Monday, April 22, 2013


Like the other people that have posted so far, I found In the Land of the White Death to be a very welcome change from the mountaineering narratives we have been reading.  As Kim already noted, Albanov's adventure differs completely from those described by our other authors because he and his party embark on what Kim refers to as an "adventure of survival," whereas most of our other authors embarked on planned adventures.  While a few of these planned adventures turned into "adventures of survival," most notably Wilcox's in Forever on the Mountain, Albanov and his companions only let the Saint Anna behind because they feared being trapped in the ice for a third winter.  Yes, their adventure on the Saint Anna initially started as a planned adventure; however, the trek across the Siberian Arctic that Albanov describes was completely one of survival.

I only dwell on these differences because I am interested in how the nature of Albanov's adventure affects the relationship between the members of his expedition, most notably Albanov's relationship with and perception of his companions.  In contrast to many of the other accounts by expedition leaders we have read, especially Herzog's, Albanov becomes the leader of his expedition most unwillingly.  As Albanov continually stresses throughout his narrative, "I asked to leave alone" (5).  His companions, in a way, are forced on him when Lieutenant Brusilov infroms him, on January 22, "that certain crewmembers wished to accompany me" (5).  What could Albanov do in such a situation?  Deny companions of nearly two years, whom he had come to know and like, what he felt to be his best chance at survival?  Although Albanov clearly enjoyed the time he spent manufacturing the sledges and kayaks that his group used - "We lightened the hard work by telling jokes and singing songs" (10) - he clearly preferred to be alone.  He says of the last dinner before his expedition departed the Saint Anna, "I, who usually sat apart, took my place among my companions" (27).  Clearly, Albanov is an unwilling leader and a loner.

Albanov's personality and grudging leadership causes constant tension with his companions and often leaves him grumpy and unhappy about the expedition's progress.  The tendency of his companions to halt and dawdle especially irks Albanov:

"This unplanned halt was a great irritation to me.  My companions are not better than children: As if it were not enough to endure our numerous involuntary setbacks - they seem to cause still others just for the sake of it.  I certainly will not rest until I've managed to save them in spite of themselves" (56).

Despite his impatience and, at times, dislike for his companions, Albanov often acts with surprising patience.  His leadership style, which is based on persuasion, certainly contrasts with the arbitrary leadership of Lieutenant Brusilov.  For example, when the sailor Konrad and four other members of the expedition tell Albanov they wish to abandon the group's kayaks and sledges, Albanov does not respond with anger or outright deny their ideas, stating, "I could not refuse their request, given the fact that my way of doing things held equally scant promise of success" (70).  Instead, Albanov puts forward several common sense arguments for keeping the kayaks and the sledges.  His approach clearly works as the expedition continues on with the kayaks and sledges following the discussion.

The worst moment comes for the expedition when two members steal away in the middle of the night having stolen "a pair of the best boots . . . Maximov's warmest clothes, a twenty-pound sack of biscuits, and even our only double-barreled shotgun, with two hundred cartridges" (97).  Albanov condemns these actions, calling the thieves "scoundrels" (97).  He finds their actions especially appalling because he would have freely let them leave had they asked: "How many times had I repeated that I was not forcing anyone to follow me?  No one needed to steal away at night, in such a shameful way" (99).  Nonetheless, when he runs into the "scoundrels" after reaching land, Albanov forgives them and welcomes them back into his expedition (113).  And when the companions that he had left behind while he scouted ahead with Lunayev fail to appear at the appointed meeting time, Albanov sends Lunayev and the two "thieves" to find them (114).  Moreover, he is extremely troubled when his companions disappear and die throughout the course of the expedition, especially when Konrad does not return immediately after he leaves Cape Flor to search for their lost companions (163).  Thus, for all his grumbling Albanov clearly cared about the members of his expedition and wanted to help them.  In the end, this only seems to apply to Albanov.

In the end, the Albanov expedition most closely resembles that described by Tabor in Forever on the Mountain with inter-group tension and a few people competing for leadership.  Nonetheless, this tension does not prevent the group, through their common struggle for survival, from forming attachments to one another, which never happened with the 1967 Mount McKinley tragedy.  The only true difference in relationships that I can find between planned expeditions and survival expeditions is the number of people that die.

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