ICEBOUND: The Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole by Leonard F. Guttridge

ICEBOUND: The Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole

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In an age when the limits to exploration are measured in light-years, it seems difficult to remember the time when an attempt to push to the North Pole meant an occasion for making one's will. Yet, only a century ago, the Arctic map was drawn via sheer guesswork, as no man had yet been able to crack through the ice packs that stood sentinel over it. In Icebound, Guttridge recounts the grueling tale of an expedition that set out in 1879 to do just that. What puts this story apart is that it is a chronicle of failure, revealing in its tale of ordeal the tree rigors of exploration that more conventional stories of success shroud in their exhilaration. Led by George Washington de Long, a Navy lieutenant, the expedition set out in the Jeannette, a ship whose readiness for such an experience was called into question both before and after the fact. Having gotten through the Bering Strait to the Arctic Circle, the Jeannette became trapped in ice packs and sat out the Arctic winter waiting for the thaw. This was normal in such expeditions, but the ship never recovered from its misfortune, loosing its bounds only to become trapped again and again until in one great mighty Arctic storm, it was rendered unusable. The crew of 33 split up into three smaller boats and tried to navigate to Siberia in hopes of finding some human settlements. In the chase for survival, only a handful made it, causing a naval inquiry into the prudence of the dead commander in not turning back after the first entrapment. Guttridge has researched the story well and spices it with the gossipy details that made life on the ship the stuff of a Victorian soap opera: the engineer was escaping from 17 years with a mad wife; the navigator, unbeknownst to all but the ship's surgeon, was suffering from syphilitic degeneracy, etc. Despite the loss of life, the Jeannette did not sail in vain. It disproved certain prevailing theories, such as that an island known as Wrangel Land was no continent, that there was no great warm current extant in those latitudes, and that there was no open polar sea. Its wreckage also afforded the Norwegian explorer Larsen much food for thought about polar drift when he discovered it near Iceland only two years after its abandonment. A beautifully executed narrative of sacrifice for science's sake.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0595409814
Publisher: Naval Institute Press