Chapter 1: Icebound
Winter has set in, and there is little doubt but that the bold adventurers must spend another nine months icebound. That it may be otherwise we cannot but hope for a little yet, though in the face of reason.
—The New York Times, October 24, 1854
In the low, dark cabin of the ship, they were all collected: the sick, the dying, and the few who were well enough to tend to them. The bottomless cold and black of the long polar night pressed in. It was their second winter trapped on the ice. They’d run out of fuel months ago, fresh food more recently. Days ago they’d scraped the flesh and bloody organs from a bear’s head they’d intended to bring back for science. Those who had any strength tore away daily at the ship’s woodwork—spars, decking, and oak sheathing—to feed their scant fire. Still, they were cold.
The ice was everywhere and grew by the day—higher and tighter around the ship, even collecting inside the old living quarters and other abandoned places where the air wasn’t heated. Gales bringing heavy snows raced from the south, ripping through the rigging in a noisy fury. At almost 80° north, in one of the most remote and hostile corners of the Arctic, the eighteen remaining men aboard the Advance were separated from the outside world by a vast, unyielding ice blockade.
Cloaked in heavy, hooded animal furs, Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, the company’s commander, treated his men and tried to stave off his own inevitable decline. Twenty months earlier, adoring waterfront crowds in...