Northward over the great ice

I guess I can say I am re-reading a two vol set of books I read around 20 years ago; “Northward over the great ice” by Peary. It is interesting to re-read it and gain a different perspective of this 1894 work.
I had a set that was signed by Peary himself but it was damaged by the fire sprinkler flood in Brooklyn, but I found several copies around for sale, it’s also been reprinted new but I wanted the original set.

I picked up Vol 2 really cheap a few weeks ago to read as the set in good condition runs around $100, but I just found a decent set for $60 so I bought that.

Peary was a good writer, you feel like you are there as you read. Peary detailed the weather a lot on his exploration of Greenland, and it’s interesting to note his log of the weather on one 3 day period where he said it was -50 to -60 F with an average wind of 48 MPH, he didn’t have a wind-chill chart back then as it didn’t exist, I looked up the numbers however and it was roughly about 90 degrees below zero.
Tragically his subsequent entry on that detailed looking outside the tent in the morning and finding his dogs’ legs and tails frozen in the snow and that 2 had frozen to death.

He also mentioned a curious malady several times, referring to the Eskimo term “Piblickto,” curious, I looked it up as it sounded a lot like rabies from his description of how both dogs and the Eskimo’s would be affected by this “arctic madness” and go berzerk, I discovered it was actually vitamin A poisoning!
Peary didn’t know it, but according to what I read from modern medicine- Polar bear and other Arctic animal’s livers and other organs have high amounts of vitamin A in them, Polar bear especially- enough to be toxic if consumed!
So since Peary detailed killing about 2 dozen walrus and more for winter meat, it makes sense that he would have fed the internals to the dogs, probably thinking the organs were rich in nutrients (they would be) and good for the hard working dogs pulling the sledges. What he didn’t know was, it was not a disease at all- he was slowly poisoning the dogs with high amounts of vitamin A, and some of his entries mention 3 dogs affected one day, 2 another, and so on, and that the affected dogs would go into a rage- attacking all the others in a frenzy untill they were shot.

Peary started out on one of his explorations in that book with about 90 dogs and returned with just one.

… the night to warm up the boys and keep up their spirits. The straining and flapping of the tent, the deafening roar of the wind, the devilish hissing of the drift, the howling and screaming of the poor dogs, made a pandemonium never to be forgotten. One consoling feature was the fact that, owing to the quality and construction of our fur clothing, no one of the party suffered severely from the cold while in the tent. Personally, though without sleeping-bag or any other covering beyond my deerskin travelling garments, I was entirely warm and comfortable throughout the storm. Early on Friday morning, March 23d, the wind began to subside, and at seven A.M.

I was out looking upon a scene that made me sick at heart. Half my dogs were frozen fast in the snow, some by the legs, some by the tails, and some by both. Two were dead, and all were in a most pitiable condition, their fur a mass of ice and snow driven into it by the pitiless wind. Several had freed themselves and had destroyed the double sleeping-bag and many of the harnesses which had been blown off the tripods. Baldwin’s anemometer, barograph, and thermograph, which, as the result of his ingenuity and perseverance, had kept on recording throughout the storm, showed that for thirty-four hours the average wind velocity had been over forty-eight miles per hour, and the average temperature about —50° F., with a minimum of over — 60° F.

When these figures are considered in connection with our elevation of some five thousand feet, the unobstructed sweep of the wind, and the well- known fact that ice-cap temperatures accompanied by wind are much more trying to animal life than the same temperatures at sea-level, it is believed that the judgment will be that this storm beats the record as the most severe ever experienced by any arctic party.

I decided that it was not advisable to attempt to proceed any farther this season. We were now 128 miles from the lodge. As to the condition of my party, one was now entirely out of the race with frosted feet, and must return to the lodge. Another was not entirely recovered from an attack of cramps at the last camp, and I feared another storm would bring them on again. The third had both heels and great toes frost-bitten, and was having daily attacks of bleeding from the nose. All, however, showed true grit, and were willing to push on. But the crushing blow was the existence in my pack of the dreaded and incurable piblockto, induced by the extreme exposure of the past four weeks, and which, with continued work and exposure, might easily reduce my pack to half its present number, or even exterminate it entirely. Another serious feature of the case was the lateness of the season. Instead of being at Independence Bay on the 1st of April, as I had planned.

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