quinta-feira, 29 de março de 2012

 The Death Zone: When History’s Explorers Went Too Far

"...the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. For God's sake look after our people."

- Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Antarctica, March 29, 1912

Most of us recognize the names but little else of the great explorers and adventurers of history. Some are buried almost anonymously in Westminster Abbey alongside the kings, queens and statesmen of antiquity. Obscure mountains, plateaus, bays and valleys are named after many others. However only the most studious or obsessed amongst us know more than the briefest of facts about these larger-than-life men (and women), and what they achieved during their lifetimes. Few of us may have read a biography of one or another of them, and only the most colorful have had films made of their adventures.   
But don’t we yearn sometimes to know a little more about the lives of our heroes and why they were such important people in their time? Don’t we wonder too how their days may have ended and how they may have died? Most have seemingly disappeared into the mists of history without a cry. Now and again one is brought back to life momentarily by a father’s bedtime story or a professor’s anecdotal aside. Arguably it is unjust that those who have faced the greatest perils in life have been forgotten without a nod to their victories or a thought as to how they may have died. Most of our heroes- Humboldt and Darwin, for example- died happily and rightfully of old age back in the beds of childhood homes in picturesque county villages and surrounded by loving- if saddened- family members. Clements Markham, the driving force behind the explorations of David Livingstone, Robert Falcon Scott and many other Victorian supermen, died old and in bed but only after his bed-curtains caught fire from a fallen reading lamp. Hardly dramatic stuff befitting a figure of such stature. Still a very select group of explorers met deaths as spectacular and dramatic as the adventurous lives they led. Here then, in chronological order, is my list of the top 15 explorer’s deaths.   

Ferdinand Magellan
·         First circumnavigation of the globe and discoverer of the Strait of Magellan
·         Murdered by Philippine natives in 1521
·        Over the Edge, by Laurence Bergreen (2004)

Henry Hudson
·     Explorer of the Northwest Passage and discoverer of Hudson Bay
·         Abandoned by mutinous crew in the Canadian Arctic in 1611

James Cook
·         Round the world voyage aboard the Resolution and Discovery
·         Murdered by Hawaiian natives in 1779

Mungo Park
·         Scottish explorer of the Niger River and Timbuktu
·         Drowned or murdered by African natives in 1806
·         Water Music, by T. Coraghessan Boyle (1983)

John Franklin
·         British Naval commander in search of the Northwest Passage aboard the Erebus and Terror
·         Disappeared and froze to death in the Arctic in 1847
·         Frozen in Time, by Owen Beattie (2004)

John Speke
·         Discovered Lake Victoria, source of the Nile River
       Shot himself before controversial debate with rival Richard Burton in 1864
·         Mountains of the Moon w/ Patrick Bergin (2002)

David Livingstone
·         Discoverer of Victoria Falls
·         Died of malaria and dysentery in Africa in 1873
·         Into Africa, by Martin Dugard (2004)

Robert Scott
·         2nd man to reach the geographical South Pole after Amundsen in 1912
·         Froze to death in Antarctica in 1912
·         The Birthday Boys, by Beryl Bainbridge (1995)

Roald Amundsen
·         Discoverer of the Northwest passage, 1st man to fly over the North Pole and 1st man to reach the geographic South Pole in 1911
·         Died in plane crash while attempting to rescue a lost Italian airship in the Arctic in 1928
·         The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen (1996 new edition)

George Mallory
·         First climbers to attempt Mount Everest
·         Fell to his death after disappearing with Sandy Irvine on Mount Everest in 1924
·         An Afterclap of Fate, by Charles Lind (2006)
·         Into the Silence, by Wade Davis (2011)

Theodore Koch-Grunberg
·         German Ethnologist and member of the Hamilton Rice Amazon expedition in 1924
·         Died of malaria on the Branco River in 1924

Percy Fawcett
·         Amazon explorer in search of the Lost City of Z
·         Disappeared and probably killed by Amazon Indians in 1925
·         The Lost City of Z, by David Grann (2009)

T.E. Lawrence
·         Known popularly as Lawrence of Arabia, First World War hero & Arab Nationalist
·         Killed in motorcycle accident in 1935
·         Lawrence of Arabia w/ Peter O’Toole (1962)

Amelia Earhart
·         First woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean
·         Disappeared after crash in the Pacific Ocean during Round the World flight in 1937
·         Ameilia w/ Hillary Swank (2011)

Diane Fossey
·         Mountain gorilla researcher
·         Murdered by Rwandan natives in 1985
·         Gorillas in the Mist w/ Sigourney Weaver (1999)

* In italics…notable film or recent book about the explorer

“If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I am rather inclined to think personally that maybe it is quite important, the getting down, and the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.”

- Sir Edmund Hillary, first man to summit Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay, May 29, 1953