Magazine article Geographical

Equipped for Earth's Extremes

Magazine article Geographical

Equipped for Earth's Extremes

Article excerpt

Survival in the world's most extreme environments depends upon preparation, knowledge, organisation and, most importantly, equipment. Having the right tools, clothing and supplies in the correct quantities can be a matter of life or death in polar or high-altitude regions, as numerous tragic events throughout the history of exploration have clearly demonstrated. During the early 20th century, when the race was on to be the first to reach the harshest, highest and most remote places on the planet, specialist equipment technology was undergoing a continual evolution. Here, a selection of images from the Royal Geographical Society's image archive offer a fascinating glimpse of some of the equipment used during key events in the history of humanity's exploration of the planet

Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon, wearing closed-circuit breathing apparatus, take a break en route to the South Summit, Mount Everest Expedition, May 1953. After a base camp had been established in April, Evans and Bourdillon mounted the expedition's first summit assault on 26 May. On arrival at the South Summit, they were forced to turn back after realising that they run out of time. Two days later, two of their team mazes, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, using open-circuit breathing equipment, became the first to reach the world's highest point. The use of supplemental oxygen has long been the subject of discussion and controversy among high-altitude mountaineers. Hillary initially described its use as unsportsmanlike, but later concluded that reaching Everest's peak would be impossible without it. However, in 1978, Reinhold Messner of Italy and Peter Habeler of Austria proved him wrong when they reached the summit without using supplemental oxygen

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Right: Harold 'Bill' Tilman relaxing in his tent during an Everest ascent, 1938. During this expedition, Tilman and his mountaineering partner Eric Shipman ascended Everest's northwest slope, reaching an altitude of 8,300 metres unaided by breathing apparatus and apparantly unhindered by smoking. Cigarettes and pipes were common accompaniments to the explorers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Modern mountaineers, like professional athletes, train for weeks before high-altitude ascents and the smoking of tobacco during a climb would be strongly discouraged as it's thought by some experts to exacerbate the effects of potentially fatal altitude sickness

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Left: Captain Robert Falcon Scott's team, dressed in their Wolsey underwear, during the ill-fated 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition, February 1911. The expedition, which was originally aimed at furthering scientific knowledge, became a race to the South Pole against a team of Norwegians led by Roald Amundsen. The two teams' strategies, rationing and choice of equipment differed considerably and ultimately dictated the outcome. The British opted for the most modern clothing and equipment available, and used a combination of horses, tractors, dogs and man-hauling. But Amundsen, heavily influenced by Inuit technologies and techniques, chose polar clothing made from animal furs and used skis and a team of sledge dogs for the entire expedition

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Left: George Finch wears oxygen equipment used during an unsuccessful Everest expedition, 1922. …

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