I came across this quote while I was reading a really good book about Scott and Amundsen and their race to the South Pole. It’s written by a Brit (Scott and Amundsen: The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford) and portrays Scott as an arrogant, self-absorbed, bumbling Englishman and the Norwegian, Amundsen as well…..pretty flawless. Reading the book, its very hard to disagree and certainly dispels every English boy’s image of Scott as a travailing hero. In the context of the above quote (by the Icelandic Canadian arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson by the way), he comes across as very incompetent! Amundsen’s reaching the Pole was so uneventful and matter-of-fact, so well prepared and organised. It was almost boring and undermined his achievement. Who do you think of first when you think of the South Pole? Scott or Amundsen? I couldn’t even remember the Norwegian fella’s name?!
Admittedly, Scott’s story is a lot more entertaining, nail-biting, dramatic, enthralling e.t.c. (everything Hollywood bosses try to squeeze into those sh”t blockbusters), fulfilling all the criteria of a modern-day hero, even if he did die! Every Alpha male worth his salt is brought up on this fodder and we try to emulate it in one way or another (and there’s a fair few of us in the mountains, in fact everywhere!). Bragging rights and great stories in the bar. When I was younger, I single-handed the Atlantic with almost zero sailing experience. I made it but not without a few serious mishaps, all of which made for great stories and made me “a bit crazy but cool”. When I read this quote last year, it stopped me in my tracks and really put new perspective on what I’d done. I was very, very incompetent. There is nothing cool about that. I would probably never do it any other way but it does make the point.
I was thinking about this after getting caught out the other night. Thankfully, I was pretty well prepared and the experience would have been very unadventurous, had I not got the ends of me’ toes bitten. Watch out for critters. They are everywhere.
So, I’ll be keeping this quote at the forefront of my brain whenever I go out into the mountains. God, I’m getting sensible…..and older…. Oh no!!!
Love this post. I believe it was Ibsen who first classified adventure as incompetence, as in “the incompetence of adventure”. Could not agree more. Of course the popular thought is for everyone to seek adventure. Your reference to The Last Place On Earth is great and the difference in how people feel about the two explorers is all wrapped up in the English love of an unlucky loser who gives it his/her all. The are loved for their pluck and incompetence or hubris. The journals of Scott made him an enduring legend, even though they were heavily edited by his wife who was having an affair while he was freezing to death near the South Pole. “Oh what tales we might have told…” is probably poetry written after the facts. Amundsen was born for doing the amazing trek. Scott was an Englishman, Edmund Hillary notwithstanding.
Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. It looks like you are doing some very interesting things yourself. I just perused your website. I wish the best of luck with it!