The other day I read Ice Blink by Scott Cookman, a book about Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition in search of a northern sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific—the fabled Northwest Passage of this post’s subject line. Those of you who are fans of Arctic exploration, Stan Rogers, and/or due South probably know at least the outlines of the story. For everyone else, here’s the short version: impenetrable ice, frostbite, scurvy, botulism, starvation, cannibalism. Twenty-four men, including Franklin, had already died by the time the expedition abandoned their trapped ships, Terror and Erebus. The other 106 died (and, in some cases, were eaten by their shipmates) before they could reach the nearest possible aid, a Hudson Bay Company outpost 900 miles from where their ships were trapped.
In other words, it was a Werner Herzog film on ice.
Coincidentally, this Tuesday’s NOVA is “Arctic Passage,” which contrasts Franklin’s tragedy with Roald Amundsen’s successful quest for the North Pole. I plan to watch while feeling extreme thankfulness for twentieth-century medicine.