Anyone who knows me, knows of my love of the Dingle Peninsula off the Southwest coast of Ireland in my favorite county, Kerry. I spend a lot of time(but not nearly as much as I like) in a place called Inch beach- with unparalleled beauty and where the movie, Ryan's Daughter was filmed. A stone's throw from Inch is a little village called Anascaul- a place I've been several times. There's a little pub- unremarkable despite its bright blue and pebble dash exterior, called The South Pole Inn. The pub's former owner was Tom Crean, who made, not 1 but 3 trips to the Antarctic at the turn of the last century in the race to the South Pole.
I could not put this book down. Initially, I was afraid that it would be one of those dry books that make you dread opening it. Not this. It's written in an easy style and examines the personalities of the leaders, Scott and his disastrous expedition to the Pole in 1909 and then Ernest Shackleton's adventure during the outbreak of World War I when their ship, The Endurance became trapped in ice in the Antarctic and eventually lost to the sea, leaving all 28 men stranded on an ice floe and cut off from civilization.
But this man, from Kerry, Tom Crean, is truly remarkable. During his second trip to the Antarctic with the tragic Scott expedition, he walked- walked- 35 miles in 18 hours to save the life of another man despite the fact that he himself was starving and despite the fact that it was sub freezing temps.
The photos in the book are fantastic and one can't help but fall a little in love with the mythical figure of Tom Crean. Both Scott and Shackleton wanted him on their expeditions. He's handsome in a rugged way- in a 'come to my Antarctic tent' kind of way.
The first 2 trips are Scott's attempts to be the first one to reach the South Pole. They had to abandon that goal on the first trip. On the second trek, it was a Norwegian who beat them to the Pole, Scott made it eventually only to die along with his comrades in their sleeping bags in a tent on the way back due to blizzard conditions. The third trip with Ernest Shackleton was not so much to reach the South Pole but to walk across Antarctic itself. That goal was soon abandoned once Endurance was lost to the ice right at the beginning of the journey and they had no contact with civilization. It became a journey of survival and it took them almost 2 years to make it back to civilization. It's a gripping, entertaining read and it's miraculous that they survived at all.
But on all three treks, Crean comes across as mentally resilient, unafraid of any task and an even keeled kind of fella. Just the type you'd want around in a crisis.