3The Canadian Who Thought the North Pole Was Easy
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Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a celebrated polar scientist with a worrying lack of respect for the frigid Arctic wastes, insisting that it was "a friendly place to live in for the man who used common sense." This should have been the first red flag for those who decided to join him on his 1913 voyage to the Arctic, but he scraped together a crew anyway and embarked upon a journey that went about as well as expected for a guy who saw no effective difference between the North Pole and Florida.
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"You holdin' out on us, Santa?"
Stefansson's first move was to buy the cheapest ship he could find, an aging wreck called the Karluk, which had been condemned by the navy as unsuitable for use. Even several months of repairs couldn't convince the captain he'd hired that she would make it through the ice, or even to the ice, because the steering broke several times between ports. An experienced crew might have balanced out the problem, but unfortunately Stefansson hired crew members whose experience consisted mostly of being in the general vicinity of the dockyards right before they launched. Stefansson told them not to worry about bringing winter clothing because he would provide it. (He didn't.)
Unsurprisingly, the Karluk barely made it to the Arctic before getting hopelessly stuck in the ice. This was of course when Stefansson stepped up to the plate and used his leadership skills to guide his crew to safety. Oh wait ... actually, one day he told the crew that he was going hunting and simply never returned, making his own way back to civilization while the crew patiently waited for him to return with dinner. Eventually, half of the Karluk's crew managed to survive the harrowing journey across hundreds of miles of ice and freezing temperatures in what Stefansson regarded the happiest place on Earth.
"Personally, I compare it to a kiss from a rose."
Despite failing on a level that can only be described as epic, Stefansson has earned a probably undeserved hero reputation among some, even having the Stefansson Library at Dartmouth College named after him. Presumably "Asshole Library" didn't rate well with the committee.
2The Asshole Who Tried to Conquer the Arctic
Adolphus Greely, in addition to having a name like a Captain Planet villain, was a Civil War veteran and strict disciplinarian who, in 1881, was chosen by the U.S. Army to form an expedition to the Arctic to take scientific measurements of the climate. He was given a short amount of time and a small pool of volunteers to choose from, most of whom were cavalrymen and none of whom had ever been to the north.
Greely and his men arrived at their Arctic destination with little difficulty and didn't seem to suffer from any foreboding or sense of doom, even after their ships sailed away without them with middle fingers waving in the air. The plan was for a supply ship to return the following year, but until then, they were on their own.
But morale started to wither away as six months of darkness settled in and temperatures reached -60 degrees, while every day the men took 500 separate climate measurements. Greely forbade lying down during the "day," so the men ended up sitting on benches arguing with each other. Eventually the enlisted men got fed up with Greely's strict discipline, which included orders for them to do the officers' laundry, and got unruly. At which point Greely, with all the tact you'd imagine of a grizzled Civil War veteran, threatened to kill anyone who disobeyed his orders. He was not a well-loved man.
When the supply ship failed to show up the next year, Greely had to make a choice: He could stay in the current base, which was warm and had an ample supply of food and game, while attempting to contact the mainland, or he could follow the Army's contingency orders to the letter and sail through 250 miles of treacherous, icy seas in three tiny boats to meet up at a barren, desolate rendezvous point. Probably without even pausing, Greely loaded up his men onto boats and set out.
"How do you say 'I fucking hate you' in every language known to man?"
After sailing away, Greely started to lose what was left of his sanity and disappeared into his sleeping bag for long stretches of time. After 51 miserable days adrift, they finally arrived at the outpost, where they faced the added challenge of an absolute lack of food. When rescue finally came for them, only six of the original 25 men were still breathing, and they were surviving like the cast of Alive, subsisting entirely on shoe leather and the flesh of their fallen comrades. But hey, they got some insight into the climate of the Arctic. The consensus was "it fucking sucks."