Explorers are a different breed. Their desire to go “where no man has gone before,” no matter the cost, sometimes has them pay the ultimate price.
In November 1912, they had started as a crew of 24. Before the expedition was over Douglas Mawson was alone in the Antarctic fighting time and the elements to get back to the base camp before their ship left…
“What followed was one of the most terrifying survival stories of all time.”
Into the Unknown by David Roberts [Photo by Frank Hurley] for The National Geographic told the tale. Here’s a taste…
Mawson was now in a race against time, as well as miles. The expedition’s relief ship Aurora was scheduled to arrive at Commonwealth Bay on January 15 to pick up the men and steam toward home in Australia. But as the days ticked by, Mawson was still more than 80 miles from the hut, and he was growing weaker by the hour.
One day, plowing through deep snow, he broke through a snowbridge covering a hidden crevasse. Suddenly he was falling unchecked through space. Then a fierce jolt halted his plunge. The 14-foot harness rope attaching him to the sledge had held, but now Mawson was sure that his weight would pull the sledge in on top of him. He thought, So this is the end.
Miraculously, the sledge stuck fast in the deep snow, anchoring him. But as his eyes adjusted to the semidarkness, Mawson saw how hopeless his predicament was. He dangled free in space, the crevasse walls too far away to reach even with the wild swing of a boot. His first thought came as a searing regret that he had not had the chance to eat the last ounces of his food before he died.
His only chance to escape was to pull himself hand over hand up the harness rope. Providentially, he had tied knots in the rope at regular intervals. He seized the first knot and pulled himself upward, then lunged for the next. Even for a fit, healthy man, such a feat would have been barely possible; yet Mawson pulled, rested, and lunged again. He reached the lip of the crevasse and tried to roll onto the surface above.
That effort broke loose the overhanging lip. Mawson fell all the way to the end of his harness rope. Despair overwhelmed him. He pondered slipping out of the harness to plunge to the bottom of the crevasse, ending things at once rather than by strangling or slowly freezing. At that moment, a verse from his favorite poet, Robert Service, flashed through his mind: “Just have one more try—it’s dead easy to die, / It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.”
The words spurred him to “one last tremendous effort.”…