, the ship broke free from the ice only to be recaptured by an ice pack that punctured its hull and caused it to sink. Now the men were left with minimal supplies and no easy way out of their cold predicament. The crew began to journey south towards Siberia in the hopes that they would find a native tribe that could take them in. The arduousness of this journey was so much that each day the men said that it was the hardest day’s labor they had ever experienced. Moving supplies over ragged ice meant that the process was slow, very cold, and very dangerous. The trek finally culminated with a last ditch effort to cross an open expanse of water with the Siberian coast in site. Three small boats set out in a gale force storm: one boat sank killing 6 men, the other two were separated and landed at different points on the coast. In the end, the boat with DeLong sent out two survivors to find help, they did, but the men who held back all died of starvation. The other boat that landed found a native tribe and were able to survive the indomitable conditions of Siberia (they did get back to America as soon as they could).

I highly recommend picking up this book and would say it is one of the top 5 books I have ever read. My short post is the tip of the iceberg in terms of explaining this truly remarkable journey. These men experienced so much pain and discomfort it makes me feel ridiculous when I complain about trivial things. Even though the crew didn’t reach the North Pole they did discover several islands and scientific information that would help future parties eventually reach the North Pole by land. Our desire to learn and discovery is one of the most defining traits of our sentience. In honor of these men, I implore you to seek out what our planet has to offer and rummage through all the corners of its being. If you bought a house you would know all of its nooks and crannies because of the innate desire of exploration. This earth, in its past and present self, is everyone’s house to explore. Let’s go!

5 thoughts on “The Coldest Journey on Earth

  1. Wow! This is an incredible story! Thank you for sharing this post. The tribulations these men went through is incomprehensible and fascinating at the same time. This was all done for the sake of exploration and adventure. But, what would’ve happened if these unmarked territories were not explored. How would our views of the North Pole be like today? How do you think it would impact our present society?

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    • Great questions! I think that we would be far behind in civilization as a whole today if we did not push the threshold of human potential throughout the ages. It is however a romantic idea of an unknown land with mystical capabilities. I guess our modern day North Pole is the far reaches of space and the alternate dimensions of time. Thanks for the post.

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