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 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.
The edition I got was a free e-book, and it had no pictures. However I found this website, Cool Antarctica, which gives an abbreviated version of the events and has lots of photos from the expedition.