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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Catlin Expedition place second on all time list

The British isles have produced some of the greatest and most intrepid polar explorers the world has known, including Edward Bransfield, James Ross, Ernest Shackleton, and the blokes from Top Gear.

However there is also something about the land of spotted dick that has produced a string of naïve heroic failures. Right now, more than any other country, Britain appears to be enjoying a new golden age of stupid polar explorers. Today the ShadowLands attempts to rank:

Britain’s top five dumbest polar explorers

Number 5 - John Hornby

John Hornby was a little known British Arctic Explorer who decided to demonstrate how, by using his wherewithal, it was possible to live off the land in the far reaches of northern Canada. Unfortunately, in 1926, he missed the massive southern migration of thousands of Caribou which he was meant to follow. He and his two companions starved to death. Pillock.

Number 4 - Admiral Sir Edward Belcher

Edward Belcher joined this list after he abandoned his expedition after only a single winter stuck in the ice north of the Arctic Circle during his unsuccessful search for Captain John Franklin in 1851. Remembered by some of his crew as a bully and sadist, he failed to live up to the names of the ships he abandoned to the ice – the Resolute, Pioneer, Assistance, and Intrepid.

The Resolute was salvaged by an American whaler a year later and sold to the United States government.

Number 3 - Lewis Pugh

Lewis Pugh is the dropkick who set off to demonstrate how the arctic ice is melting by kayaking to the north pole during the high summer of 2008.

He was stopped by ice after only a few days a mere 500 miles short of his destination – at a position typically marked on maps as the “average summer ice extent”. It is said he should have been alerted to this fact had he consulted the satellite imagery.

Pugh achieved a great deal of publicity for a minimum of effort, was invited to speak at a number of climate change conferences, and earns money on the speaker circuit - so maybe he wasn’t quite so stupid after all.

Number 2 - The Catlin Expedition

Like all failed and ill-advised polar expeditioners before them, the Catlin Ice Expeditioners appear to have been surprised by the cold weather they encountered.

Almost immediately, the machinery they brought along to measure the thickness of the ice failed to work due to the extreme cold. And even if their equipment had worked, the alleged scientific purpose of the expedition was always likely to be questioned because of their sponsorship from vested interests.

Despite consisting of experienced explorers, the group forgot to bring waterproof sleeping bags, and frostbite took hold of their cameraman almost immediately.

While modern utilities such as skis, skidoos, four wheel drives and aeroplanes have made life easy for most modern day arctic explorers, this brave trio eschewed all of these options in favour of pulling their own sleds. Part of the reason for this was that they were expecting the ice to be broken up by lots of open water, but instead they encountered this only once.

They spent many days adjacent to supply points awaiting re-supplies that were delayed by poor weather. As a result, they managed to travel less than 6 kilometres per day and failed to make it half way to the Pole.

Although supposedly raising awareness about global warming, the diary of the crew ended up being a testament to the fact that the Arctic is as large, cold, icy and inhospitable as it ever was. The monumental all-round stupidity of this expedition is only redeemed by the fact that nobody died.

Number 1 - Robert Scott

Despite intense competition in recent years, it is still hard to go past Robert Scott as Britain's dumbest ever polar explorer.

Scott’s bravery and ability to instill loyalty in others cannot be questioned – but let’s face it, he was a real dickhead. It was his decision making that led him and his four companions to their deaths in 1912.

Choosing an ancient and leaky vessel to take the party south from New Zealand, not taking enough fresh water, deciding not to take huskies, failing to care properly for the ponies, choosing injured expedition members, and spending time collecting and hauling fossils rather than just trying to survive are just a few of his many stuff ups.

Some modern historians say he should not be blamed for the catastrophe – it was the bad weather. However this fails to account for the fact that Amundsen made it. It also fails to account for the fact that the weather is bad at the Poles - the one fact that seems to have come as a huge surprise to all of the greatest dumb polar explorers through the ages.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written MM.

Why is it part of our culture that we celebrate failures?

I wonder if it's the same for others as well?
Should investigate, but can't be stuffed about it!


daddy dave said...

Good list. I agree with Scott as number one.
Why do people want to make excuses for him? Maybe they think that if someone's in the history books they must be all right, or something.

Do Burke and Wills count? Were they Englishmen?

daddy dave said...

oops, my bad- Burke and Wills weren't "polar" explorers - a criterion for inclusion here.

Anonymous said...


A penguin-shaped menu was made in 1912 in Antarctica during British explorer Sir Robert Falcon Scott's expedition by fellow explorer Edward Nelson. Then menu included an imaginative assortment of dishes, one being Buzzard's Cake which sounds scrumptious to me.

Lets' face it, there was no sky TV then and no Whats Cooking Shows streaming live out there.

I suppose I could ruin it and talk about the Terra Nova disaster but that's enough for today. 1.6

J F Beck said...

Here's a Swede deserving of top five recognition.ée's_Arctic_balloon_expedition_of_1897

J F Beck said...

Oops, failed to note this post is restricted to idiot Poms. Sorry.

Margo's Maid said...

Good to know that polar stupidity is not confined to the Brits - thanks for the link JF.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that Sir John Franklin was not included on the list. Considering that on his 1819-1822 Coppermine Expedition he lost over half his men
and then lost all his men on his 1845 Northwest Passage Expedition
you should have at least given him an honourable mention.

Margo's Maid said...

Fair call anon, I took him into consideration.

I left him out of the top five because I thought the discovery of the north west passage actually was something of strategic importance to Britain - so at least there was a reason for him to go. This is what distinguishes him from others on this list.

When it comes to plain old body counts, he undoubtedly should be right up there.