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
. 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.