Shackleton’s whiskey; Powell’s coffee

Five crates of Scotch whisky and two of brandy have been recovered by a team restoring an Antarctic hut used more than 100 years ago by famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Five cases of Scotch and two of brandy, and all of it heavy. You can see the importance Shackleton put on a good nightcap

This puts me in mind of John Wesley Powell’s Grand Canyon expedition, as described in his classic account of same. Powell had nearly as trying an adventure as Shackleton did — an 8, I would say, to Shackleton’s 10 — and when he and his party finally emerged from the canyon into the world of relative safety and food, he took account of their remaining food supplies. The list, published in the book, provided pretty thin gruel. As I remember, there was a bit of flour, perhaps some corn meal and salt — hardly enough to make anything. They had clearly exhausted virtually all food supplies, save what they could catch, gather, or shoot, some time before.

There was only one thing the party (of a dozen or so, if I remember) still had in good supply. They still had 80 pounds of coffee.

I love that. I too would hate to run out of coffee, especially in a stressful envrironment. So when I think of that 80 pounds, I like to imagine the conversation as Powell and his team assembled and packed their provisions before setting out and leaving all stores behind:

“Think that’s enough coffee?”

“Should be. That’s a lot of coffee.”

“But …”

“What?”

“What if we run out? We can’t get more.”

A silence.

“You’re right. Buy another two hundred pounds.”

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