The Worst Journey in the World

by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Hardcover, 1994

Call number

919.9 CHE



Picador (1994), Edition: Reprints, 704 pages


Biography & Autobiography. History. Travel. Nonfiction. HTML: The Worst Journey in the World is the autobiographical account of a disastrous Antarctic expedition by one of its survivors. Cherry-Garrard's account of the expedition is held in high regard, because of his frank, unflinching discussion of the horrors and trials he survived for such perhaps arbitrary goals..

User reviews

LibraryThing member JanetinLondon
Like most people, I have always “known” a bit about Scott’s journey to the South Pole – how it was a race with Amundsen, how the Norwegians “won”, how Scott did get there but didn’t make it back, and above all how Captain Oates tried to sacrifice himself to save the others, famously
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quoted as saying “Well, I am just going outside, and I may be some time”, then leaving the tent to walk to certain death in a heavy blizzard. What I hadn’t fully appreciated was the wider context of the expedition – the meticulous advance planning, the fundraising, the gathering of the team and supplies, the advance journey to lay down rations for the final push, the considerations of how to spend the many months of “dead” time (in addition to work and scientific experiments, they had books, games and a pianola to divert themselves with), and the important jobs done by the teams who didn’t go to the Pole with Scott, but stayed at the base camp, or formed the supporting parties for the first legs of the journey. Above all, I had never fully understood (or even thought about) just how cold it was, all the time.

Cherry-Garrard makes all this real, and makes it fascinating. He was a member of the party that went in search of Scott and his team the year after they failed to return from the Pole (it had been obvious for a long time that they must be dead, as it was impossible to survive once their food and fuel ran out, even by killing penguins), but they had to wait for the next “summer” to be able to trace the route successfully. He writes movingly about finding Scott and two companions dead in their sleeping bags inside their tent (Oates had walked out, and the fifth team member had died and been buried earlier), reading Scott’s final diary entries, and burying the bodies under a cairn. But the even more incredible part of this book is the description of a journey undertaken during the team’s first winter in the Antarctic (that is, before the trip to the Pole) – Cherry-Garrard and two others set out to reach the Emperor Penguin breeding grounds (which a previous expedition had discovered) and to bring back some eggs, which hadn’t been done before. This mid-winter journey was decidedly NOT a good idea, and it is this, not Scott’s fated trip, that gives the book its name.

It was so cold on this journey that breath and sweat instantly froze solid, coating the men with sheets of ice outside and inside their clothes. They had to chip their way through the ice blocking the tops of their sleeping bags each night, wherein they lay shivering for 6 or 7 hours, and when they got ready to start walking each day they had to be careful to emerge from the tent and immediately assume appropriate poses for dragging sleds (yes, they dragged them themselves), in case their clothes froze their bodies into the wrong positions before they got their harnesses on. Then they would drag heavy loads for hours, occasionally stopping to pull each other out of crevasses, stopping for tea and biscuits halfway, setting up the tent every night, cooking dinner, chipping into the sleeping bags, all without being able to take any clothes off or warm up at all. This went on for six weeks in, of course, complete darkness. But they found the penguins, got some eggs, and got back safely (hope that’s not a spoiler). And every night, Cherry-Garrard wrote in his diary, as he lay shivering in his frozen sleeping bag. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

I cannot recommend this book too highly, even if “true life adventure” is not usually your cup of tea. Cherry-Garrard was a really good writer and observer, and the story is a truly exciting and inspiring, if tragic, one. Just be prepared to fee very cold while you are reading it.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
Paul Theroux calls this first person account of the ill-fated 1910-1913 Robert F. Scott expedition to the South Pole his “favorite travel book.” I know what he means. My copy, a musty 2nd edition that I found in the bowels of the University library, is well over 500 pages long, and I think I
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read the darn book in three days. I simply could not put it down. It starts out “Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.” Theroux writes that the book is “about courage, misery, starvation, heroism, exploration, discovery, and fiendship.” And it is about all that and so much more. What commitment these men had to science and to each other. As I get older I get more cynical about the world I am leaving to my children. This book restored my faith. And to think it happened less than 100 years ago is astounding.

A personal connection to this book also added to its interest. Tom Crean, one of the members of this expedition, as well as Shackleton's legendary Endurance expedition a few years later, was a brother of my wife's great grandfather. This is the best book I have read in a long, long time!
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LibraryThing member pouleroulante
Three men in the antarctic, with no tent, in the dark, looking for the missing link.
Adventure with a purpose. Thrilling.
LibraryThing member JHemlock
I honestly do not know how to review this amazing piece of work and heartbreaking volume. I tend to wear what I read on my sleeve; particularly history. But this story, this story can be described in so many words, many of which are heart breaking. But the words heroes, and bravery smashes that
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into the dirt. This story has caused me to treat every step, every breath, every word, every sunrise, sunset and my whole life in general as a step in their shoes. When you are done with this you will be sad, heartbroken but most of all you will have respect for these brave men. If you don't are truly a soulless carbon based unit. Did Scott bungle things up...?? Most definitely. Did he do his best....I feel without a doubt. There is one part in this book among other fairly lesser ones that points out the chink in the armor of his plans. Feeding the ponies to the dogs instead of placing them in a depot. (which they were and it served the return crew not his own) His men were loyal to a fault. As I read this I researched every aspect of everything discussed, the geography, the weather, EVERYTHING. Walking away from it I feel a deep connection with them, particularly Birdie Bowers. What an amazing individual. For him and Wilson to go through the bull with the eggs then to turn around and go South to their doom. Bravery does not begin to describe them. I am in awe. Falling into crevices, killer whales in formation, hurricane force winds, crawling across the ice, boiling penguin fat popping in Wilson's eye, Cherry's teeth falling out. JEEZ.
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LibraryThing member BellaFoxx
This is an account of Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. But the title refers to a expedition made in the winter of 1911 by Bowers, Wilson and Cherry-Garrard to Cape Crozier to get Emperor penguin eggs. They believed there was a rookery there and that Emperor penguins laid and
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incubated their eggs in the wintertime. This was a very hazardous time for travel, intense cold and no sunlight means they were traveling in the dark over land that has crevasses and ice. It was either the height of bravery or foolishness depending on your point of view.

The book covers more then just that, Cherry attempts to give the reader an idea of what it was like to actually live in the Antarctic for as long as they did. Detailing their daily activities, the work they did, the food they ate, their “Saturday night toast”: “Sweethearts and wives; may our sweethearts become our wives, and our wives remain our sweethearts.” Also a Sunday night toast to “Fallen Friends”. He also gives some of the conditions that factored in Scott’s death, how the weather and the men’s health, frostbite and injuries affected the outcome. He also tells of the other samples they collected, some specimens that only exist in the South Pole. He talks about searching for Scott’s body, and how they had to decide between searching for the Polar party or going to find another group since they couldn’t do both.

Cherry relies on his own memories, and the diaries of other explorers, including Scott and Wilson, Bowers letters home to his mother. He really gives you a feel for what happened, you can understand a little more of how, when a blizzard hit, they were basically helpless, couldn’t move from their spot. Although it was peaceful, you could sleep for hours in your bag, if you were running low on food it could be quite dangerous. They were also cut off from the world. Depending on a ship that might come, might shipwreck, or might get caught in a gale or an ice pack.

This could be a difficult read for some, Cherry doesn’t gloss over anything, he talks about the diseases, about the killer whales trying to eat them, having to kill their horses and dogs to survive. But if you can handle that, this is definitely a book I would recommend.
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LibraryThing member DCBlack
While this is one of the most famous exploration/adventure books ever written, it is equally important as a work of scientific literature. Scientific objectives were co-equal with exploration in the British antarctic expeditions, and this work details the wide range of scientific interests
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including meteorology, geology. marine biology, and human physiology in the extreme climate of the antarctic.

The mid-winter expedition to the breeding grounds of the Emperor Penguin to recover a penguin egg, along with the tale of Scott's tragically unsuccessful attempt to be first to reach the pole, are the most famous portions of this vast work. But it is the many fascinating details of day-to-day life, and the systematic, step-by-step scientific approach taken over several years that kept me reading over the 500 pages.
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LibraryThing member Karen_Wells
The story of the noblest, most quintessentially British cock-up of all time. Read it and thank God you were not there. Read it snugly by your fire, and learn what heroism is, and guts and fortitude. This is *the* iconic book of the snow and the cold, and tells of a tragedy on the scale of King Lear.
LibraryThing member nkmunn
An adventure classic that explores human nature, endurance, and the aftermath of disaster.
LibraryThing member dmarsh451
"At the same time, to visualize the Antarctic as a white land is a mistake,for, not only is there much rock projecting wherever mountains or rocky capes and islands rise, but the snow seldom looks white, and if carefully looked at will be found to be shaded with many colours, but chiefly with
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cobalt blue or rose-madder, and all the graduations of lilac and mauve which the mixture of these colours will produce. A White Day is so rare that I have recollections of going out from the hut or the tent and being impressed by the fact that the snow really looked white."

I'm still having bad dreams about the frozen sleeping bags, but pony meat sounds okay.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
"The flowers were of snow, the rivers of ice, and if Stevenson had been to the Antarctic he would have made them so. (p 255)

Who would have guessed that a slight, young, recent Oxford graduate who paid for his passage with Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expedition would not only survive the ordeal
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but also write a classic narrative of his adventure? I might have been surprised had I not recently been reading the biography of young Teddy Roosevelt who overcame early physical weakness and dire diagnoses from his doctors to become a legendary explorer himself (and much more). Apsley Cherry-Garrard (known as "Cherry" on the expedition) narrates a story of the expedition that is both a moving account of their fateful Polar journey and a superb group portrait of Scott and his team. The physical ordeals that Scott's team endures, the fateful decisions, hardships beyond imagination and ultimately death are portrayed in a penetrating and suspenseful narrative. One thing that distinguishes Cherry-Garrard's tale are the literary references that inhabit the narrative; from the chapter epigraphs to his own literary writing style they more than embellish an already taut and exhilarating tale. I will set this beside another of my favorite Antarctic adventure narrative, Endurance, Alfred Lansing's narrative of Sir Ernest Shackleton's incredible voyage. I recommend the adventure narratives of both Cherry-Garrard and Lansing to all who love great tales of adventure.
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LibraryThing member Polaris-
Cherry-Garrard's title says it all. Terrifying, moving, and unforgettable.
LibraryThing member jaine9
A wonderful story of human endurance. In many ways, although they all survived, this journey was far worse than Scott's journey to the South Pole.
LibraryThing member mellowyellow
A very long book. I read impatiently to start with, but have really had my eyes opened regarding the demands and perils of polar exploration. As the author is writing from first hand experience, he can be forgiven for lapses in literary style/skill. A really inspiring read.
LibraryThing member ireed110
Hated this. Sounds like a droning old newsreel.
LibraryThing member Clueless
Thank goodness that Cherry-Garrard was spared to relate this harrowing tale. Imagine it being so cold that it’s hard to ‘chip slivers off of butter’!?

In places the language was so dated (or British) that I had to make out what was meant by the context.

It must have been terribly disorienting
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to not be able to anchor yourself to seasons or24 hour cycles of day and night. I found it very confusing to try and imagine where the heck they were – despite the supplied maps because South was essentially ‘up’. I thought it very clever when they decided to ignore the construct of 24 hour days when it was continually dark twilight.

Okay they were military, which I suppose helped but I found them admirably decisive on some unimaginably difficult issues.

Some favorite passages;

"Looking back I realized...that those Hut Point day would prove some of the happiest in my life. Just enough to eat and keep warm, no more -- no frills nor trimmings: there is many a worse and more elaborate life. The necessaries of civilization were luxuries to us: ...the luxuries of civilization satisfy only those wants which they themselves create."

I can't help thinking that the men’s buoyant mood is because they are thousands of miles away from the nearest woman.

For sheer downright misery give me a hurricane, not too warm, the yard of a sailing ship, a wet sail and a bout of sea-sickness.

Have you ever had a craving for sugar. Have you ever had a craving for sugar which never leaves you, even when asleep?

Why can’t men be like this at home;

The best sledger is the man who sees what has to be done, and does it – and says nothing about it…There is nothing so irritating as the man who is always coming in and informing all and sundry that he has repaired his sledge, or built a wall, or filled the cooker, or mended his socks.

Other things being equal, the men with the greatest store of nervous energy came best through this expedition. Having more imagination, they have a worse time than their more phlegmatic companions; but they get things done. And when the worst came to the worst, their strength of mind triumphed over their weakness of body. If you want a good polar traveler get a man without too much muscle, with good physical tone, and let his mind be on wires – of steel. And if you can’t get both, sacrifice physique and bank on will.

How much better has it been than lounging in too great comfort at home.

Exploration is the physical expression of the Intellectual Passion.

It’s rather amazing how ignorant they were about scurvy and diet less than only 100 years ago. The passages on nutrition were fascinating to me.
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LibraryThing member TAU67SEu
Extremely long, but not repetitive. Very factual and objective. Not very philosophical. Not funny, except for a few tragicomical instances. Decent language. Fascinating.
LibraryThing member Mockers
Moving account of one man's experience of the ill fated Scott Antarctic expedition. Cherry-Garrard never recovered from the horrors of his experiences and his imagined guilt. A modest man and a dreadful experience.
LibraryThing member jdayrutherford
An incredible story told from a junior member of the team (Appsley Cherry-Garrad). The worst journey refers to a side trip taken to Cape Crozier by Wilson,Bowers,and Cherry-Garrard to observe and study the Emperor penguin.

The expediton was organized as a scientific study, but was of course also a
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race to the South Pole against Amundsen. Scott's blunders and poor planning may be forgiven in light of the incredible amount of research undertaken by Wilson and others.
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LibraryThing member john257hopper
This book, written by one of the members of Scott's extended team on his final South Polar expedition, has been described as the greatest travel book ever. The Worst Journey in the World of the title is, though, not Scott's fatal one, but the author's own winter journey in darkness with two
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companions to retrieve Emperor penguin eggs. That dark and bleak journey is well told, as was the suffering of the Last Return Party and the sufferings by scurvy of one of its members that left him temporarily abandoned (he later made a full recovery). Scott's final, fatal journey is of course very gripping and tragic, with Scott's own diary entries recounting the diminishing number of miles covered each day and half day, the worsening weather conditions and the deteriorating physical weakness of his party (though one of the five, Edgar Evans, considered the strongest, actually weakened and died before those extreme weather conditions set in). This is a superb sequence of writing, though I suppose I was disappointed that Scott's final journey only took up a small portion of the book (2 of 19 chapters). Between these three dramatic accounts of specific journeys, there are long passages which, while well written, do get rather repetitive, with sometimes over long quotes from individuals' accounts that cover the same or very similar ground. So I do have to say in all honesty that this did drag in places. The final chapter contains a close analysis by the author of the reasons for failure of Scott's party, including the lack of oil caused by leakages, inadequate food rations for men pulling sledges, and unexpectedly extreme cold weather, including the blizzard that kept the final three survivors confined to their tent for 10 days before dying, only 11 miles from another food depot (Oates, unable to go on due to frostbitten feet, having already carried out his self sacrifice a couple of days earlier). The author himself, who was the one who discovered the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers 8 months after their deaths, encountered even worse things two years later during the first world war and apparently suffered lifelong depression as a result. (This Kindle edition unfortunately lacked the photos, drawings and maps which reduced its impact)
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Originally published in 1921, this book is an account of Scott’s Second Antarctic Expedition written by one of the participants. Apsley Cherry-Garrard has combined his observations with the journals of several members of the party into a narrative of both the scientific and exploratory
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objectives. He paints a picture of Scott, not as concerned with the “race to the pole” as with the enhancement of human knowledge. Recommended to those who enjoy detailed first hand accounts of explorations.

What I liked:
• Immerses the reader into what it was like to be an Antarctic explorer during the early 1900s
• Provides an in-depth analysis of what happened to Scott and his team, leading to their demise about 11 miles from the depot which likely would have saved them
• The description of the “worst journey in the world” which turned out to be the miraculous survival of three men who traveled over dangerous terrain at night in search of Emperor Penguin eggs

What I didn’t care for:
• Too much detail for my taste, to a degree that it detracted from the story
• Numerous formatting issues in the Kindle edition, such as headings included in the text, references to photos or drawings that were not included, quotations from literature not clearly delineated, etc.
• The various journals did not always take place in chronological order, and it was not always clear to me whose journal was being quoted

Favorite quotes:
“Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised”

“It is so easy to be afraid of being afraid!”

“Your breath smokes, forming white rime over your face, and ice in your beard; if it is very cold you may actually hear it crackle as it freezes in mid-air!”

“We were primarily a great scientific expedition, with the Pole as our bait for public support”

“Exploration is the physical expression of the Intellectual Passion”
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LibraryThing member RichPierce
Quite simply the best travel book ever written.
LibraryThing member overthemoon
It would be trite to say that this is a harrowing read; I would like to be able to convince myself that the expedition, at the cost of so many lives, was worth while. Cherry-Garrard does approach this question at the end of the narrative, but I'm not sure that he was convinced either, there is
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something truly bitter and devastating about the ending. This is a fine edition, with photographs, illustrations from the South Polar Times, and several maps.
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LibraryThing member aadyer
A long, and somewhat ponderous account at times of the journey to the South Pole of one of Scott’s expedition. It takes some time to get into being quite archaic in language and grammar but once got used to, is rewarding. The details of sledging and the journey back from the Pole are particularly
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harrowing. Gripping in places, lax in others, this is overall a good account of a forgotten world.
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LibraryThing member ibazel
had a really hard time doing anything else until I finished this book
LibraryThing member NickDuberley
I read this in the original Penguin two volume paperback with shocking pink covers. Just visualising the books makes me feel cold and scared all these years ;later.

How awful the people on the expedition must have felt near the end is hard to imagine.


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