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The Scott saga revisited : for 'old hands' as well as new
on 30 March 2002
For those hooked on the late Victorian explorers and their feats of derring-do, Susan Solomon's book is a very readable update of the Scott saga.
Ms Solomon takes us through the tragedy stage by stage but with an empathy attributable to one who has spent some time in the Antarctic. The well known blunders (tractors falling through the ice, inexperienced men (and ponies) stranded on ice floes) are detailed but not laboured into an anti-Scott polemic.
Where this book really comes into its own is in its discussion of the last weeks on the Ross ice shelf and indeed on the last 9 days of stormbound gotterdamerung. Ms Solomon is a meteorologist and has had a good look again at the reports of the expedition meteorologist, George Simpson. Despite the somewhat misleading blurb, although extreme cold was a probable factor in the fatal decline of party this was not unforeseen by Scott. Various medical factors are also investigated and theories of relapse due to scurvy are laid to rest. Ms Solomon gives good evidence that the final storm, which is the assumed cause of demise, could never have been of 9 days' duration and probably lasted no more than 4 days (intriguingly the figure crossed out in Scott's final letter).
So what did happen in those final nine days? As the author implies the reasons for the denouement, at least in the case of Bowers and Wilson, probably lie in the realms of psychology rather than physiology. They both probably could have made it to the One Ton Depot and survived, but to have left Scott, in the way modern climbers abandon their dead as encumbrances to personal survival, was to men of their time unthinkable.