Shackleton’s Biscuits: A Case for Not Eating Artifacts on Mount Everest
In 2001, high on Everest, I scoured through the tattered remains of the 1933 expedition’s Camp VI in the Yellow Band. I had discovered it, thanks to a discarded porter’s pack frame, in 1999, and was eager to see what treasures lay inside. As it turned out, it was a literal trove.
Within the shredded flaps of the tent, scattered amidst pebbles and down, were piles of canned goods: Heinz Baked Beans, Ovaltine, Nestles, Kendal Mint Cakes, and a beautiful box of Huntley & Palmers Superior Reading Biscuits.
By this time, Brent Okita and I had been out in the weather of Everest for a long time, fixing line to the First Step and looking for artifacts. It was our third day well above 8,000 meters, the weather was deteriorating rapidly…and I was hungry.
So, I ate an artifact. I ate a 68 year old biscuit – well, actually, I ate a couple of them. Honestly, I couldn’t resist; afterall, the last person to eat out of this same tin might have been Frank Smythe or Eric Shipton some 68 years before.
My snack concluded, I packed up the 30 pounds or so of artifacts from the camp, and headed down to our high camp.
I never regretted my gastronomic experiment until yesterday when the latest edition of Expedition News arrived in my inbox. In it is an article about the recent sale of one of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s biscuits from his 1907-1909 Antarctic Expedition…for nearly $2,000!
So, the bad news? In 2001, I ate perhaps $6,000 worth of historic biscuits.
The good news? Sitting in storage in Tacoma, Washington, are another $12,000 or so of biscuits I brought down, but never consumed.
If you’d like to read more about my adventures with the 1933 Camp VI, read my 2007 blog post Everest gear, circa 1933. Or, watch the video below from the American Mountaineering Museum – scroll to the end for the bit about the biscuits.